Friday 18 October 2019

Bullying and harassment widespread in our workplace, say barristers

Stock photo: PA
Stock photo: PA
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Irish barristers perceive bullying, discrimination and sexual harassment as being widespread in their workplace.

According to a new report, one in 10 female barristers says they have experienced sexual harassment in the past year, while many counsel have also expressed concerns about the behaviour of judges towards them in court.

The stark findings are contained in a report commissioned by the Bar of Ireland to coincide with the start of the new legal year and World Mental Health Day.

The 'Balance at the Bar' report is based on a survey of 567 barristers - more than a quarter of the Law Library - by Behaviours and Attitudes earlier this year. Most of respondents who highlighted the issues of bullying, discrimination and sexual harassment in the survey did not report incidents when they occurred.

This was due to a lack of confidence in reporting procedures and protocols, fear of repercussions and concerns with respect to the profile or the status of the perpetrator.

Also among its most worrying findings were that almost a third of barristers surveyed had experienced depression or mental ill health because of work. Two in three expressed concerns about their personal safety within the courts.

The findings were said to be similar to those found in a global survey by the International Bar Association published earlier this year.

Bar Council chairman Micheál P O'Higgins said the report highlighted "inexcusable behaviours" and that most respondents felt reporting was pointless.

"Both are cultural issues that the council is intent on addressing," he said.

Maura McNally SC, who chairs the Bar's resilience and performance committee, said some initiatives had already been introduced, including amendments to the code of conduct, wellness and education training and a dedicated mentoring scheme.

One in four respondents said they felt under relatively constant stress, with going into court cited as a major stressor, particularly among younger and female counsel.

The report welcomed the new Judicial Council, which will promote high standards of conduct among judges.

It said half of respondents had made "spontaneous reference to judges behaving in a bullying, threatening or intimidating manner".

The report revealed 31pc of respondents said they had been bullied, 23pc experiencing discrimination and 22pc sexual harassment.

Of 123 barristers who said they had experienced or witnessed sexual harassment during their career, more than 80pc said this related to sexual or sexually suggestive comments, remarks or sounds.

Fifteen said it related to inappropriate physical contact, such as kissing, fondling or groping, while four barristers said it related to physical assault or rape.

Irish Independent

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