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Bad behaviour ‘particularly repugnant’ in legal profession – IBA

15 May 2019 / international Print

Bad behaviour ‘particularly repugnant’ in law – IBA

The International Bar Association (IBA) has published research on the prevalence of bullying and sexual harassment in the legal profession.

The report reveals the nature, prevalence and impact of bullying and sexual harassment in legal workplaces, and provides recommendations to help eradicate such conduct.


The launch in London of the report marks the start of IBA's global campaign to raise awareness and engage with the profession on this topic.

The IBA describes sexual harassment and bullying as particularly repugnant in the legal profession, predicated as it is on the highest ethical standards.

Last year, the IBA's Legal Policy and Research Unit (LPRU) and consultancy Acritas undertook the largest-ever global survey on bullying and sexual harassment in the legal profession.

Almost 7,000 respondents from 135 countries participated from across the entire spectrum of legal workplaces, including private practice, in-house, barristers' chambers, government and the judiciary.


“The results are deeply troubling,” the IBA said in a statement.

One in two female respondents and one in three male respondents have been bullied at work. One in three female respondents and one in 14 male respondents have been sexually harassed at work.

These incidents are chronically underreported, the IBA says.

British respondents reported higher rates of sexual harassment and bullying than many other European countries, including France, Germany, Spain and Italy.

“When targets of such behaviour did report the incidents, workplaces did not respond adequately.

“The impact on the profession is profound: targets are leaving their workplaces and, in some cases, leaving the law entirely,” the IBA says.

Act urgently

IBA President Horacio Bernardes Neto (pictured) said “Change is hard. But we must act urgently and collectively to eradicate these unacceptable behaviours from our profession.

“We ask you to help us achieve better legal workplaces across the globe.”

A full 38% of bullying cases and 26% of sexual harassment cases occurred in the year before the survey was completed.


The IBA proposes training and the revision of policies and standards. Howver, the results of the survey also suggest that such measures are ineffective.

Respondents at workplaces with policies and training are as likely to suffer harasment as those at workplaces without measures.

Younger people are disproportionately impacted by bullying behaviour and line managers and supervisors are the biggest offenders, followed by other senior colleagues.

Christina Blacklaws, president of the Law Society of England and Wales, said "Businesses, including law firms, should examine their workplace culture and procedures for dealing with complaints.

"Just as anyone is protected by the law, they should also be protected by employers."

Helena Kennedy QC, director of the IBA’s Human Rights Institute, said "This is now the global legal profession listening to the voices of those who say we haven’t got it completely right.

"It is the start of something much bigger. We need to get this right."

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