Mr. Anthony Atata, Co Chair of International Bar Association (IBA) – African Regional forum and a member of IBA Working group on Bullying and Sexual Harassment in the legal profession has commended the Nigerian Bar Association- Section on Business Law (NBA- SBL)for taking a lead in the conversation.
Mr. Atata who was in London for the IBA launch of the Project was appointed a member of the IBA working group from Africa that undertook the survey . He expressed his appreciation to SBL for the bold step saying that when the research began more than a year ago,he was unsure if lawyers in Africa were ready to tackle the subject.
In his capacity as the Co Chair of IBA Africa and a member of the working group,he has made the discussion on the subject a priority.
He pledged to visit and encourage Bar Associations across Africa to join in this discussion which has been ignored for a long time in the profession.
The survey of 7,000 legal professionals across the world, of which more than 10 per cent were from the UK, found that the most common form of sexual harassment was sexist or sexually suggestive comments but one in five of those who complained said they had been kissed or groped.
Whilst a quarter of those who had experienced sexual harassment reported incidents within the last 12 months, many of the more serious cases were historic, it was noted.
In the UK levels of bullying, at a reported 51 per cent, are above the global average of 43 per cent.
“Ridicule or demeaning language” is the most common form of bullying and globally lawyers felt most targeted in Government legal departments. This was reflected in the UK where all 41 Government lawyers who responded said that they had been bullied.
Of those who reported bullying 82 per cent their workplace’s response was insufficient and in 84 per cent of cases the perpetrator was not sanctioned.
In more than half of bullying cases and three quarters of sexual harassment cases incidents were not reported. More than 65 per cent of bullied practitioners have either left or considered leaving their workplace as a result.
Kieran Pender, who led the project, said that the “status of the perpetrator” and “fear of repercussions and because the incidents are often endemic” contributed to the lack of reporting.
On female lawyer said that after she did report seriously inappropriate physical contact the partners at her firm “closed ranks around the perpetrator” and promoted him, leaving her with no choice but to quit.
The IBA made a series of recommendations including raising awareness and developing and implementing policies, standards, training and procedures to deal with bullying and harassment.
The report concluded: “The shoemaker’s son, according to the proverb, often goes barefoot. And so it is that the legal profession – predicated on upholding the law, maintaining the highest ethical standards and advising other professions on doing the same – is rife with bullying and sexual harassment.
“Such conduct is illegal in many jurisdictions, contrary to professional obligations, and immoral.
“Yet, as highlighted by this global survey – the largest of its kind – bullying and sexual harassment affect a significant portion of the legal workforce. From overbearing supervision to physical violence, and from sexist slurs to sexual assault, the nature of the conduct varies widely. But these incidents are unified by a single factor: such conduct is unacceptable in the modern legal workplace.
“It is hoped that this research serves as a wake-up call for the profession.”