Bar Council declares war on sexual harassment

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The Independent Online
STRICT rules against sexual harassment by barristers, with a confidential victims' hotline to report offenders, were imposed by the governing Bar Council yesterday.

The Bar will also set up what it is calling "safe havens", to allow women who have to leave one chambers because of harassment to complete their training in another. This has already been done in one case during a pilot scheme, according to Kathryn Hamylton, an equality officer at the Bar Council.

A solicitor who is expert in helping employers implement anti-discrimination policies will be brought in to "educate" barristers at a series of briefing sessions.

Recognising that a formal complaint against a senior barrister in a heirarchical and close-knit profession means professional suicide for the complainant not the perpetrator, the Bar will also set up a discreet mediation panel of QCs who will sort out complaints without using the formal disciplinary procedure.

The harassment provisions are part of a 60-page equality code intended to change the culture of sections of the Bar to make sure women, ethnic minorities and gays get more equal treatment.

Women are not entering the profession in anything like equal numbers to men. This year, although women students achieved better results than men in the bar finals, there were twice as many successful men candidates (654) as women (357).

The difficulty young women entering the Bar face is that it is a profession with old-fashioned practices established centuries ago when women's role in society was subservient.

The extent of the problem is not shown up in official statistics. No barrister has ever been reported to the Bar's professional conduct committee for harassment or discrimination against women in his chambers.

Yet recent surveys of junior women barristers by the Council for Legal Education have shown 40 per cent have experienced harassment, and 70 per cent have experienced sex discrimination.