Former Labour leader to head Bar bullying review

Harriet Harman KC to lead independent review of bullying and harassment at the Bar launched by the Bar Council

Harriet Harman KC

The Bar Council has initiated an independent review chaired by former Labour leader, Rt Hon. Harriet Harman KC, to confront the issue of bullying and harassment, including sexual harassment, within the advocacy branch of the legal professions.

This decision follows previous Bar Council research revealing that 44% of respondents experienced or witnessed such behaviour over the past two years, marking a significant rise from prior surveys.

Harman, a distinguished human rights solicitor, was formerly Solicitor General in the Blair administration, having held various influential parliamentary roles, including chairing the House of Commons Committee on Standards and twice acting as leader of the opposition on an interim basis.

The review will aim to thoroughly investigate current measures intended to address bullying and harassment, evaluate their effectiveness and propose necessary reforms, having collected insights from various legal community members across all circuits.

In launching the review, the Bar Council stressed the need for active participation by the legal community, issuing a call for submissions from individual barristers, pupils, students and organisations to provide evidence.

Bullying having been addressed in his inaugural speech, the chair of the Bar Council, Sam Townend KC, expressed confidence in Harman’s capabilities, including considerable cross-party respect. 

“Harriet understands the legal profession and justice system, and her wider work in Parliament will bring fresh thinking to a very difficult problem,” Townend said.

Harman commented: “I’m honoured to lead this important review. The Bar Council has acknowledged the serious issues of bullying, harassment and sexual harassment and is determined to tackle them. I look forward to hearing from all connected with the profession about the necessary changes to make these issues a thing of the past.”

The review will operate over the next year, with findings scheduled for release in June 2025. Barbara Mills KC, who will be chair of the Bar in 2025, noted the focus of the review extended beyond merely improving reporting mechanisms. “Our response cannot rest solely on those most affected. We aim for comprehensive change,” Mills said.

Former Justice Committee chair Sir Bob Neill KC (Hon), who, like Harman, stood down at the general election, praised the initiative, acknowledging Harman’s integrity and objectivity. “Harriet is an excellent choice to lead this review. Her rigorous investigations and cross-party reputation will undoubtedly benefit this crucial endeavour,” he commented.

Amrit Kaur Dhanoa, chair of the Young Barristers’ Committee, highlighted the disproportionate impact of such behaviours on younger, more junior members of the Bar and women and ethnic minorities. “The independent review is crucial for discussing these issues openly and finding effective solutions,” she added.

The Bar Council assembled a strong line-up of practitioners to lead the review team, including Elaine Banton and Rachel Crasnow KC, the co-chairs of the its Equality, Diversity & Social Mobility Committee, and Esther Gamble and Dee Masters of its Retention Panel.

They join Old Square Chambers’ Eleena Misra KC, chair of the influential Law Reform Committee, and Dame Laura Cox DBE, former head of chambers at Cloisters and retired High Court judge.

Cox’s judicial acumen is augmented by Michael Maguire, a lay member of the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office disciplinary panel, and Michael Harwood, 2023 chair of the Young Bar.

Women and Diversity in Law Awards winner Lucy Burrows of 3VB and the Institute of Barristers’ Clerks and Twenty Essex’s Jemma Tagg, co-chair of the Legal Practice Managers Association, complete the team.

Tagg told this title: “The LPMA is encouraged to see that the Bar Council review is underway and being led by someone with relevant experience in Harriet Harman.

“The report that we published jointly with the IBC last year showed that employees in chambers are subject to the same behaviours relayed by barristers in the Bar Council’s Bullying and Harassment report. We welcome the opportunity to be involved in this review, hoping that these aspects of the Bar’s culture are improved for all.”

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