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Global ‘regulatory gap’ on bullying and harassment

27 Jun 2022 / wellbeing Print

Global ‘regulatory gap’ on bullying and harassment

The International Bar Association (IBA) has published two reports designed to help the legal profession across the world to tackle bullying, sexual harassment, and discrimination.

Beyond Us Too? Regulatory Responses to Bullying and Sexual Harassment in the Legal Profession is based on a survey of 70 regulatory and disciplinary bodies, and is designed to explore the bodies’ approaches to bullying and sexual harassment within the profession.

A Global Directory of Anti-Discrimination Rules Within the Legal Profession: Main Findings provides an overview of what – if any – rules and regulations have been adopted on discrimination by 238 bar associations, law societies, and other professional bodies representing 156 countries.

The two reports build on a 2019 IBA report, Us Too?, which highlighted the prevalence of unacceptable workplace behaviour within the profession.

‘No place’ in the profession

That research found that around half of female respondents, and one in three male respondents, had been bullied in connection with their employment. One in three female respondents had been sexually harassed in a workplace context.

It led the Law Society of Ireland to produce its own report on the issue, Dignity Matters, which also reported levels of bullying and harassment that were described as “troubling”.

IBA President Sternford Moyo said that collaboration was key to achieving positive, genuine change within the profession.

“These reports underscore the IBA’s enduring commitment to addressing bullying, sexual harassment and discrimination, which have no place in our noble profession,” he added.

Tackling sexual harassment a priority

The survey of regulatory bodies shows that 70% have an express or implied authority to address sexual harassment, but the figure is only 50% for bullying. This, the report said, meant that there remained a “considerable regulatory gap”.

Almost 60% of the organisations surveyed had taken disciplinary action in relation to sexual harassment, while almost half had taken disciplinary action for bullying.

A majority of the organisations viewed sexual harassment as a priority issue to be addressed.

While almost half of the regulatory bodies had a dedicated strategy for addressing bullying and sexual harassment, only a quarter had undertaken data-gathering on inappropriate behaviour within their jurisdiction.

The report’s lead author, the IBA’s Kieran Pender, said that regulators across the world were grappling with how to address inappropriate behaviour within the law.

“Our aim was to allow regulators to learn from each other, by sharing insight among peers, and offering guidance to inform the evolution of regulatory and disciplinary approaches to bullying and sexual harassment,” he said.

Pressure on profession

The directory published today (27 June) found that bars and regulators in only 18% of countries dealt with discrimination as a specific issue in their codes, rules or regulations.

Overall, the IBA said, the English-speaking, common-law jurisdictions – including Ireland and the UK – seemed to have adopted anti-discrimination provisions more readily than others.

By contrast, only “a handful of jurisdictions” in continental Europe had followed suit, it added.

It noted that the Law Society of Ireland was one of the bodies whose codes of conduct made explicit reference to discrimination against minority communities, such as Travellers.

The organisation stressed that the directory was “not intended as a commentary on the wisdom of the regulatory initiatives undertaken, or not undertaken” on discrimination.

It added, however, that pressure on the legal profession “to conform and adapt to ever-evolving concepts of social justice and sustainability” was only likely to increase in the coming years.

Gazette Desk
Gazette.ie is the daily legal news site of the Law Society of Ireland