Bar may force equality code

AN EQUALITY code including an entire chapter devoted to the problems of sexual harassment and another on fair pupil selection may soon become compulsory for chambers.

'The Equality Code for Chambers', currently being revised by the Bar Council, is set to be incorporated into its code of practice effectively forcing chambers to adopt its provisions.

Last week the Bar Council announced an investigation into private pupillages following its investigation into Cherie Booth QC's decision to take on a family friend as an unpaid pupil.

But the investigation may prove unnecessary if the council approves the revised equality code at its July meeting and agrees to include its provisions in its code of conduct, the recommendation of the committee drawing up the code.

Included in the draft code is a section on the "fair selection of pupils and tenants" requiring all vacancies to be published "as widely as is reasonably possible".

It adds that "no selection decision or judgement should be made by one person alone".

Equal opportunities officer Pamela Bhalla, who is helping to draw up the code, says the recommendation, if accepted, will force chambers to take the code on board.

"If chambers don't adopt the code they will leave themselves open to not being able to defend themselves if a complaint is made against them," she says.

The draft Equality Code, promising to set out the

"essential requirements" for good equal opportunities practice, was sent to all chambers two years ago.

Now a Bar implementation committee is revising the code taking into account the suggestions of the 150 sets who have commented on the draft document.

Bhalla says much of the code remains unchanged.

But a new chapter on sexual harassment is being incorporated following the publication in February of a survey in which 40 per cent of women barristers complained of sexual harassment while 70 per cent said they had encountered discrimination.

Association of Women Barristers chair Barbara Hewson is writing the chapter on harassment.

She says most chambers "make a complete mess" of their investigations into allegations of sexual harassment prompting bitterness and recrimination among tenants while laying themselves open to successful secondary harassment claims.

She says: "The Bar is finally waking up to the fact there is a problem. Chambers should have a clear statement of policy and they should put into place procedures to ensure that complaints are investigated properly."

The Bar has responded saying it takes all allegations of harassment seriously.