The introduction of measures to combat sexual harassment at the Bar is to be welcomed. However, the battle has only just begun.
The reaction of chambers to the Equality Code will determine how successful the proposals will be. There is still much scepticism from some of those involved in running chambers that such a code is necessary despite the evidence to the contrary. Many still do not see a problem – one clerk from a well-known chambers described it as "a lot of nonsense. It's the Bar spending too much time fiddling while Rome burns. The lengths they are going to seem somewhat extreme."
The Bar Council acknowledges that there has been resistance to the code from some quarters. However, as Peter Goldsmith pointed out in a speech delivered by David Penry-Davey, discrimination "not only demeans individuals: it robs the profession of talent by allowing irrelevant considerations to mask the indicators of ability and potential".
Most importantly, the code sets out internal grievance procedures for chambers so those with complaints have an avenue of redress. Since most victims find that making a complaint often results in being labelled a "trouble-maker", hardly a tag to ensure a successful career at the Bar, it is little wonder that most think long and hard before
actually doing so.
Whether the new code will encourage complainants remains to be seen. Chambers may accept its premises in theory but in practice do little.
Raising the spectre of harassment and related
issues may encourage complaints and what chambers needs or wants to deal with that?
The result may be that the code sits in pride of place on the bookshelves gathering dust. Unless the Bar closely monitors how it is working in practice from chambers to chambers, it could well prove a white elephant.