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Call for profession to tackle bullying and sexual harassment in legal workplaces

The legal profession must tackle bullying and harassment in the sector “head on”, the Law Society of England and Wales has said, following a report by the International Bar Association (IBA) suggesting that incidents were rife in the global profession.

The IBA report found that one in two female respondents and one in three male respondents had been affected by bullying.

Sexual harassment was also found to be common, with one in three female respondents and one in 14 male respondents having been sexually harassed in a work context.

A total of 6,980 respondents from 135 countries took part in the survey. Two thirds of respondents (67%) were female and one third (32%) were male. 0.2% were non-binary/self-defined.

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The survey revealed that in more than half of bullying cases (57%) and three quarters of sexual harassment cases (75%) the incident is never reported. Targets do not report due to: the status of the perpetrator, fear of repercussions and the incident being endemic to the workplace.

Policies and training do not appear to be having the desired impact, the IBA report said, as respondents at workplaces with policies and training were just as likely to be bullied or sexually harassed as those at workplaces without.

The IBA report makes a number of recommendations to tackle the problem.

Responding to the report, Law Society President Christina Blacklaws said: “We will not tolerate sexual harassment or bullying in the legal sector.

“Just as anyone is protected by the law, they should also be protected by employers - law firms included - which have a duty of care to their employees, contractors, clients and visitors.

“Working environments should be safe for all, with clear policies to prevent harassment as well as accessible, safe procedures to deal with any complaints.”

Blacklaws added: “Anyone who has experienced sexual harassment should be able to feel they can report it safely and with the confidence they will be taken seriously.

“Solicitors have professional and ethical obligations that mean anyone found guilty of harassment is likely to face disciplinary action by the regulator as well as any civil or criminal proceedings."

A Women in Law Pledge will launch next month, the Law Society President said. This commits signatories to tackle sex discrimination, bullying and sexual harassment wherever it occurs in the workplace. “It is incumbent on all of us to work to end bullying and harassment of any kind.”

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