Barristers get app to report widespread problem of bullying and sexual harassment

Barristers get app to report widespread problem of bullying and sexual harassment

An AI bot created to log reports of bullying and sexual harassment is being launched for barristers, to “call out” inappropriate behaviour following a surge in complaints. The Bar Council, which represents barristers in England and Wales, has partnered a Silicon Valley tech company to roll out an app to support members of the bar who are victims of – or witnesses to – discrimination, harassment or bullying.Perpetrators can be other members of the legal profession, solicitors, judges or others. Victims have told The Telegraph of instances of groping, inappropriate comments and sexual harassment and assault.The app, called TalkToSpot, will be rolled out to barristers this Autumn and the move comes following a report published in May by the International Bar Association which concluded that not only does “the legal profession has a problem”, but that “bullying and sexual harassment are widespread”. The report, entitled ‘Us Too? Bullying and Sexual Harassment in the Legal Profession, surveyed almost 7,000 respondents from 135 countries and found that one in three women had been sexually harassed in a work context, as well as one in 14 men. The figures were far higher for cases of bullying – with one in two women reporting that they had been bullied, and one in three men. No human (not even the Spot team or Bar Council) will see what a barrister discusses with Spot unless they decide to submit a report but even then it can be anonymous.If a barrister decides to submit a report (to Bar Council) after chatting with Spot, they can edit their responses and remove any details that they don’t want to share before sending it.Richard Atkins QC, Chair of the Bar, said: “Although barristers wear wigs and gowns in court, it should not for a moment be thought that the Bar does not embrace technology. “Paper is disappearing from our courts, with most members of the Bar using laptops rather than carrying large paper bundles wrapped in pink ribbon. The Bar Council, has led the way with the development of an ID card app for mobile phones which allows members of the Bar to gain easier entry to the courts and a move to electronic voting as of September 2019.  The app will enable barristers to report quickly, easily, anonymously, without having to make anyone aware unless and until they are ready to. This means that they will have a contemporaneous record of what happened to them.In July it was reported that the Solicitors Regulation Authority, the legal watchdog, had received 70 complaints about sexual harassment in the workplace in the past year. Among these were 13 claims that lawyers had abused guidelines relating to the use of Non-Disclosure Agreements.Last year the Bar Council published new figures in a document, entitled Barristers’ Working Lives 2017: Harassment and bullying report, revealed that such cases were on the rise.Reports of harassment and bullying are on the rise. Of more than 4,000 respondents, 21 per cent of employed and 12 per cent of self-employed barrister respondents reported that they had personally experienced harassment or bullying at work in the two years prior to the survey. This indicates an increase of such instances of 3 per at the employed Bar and 5 per cent at the self-employed Bar when compared to 2013. The benefit of TalkToSpot is that barristers will be able to report quickly, easily, anonymously, without having to make anyone aware unless and until they are ready to. The Bar Council cannot investigate a report, only the Bar Standards Board can, and only if a barrister manually submits their report to the BSB (BSB). “We know this is an under-reported issue and we need to encourage members of the Bar to ‘call out’ such behaviours,” a spokeswoman said. The California tech team at Spot created an AI bot to help report bullying, harassment, abuse and discrimination which are dramtically underrported for fears of retaliation. “The “Talk to Spot” app is another innovative use of technology which will allow barristers to report any inappropriate behaviour they experience, quickly and anonymously.” One female barrister who wished to remain anonymous, told The Telegraph that throughout her time at the Bar, she has received inappropriate comments about her appearance and “the occasional hand on my thigh”. However, among the more serious instances include a story about one woman “whose tights were ripped by what the judge was trying to do to her under the table” at a dinner party. “It happened to me a lot when I was younger,” the barrister said, “but I know the same stuff is still going on. When I started, I was warned very quickly by older women in chambers who to avoid and that still happens. “Often at client and marketing events or at bar messes where judges and barristers have a get together, I would get at the very least comments made about my appearance or come ons and people saying what they would like to do to me. There would also be the occasional hand on my thigh and all this happened very regularly in my first few years at the Bar. “Speaking to young women now it’s the same, and the statistics show it has not lessened which is shocking,” she added.“I don’t think an app will deter perpetrators but it will encourage people to speak up about what has happened. People are very concerned about being anonymous and at the bar – you are your reputation and negative rumours can have a negative impact on your career and with the app you can lodge a report anonymously. It’s about getting the record made and you can use it at a later date if you want.” The report recommended that new and flexible reporting models be rolled out across the profession in a bid to tackle the problem. Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily  Front Page newsletter and new  audio briefings. Spot is a web-based application and uses an AI bot to ask questions about what happened.  It should prompt barristers to record meaningful and pertinent information about their experience. It will be programmed to recognise key Bar-specific terms like Silk, Counsel, Clerk, Junior etc.

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