The Bar Council for England and Wales (“the Bar Council”) has developed an app which can be used to report bullying and harassment by legal professionals.
However the app, which is called Talk To Spot, is only for barristers. The oversight raises serious questions about the lack of support for vulnerable parties in court proceedings.
The move comes after a report published by the International Bar Association (IBA) concluded that the legal profession “had a problem”, and that bullying and harassment were “widespread”.
A report produced by the Bar Council called Barristers’ Working Lives 2017: Harassment and bullying, also noted a sharp rise in incidents involving bullying and harassment by legal professionals in England and Wales, with 21% of barristers experiencing abuse and 30% of barristers observing abuse.
The latest observations by the IBA and the Bar Council raise serious concerns about how the legal profession’s bullying problem is affecting vulnerable individuals inside the court system.
Calls for parties going through the family courts to have a fast and efficient way of reporting abuse by legal professionals have been repeatedly ignored by the legal profession, despite a survey in which over 90% of respondents said they had been bullied by judges in family court hearings.
Family court users surveyed said that they had experienced the following abuse during their hearings:
- Belittling, humiliating and abusive comments to children and family members
- Behaviour that causes fear or terror
- Demeaning comments about a disabled parent’s disability
- Laughing at a parent’s question
- Cutting off and silencing parents and their solicitors as they try to make a point
- Unreasonable demands in court orders which a “good-enough” parent would not be able to comply with
- Constant criticism of a parent or family member
- Personal abuse for being unable to afford legal representation
- Being bullied into accepting orders
- Threats to remove children from parents before the hearing begins
- Explicitly favouring one parent over another
- Prejudging a case before it has concluded and bullying families into submission
Some incidents of judges bullying families received by this site have been added below:
“My son was humiliated by a female judge in Bolton family courts. She read out a letter supposedly from my granddaughter who at the time was just 9 years old saying she wanted to be called Daniel after the bloke her mother was with at the time. While reading the note out the judge smirked constantly, it was disgusting.”
“Judge [edited] verbally abused me in court. He ridiculed me in front of my husband who abused my children and I for 10 years… He couldn’t even get my son’s age correct. I felt humiliated and burst into tears on leaving court.”
“I was made to comply with impossible court orders. When I confessed that I couldn’t comply anymore during a hearing the judge got sarcastic and belittled me. I wish I could have been sarcastic back and asked him if he could have done the order he imposed on me, but of course I couldn’t treat him the same as he was treating me.”
“The judge wouldn’t allow me to speak about my concerns for my children’s safety, and cut my solicitor off at the middle of every sentence while trying to explain my side of the case. He belittled me and made me anxious at the fact my concerns weren’t been listened to and therefore my children’s thoughts weren’t been viewed or taken seriously.”
Earlier this year, a judge was also found guilty of bullying a mother into accepting care orders for her children. While the order was set aside, the judge faced no disciplinary action for what amounted to negligent practice.
Nevertheless, the Bar Council’s app is unlikely to deter abusive legal professionals or protect individuals from being abused.
While information published about the app suggests that the technology will actually report the abuse if submitted through the software, the app is actually no more than a recording device, allowing barristers to set down their experience and save it for later, should they wish to make a formal complaint.
Currently, complaints have to be submitted to the Bar Council manually, after filling out a report. At this point the filer would have to include their name and personal details, which most barristers are unwilling to do for fear that the complaint could affect their legal careers.
Families who experience abuse by judges and other legal professionals are also fearful that making a complaint could affect their cases, making the idea of an app which only records events almost redundant.
Judicial bullying and harassment at the hands of legal professionals can only be stopped by addressing the working culture of these environments and ensuring that a zero tolerance policy on bullying and abuse is in place.
The app itself is an enormous waste of money, which could have been better spent elsewhere.