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Criminal Bar survey shows high incidence of harassment

26 March 2018

A survey of members of the Criminal Bar Association has shown that 88.1% of respondents had personally experienced or witnessed harassment or bullying behaviour.

There were 283 respondents to the survey, of whom 64% were women. Just over 40% of respondents were barristers sole and 5% employed barristers, with another 18% employed by a law firm, 12% working for the Public Defence Service and 11% employed by the Crown, Police or Government.

When asked about the nature of the harassment or bullying behaviour, the most common  were mocking or professionally insulting behaviour, invalid or baseless criticism or fault finding and shouting or a raised voice. Over one quarter of respondents (28.5%) reported unwelcome sexual attention.

What type of harassment or bullying behaviour have you experienced or witnessed?
Nature of behaviour% respondents
Mocking/Professionally insulting69.2%
Invalid or baseless criticsm/fault finding60.1%
Shouting/Raised voice58.1%
Based on age/experience56.9%
Based on gender45.9%
Personal comment/insult44.7%
Unwelcome sexual attention28.5%
Threats - overt or covert27.3%
Being set unrealistic goals/expectations24.5%
Based on race17.0%
Withholding information vital to effective work performance13.0%
Deliberate exclusion from workplace activities8.3%
Based on family circumstances5.9%
Based on sexual orientation4.7%
Who was doing the harassment/bullying?

Respondents who had experienced or witnessed harassment or bullying behaviour were asked who was doing the harassment or bullying. The most common group were judges, with 64.7% citing them.

Doing the harassing/bullying% respondents
A Judge64.7%
Colleague/group of colleagues43.9%
Opposing counsel32.9%
Police Officer/Police Prosecutor23.1%
A member of the public18.4%
A Court staff member12.2%
Someone who works for you2.4%
Harassment/bulling in last four years

Respondents were asked how many times they had witnessed or experienced harassment or bullying in the last four years. Almost one-fifth of respondents reported more than 20 occasions.

Times in last four years% respondents
0 to 540.4%
6 to 1021.7%
More than 1020.2%
More than 2017.7%
Effect of the behaviour

The survey asked respondents what effect the behaviour had on them or the person being harassed/bullied. The most common impacts were stress (78%) and loss of confidence (73%).

Effect of behaviour% respondents
Loss of confidence73.1%
Reduced desire to continue working in that field61.3%
Fear of re-entering the environment39.5%
Breakdown of the professional working relationship39.1%
Sleep disturbance38.3%
Moving to another position/job19.4%
Taking more sick leave10.3%
Substance abuse7.1%
High blood pressure6.3%
Where complaints were directed

Respondents were asked if they had ever made an official report or complaint about bullying they had witnessed or experienced. Over 80% said No.

Have you ever made an official report or complaint% respondents
Direction of official reports or complaints

The 73 respondents who said they had made an official report or complaint were asked to whom they had complained. Nearly half said they had complained to the supervisor or employer of the person concerned.

Who did you complain to% respondents
The supervisor/employer of the person concerned46.6%
The Law Society or professional body38.4%
The Judicial Conduct Commissioner4.1%
Resolution of formal complaint

Those who did complain formally were asked if the complaint process resolved the issue. The majority said No.

Did the complaint process resolve the issue% respondents
In some ways36.7%
I don't know15.0%
Reasons for no formal complaint

Respondents who did not complain formally were asked why they did not. The most common reason was that complaining would not have made a difference.

Why did you not complain formally% respondents
Wouldn't have made a difference59.8%
Afraid of repercussions/ongoing relationship55.1%
Worried about how I would be perceived41..%
The behaviour wouldn't have seemed bad "on paper", you "had to be there"33.3%
Didn't know how to complain9.4%
Discussion with colleagues

Respondents who had experienced harassment or bullying were asked if they had talked to their colleagues about it on an informal basis. Over 90% said they had.

Did you talk to your colleagues about it informally% respondents
Genders involved

The survey asked respondents about the last occasion they had witnessed or experienced harassment or bullying, and what the genders of those involved were.

What were the genders% respondents
Person doing harassing/bullying was a male, the target was a female55.2%
Person doing harassing/bullying was a male, the target was a male19.1%
Person doing harassing/bullying was a female, the target was a female17.5%
Person doing harassing/bullying was a female, the target was a male8.3%
Age and experience

On the last occasion they had witnessed or experienced harassment or bullying, 71% of respondents said age/experience disparity was a factor.

Was age/experience disparity a factor% respondents
Helping reduce harassment/bullying

Respondents were given a list of factors and asked to select those which they felt would be most likely to help reduce harassment/bullying. Being able to raise issues in an anonymous way was the most selected.

Would help reduce harassment/bullying% respondents
Being able to raise issues in an anonymous way28.9%
A support system/mentoring18.5%
Asking for a more senior colleague to review the12.1%
Assistance from the Law Society/Branch10.4%
Professional assistance (eg a counsellor or psychologist) to develop skills to improve the situation9.2%


Last updated on the 16th September 2019