Bar Council finds women and Black employed barristers disproportionately experience “bullying, harassment or discrimination”

updated on 15 February 2023

Reading time: two minutes

The Bar Council has revealed that women and Black employed barristers are most likely to have experienced bullying, harassment or discrimination at work.

The Bar Council represents around 17,000 practising barristers in England and Wales of which around 18.1% are employed. Just more than half of employed barristers work in the public sector and almost a quarter at law firms.

The Bar Council survey considered the responses of around 10.8% of all employed barristers, significantly lower than the proportion of employed barristers at the Bar (18.1%).

Notably, the employed Bar was found to be more ethnically diverse than both the self-employed Bar and the working population of England and Wales, with 19.1% of employed barristers identifying as being from an ethnic minority or mixed-race background.

The report highlighted a number of key findings under two headings, ‘Key statistics’ and ‘Working lives’. In the latter, they revealed that reported incidents of bullying, discrimination and harassment (BDH) have risen across the Bar since 2017, with 31% of employed barristers having personally experienced BDH at work.

This behaviour is more commonly experienced by women and people from ethnic minorities, as revealed by answers to “What was the nature of the bullying or discrimination you experienced or witnessed?”. Over a quarter (26%) identified other barristers as the person responsible for the BDH, 19% said it was a manager and 16.1% said it was a judge.

A series of focus groups were also conducted as part of the research. The focus groups topics were:

  • attractions of the employed Bar;
  • career progression;
  • improvements that could be made to a career at the employed Bar; and
  • ways that Bar Council might better support employed barristers.

One barrister, in the improvements focus group, noted that while they felt the employed Bar offered greater “protection to minorities” they’d previously resigned from an employed post “due to discrimination and issues with that organisation”. While two barristers mentioned they’d experienced discrimination – one of the instances was in relation to disability and the other linked to gender.

The report concluded: “There are clearly opportunities for the employed and self-employed Bar to find common cause in tackling bullying, harassment, and discrimination in both arms of the profession.”