Bullying, discrimination and sexual harassment are perceived to be widespread amongst barristers, according to a survey published today. 

The Council of the Bar of Ireland conducted a survey of its members earlier this year and published the results to coincide with the start of the new legal year and World Mental Health Day.

Overall, 567 men and women out of the council's more than 2,000 members responded to the survey.

Discrimination, sexual harassment and bullying were seen as widespread amongst members.  But it found the vast majority did not report such incidents because it was perceived as commonplace or acceptable or because of a fear of repercussions.  

Discrimination and sexual harassment was experienced almost exclusively by female, and generally younger barristers.

The survey found 11% of female barristers have experienced sexual harassment in the past year, compared with 1% of men. 

Two out of three barristers are concerned about their personal safety within the courts and more than half the respondents expressed concerns about decision makers behaving in a hostile manner.  51% referred to judges behaving in a bullying, threatening or intimidating manner.  

The Bar Council said it looked forward to seeing changes in this regard with the impending establishment of a Judicial Conduct Committee under the Judicial Council Act. 

Four out of five barristers indicated there was a general sense of collaboration at the bar - but men and older barristers were more likely to be of this view.  62% of barristers described their careers as "stressful" and a quarter of barristers felt under relatively constant stress.  

Going into court was cited as a major stressor particularly among younger and female barristers.  Up to 31% of those who responded indicated they had experienced depression or mental ill health as a result of their work.   Barristers working in criminal law were more likely to be stressed than those who practised in the areas of civil or family law. 

The survey also found that four out of five barristers worried about being paid for their work. Younger barristers and those practising less than five years had substantial concerns about getting paid.  More than a quarter of those who responded said they struggled to make a living.  

However, the survey shows there is a strong relationship between the amount of time a respondent has been practising and the perceived adequacy of their livelihoods.  

Two thirds of those in practice for five years or less said they were struggling, but this figure declines to 19% for those practising for between 11 and 15 years. And those practising for more than 16 years say they are making a good living overall. 

The survey finds formal or informal mentoring is beneficial and can help provide necessary support.  

Bar Council Chairman, Senior Counsel, Mícheál P O'Higgins said the nature of the job was challenging and stressful but he said it was striking that inexcusable behaviours were perceived to be commonplace and that most respondents felt reporting them was pointless.  He said these were cultural issues the Council was intent on addressing. 

He said barristers had struggled for years to recover fees for completed work and the bar council was introducing an enhanced fee information and fee recovery service for members this year.  

He said it was heartening to see there was a good awareness among members of the types of supports available to them and that most were ostensibly happy and health and fulfilled in their work.

But he said it was clear they had work to do to ensure supports were accessible and relevant particularly for female and younger members of the Bar. 

Senior Counsel, Maura McNally Chair of the council's Resilience and Performance Committee said the views expressed in the survey were strikingly similar to those revealed in a survey conducted by the International Bar Association and demonstrated the issues were not unique to the Irish Bar. 

She said they had a strong mandate to continue to take action to cultivate a more supportive working environment for barristers and ensure there was no place in the profession for toxic behaviour that impacted on members' mental wellbeing.