Time to silence the bullies in court

In July 1995, one week after I was called to the bar, I went to the High Court in Airdrie to be the Crown junior in a two-week sitting. The Advocate Depute had a separate room, and one morning, a very senior criminal silk came along to negotiate a plea for his client. As was the role of the Crown junior, I popped out to get us coffees. As I walked back into the room, I heard this exchange:

QC: “Who is your junior?”

AD: “Angela Grahame.”

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QC: “Are you s****ing her?”

One week into the job, I mustered all the backbone I had to defend myself and said, “I heard that!” in a suitably indignant tone. I said so, expecting an immediate apology.

My naivety was brought home to me when, instead of an apology, I received the following retort: “So what?” End of conversation. Nothing more was said and they went on to negotiate the plea.

Whatever your views of this exchange, and no doubt people will differ, I felt completely deflated. There is no doubt it knocked my confidence and hurt my feelings. More so, in truth, because of the “So what?” At that stage, I was acutely aware that I had very little experience of the role of Advocate and I knew my enthusiasm alone would not make up for that, but I had not expected to be treated with such disregard.

My experience of devilling had been wonderful and had not prepared me for that attitude. The people I met, before I called to the bar, had been totally professional in all their dealings with me.

In those days the bar relied on the good conscience of members and social pressure, from devil masters or other colleagues, to resolve issues. Looking back, it was a system that most members would abide by quite happily. For those whose consciousness was not pricked by that method, clearly the unwritten rules had no effect. Nowadays, that is simply not good enough. Albeit we are all self-employed, it is important (perhaps more so where we are not employees) that the Faculty sets high standards of conduct and it is our responsibility to respect them. In the vast majority of cases, those standards are met – and often exceeded – in terms of being polite and gracious to others.

When I was devilling, there were around 50 practising females at the bar, out of a total of around 330. Now we are more than one-quarter of the bar. That has in itself brought about change and we will continue to see changes which I hope will encourage more women to become Advocates, in the years to come.

Our Dean, Gordon Jackson QC, takes his pastoral role very seriously and wants members to be supported not just by him, but by the Faculty as an organisation. He and I believe that we can make improvements.

The day after I was elected, the Dean and I discussed issues of bullying and harassment. We agreed the Faculty should introduce a policy to assist in dealing with any such situations. This would be a clear step in the right direction. Having asked me to reorganise the Faculty Committees, I was delighted when David Stephenson QC, accepted the appointment of Convenor of the Equality and Diversity Committee.

New members were also appointed to this Committee and they have engaged enthusiastically with the projects allocated to them, including the introduction of a bullying and harassment policy and a new mentoring scheme.

The Committee met recently and progress is being made on all the projects, but I was personally delighted to hear that the draft policy has been completed and circulated for approval. It is hoped that a final version will be adopted at the next meeting of the Committee. Although this will apply to all members, young and old, given my own experiences it seems particularly appropriate that this has been progressed in time for International Women’s Day, Wednesday 8 March.

The Dean and I would love to think it will never be necessary to look at this policy again, but if members are facing bullying or harassment, they can be reassured that they will have the full backing of the Faculty and the office-bearers, and a written policy which will help them to resolve p
roblems and hopefully make their professional lives better.

Angela Grahame QC is Vice-Dean of the Faculty of Advocates