Please note this blog post contains strong language some may find offensive or upsetting.
The case of Craven v Bar Standards Board (“Regulator”) serves as a reminder of the persistent, permanent, and ever-present existence of the deeply rooted discriminatory and sexist mentality of the legal profession towards women.
The appellant, a barrister, employed by a firm of solicitors was charged by the Regulator with ‘professional misconduct contrary to paragraph 301(a)(iii) and pursuant to paragraph 901.7 of the Code of Conduct of the Bar of England and Wales (8th Edition)’ on the basis that his conduct was ‘likely to diminish public confidence in the legal profession or the administration of justice or otherwise bring the legal profession into disrepute.'
The appellant was dissatisfied with his firm’s decision to appoint one of its salaried partners, RB, for the purposes of restructuring the current working systems, which may have represented future financial implications to him. He expressed his resentment in a private email to his two pupils, and a prospective pupil, in which he wrote: “FWD for intelligence sharing. And its amusement value in ML dissing RB. “She comes down onto our manor, mugging us off, we should open her up. I don’t just mean a little stab in the leg, I mean do the cunt.” The appellant, inspired by a gangster film ‘Bonded by Blood,’ had utilised one of its quotes which he then amended to the effect of incorporating his current work frustrations and, more importantly, to convey a disturbingly threatening, sexist and misogynistic message in relation to RB.
In his appeal, The Bar Standards Board dismissed the appellant’s reliance upon Articles 8 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, to the effect that despite its confidential nature, i.e., emanating from a private address, the email was sent in a work context, to work colleagues, in relation to an employer and therefore, lost its element of privacy. In any case, any possible infringement of the appellant’s convention rights was in accordance with the law, proportionate and necessary ‘for the protection of rights of those who wish to use members of the Bar and wish them to have high levels of behaviour.’
This case is of crucial importance owed to the fact that despite the obvious sexist and misogynistic nature of this event, and even the Tribunal’s acceptance of the fact that this was a ‘deeply odiously violent email’ directed personally at RB, the Bar Standard Board choose to pay its undivided attention to the protection of reputation of the legal profession rather than physical security of one of its members. The grave nature of the appellant’s physical threats was simplified into one sentence at paragraph 10 of the appeal judgment which reads: ‘It is common ground that the appellant has never intended to injure ’ RB. Deliberations forming such common ground, however, remain unclear and no further reference is made in this direction.
The resistance of the Regulator to adequately challenge misogyny and sexism in case of the appellant is alarming, nevertheless, it is not an isolated incident and is emblematic of the dilemmas women face on daily basis. Their devaluation, discrimination and indeed humiliation within the legal profession and wider society consistently contribute to the existence of widespread institutional sexism which has been most recently evidenced in the police profession with the kidnap, rape, and murder of Sarah Everard by a police officer. Even more recently, an investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct, following a number of allegations against police officers, resulted in a damning report uncovering shocking misogynistic behaviour, sexual bullying, harassment, abuse, and also discriminatory and racist conduct of police officers towards members of the public, their work colleagues and even their own partners. The severe levels of misogyny reported by the watchdog may be illustrated by a particular example of written communication between officers which read: “Getting a woman in to bed is like spreading butter. It can be done with a bit of effort using a credit card, but it’s quicker and easier just to use a knife.” The fact that the violent undertone in this message bears resemblance to the statement made by the appellant ten years earlier, is an indication that there have been little advancements made in the fight against gender bias within institutions and organisations.
A pattern of concerning nature appears to emerge confirming that institutional sexism has penetrated into many professions across the UK. The fact that amongst them are organisations playing a vital role in upholding democratic principles and values of modern society, and who are responsible for law, decision and policy making, upholding the rule of law, provision of education and healthcare and punishment of offenders within the criminal justice system, is an extremely dangerous position for women to be in.