NBA-AGC 2019: IBA President to Launch Report on Bullying and Sexual Harassment in the Legal Profession

Horacio Bernardes Neto President, International Bar Association

At the invitation of the President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Paul Usoro, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Horacio Bernardes Neto, President of the International Bar Association (IBA), will give an address at the opening ceremony of the 59th Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Annual General Conference(AGC) on Monday 26 August 2019. The following day, Mr Bernardes will launch the IBA’s landmark report Us Too? Bullying and Sexual Harassment in the Legal Profession and discuss the issues the report raises. He will also give a keynote address at the NBA’s Rule of Law Symposium, on the importance of promoting and protecting the rule of law. The full provisional programme is available here.

On Mr Bernardes’ imminent visit, Mr Usoro SAN commented: ‘On behalf of the NBA, I am delighted that IBA President Horacio Bernardes Neto is to participate in our Annual General Conference. He has stated that Africa is to be a priority of his two-year tenure with the aim of increasing the presence of the IBA in Africa and of Africa in the IBA. I am looking forward to mutual co-operation on his initiatives that will bring enduring change to the legal profession, including addressing the insidious issues of bullying and sexual harassment. This visit will build on and strengthen the existing relationship between our two organisations.
Nigeria is the latest stop on an IBA global campaign trail to bring attention to the startling rates of bullying and sexual harassment in the legal profession and to work to halt such behaviour. The campaign will take place across six continents. So far, major international cities in Europe, The Americas and Australia have held well-received launch events. Next month the report will be launched in Asia, in South Korea’s capital city, Seoul, during the 2019 IBA Annual Conference.

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Commenting on his participation at the NBA AGC Mr Bernardes said: ‘I am deeply honoured to have been invited by President Usoro, SAN, to attend this prestigious gathering, and I am very much looking forward to greeting longstanding friends of the IBA, as well as meeting anew many of Nigeria’s fine jurists on this trip’. On the report, he said: ‘It is deeply shameful that our profession, predicated on the highest ethical standards, is rife with such negative workplace behaviours. Bar associations, law societies and law firms must lead by example and expose unacceptable behaviour. The IBA is working to ensure that eradicating bullying and sexual harassment is prioritised. We must work for positive change.

The 130-page landmark report draws on data collected from nearly 7,000 surveyed legal professionals from 135 countries, conducted by the IBA’s Legal Policy & Research Unit (LPRU) in collaboration with consultancy firm Acritas. Respondents participated from workplaces across the legal spectrum, including law firms, in-house, barristers’ chambers, government and the judiciary. The results provide insight into the nature, prevalence and impact of bullying and sexual harassment across the sector.
The findings from the survey respondents include:

  • one in two women and one in three men have experienced bullying in the workplace;
  • one in three women and one in 14 men have been sexually harassed;
  • in 57 per cent of bullying cases, incidents were not reported, with the figure rising to 75 per cent for episodes of sexual harassment;
  • there is considerable adverse impact, with 65 per cent of bullied practitioners having left or considered leaving their workplace as a result;
  • workplaces are not doing enough to prevent or adequately respond to misconduct, with policies regarding bullying and sexual harassment present in only 53 per cent of workplaces; and
  • just one in five workplaces have conducted training in recognising and reporting problems in these areas.
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Click here to download a Report summary.

IBA LPRU Legal Advisor Kieran Pender, who led the project, said: ‘Our research found that targets of bullying and sexual harassment very rarely report the misconduct to their workplaces or regulators. They don’t report because of the status of the perpetrator, fear of repercussions and because the incidents are often endemic to the workplace. These issues affect all parts of the profession, from entry-level trainees to attorneys-general. We must take responsibility and develop standards of conduct to make it clear that this behaviour has no place in our profession.

The recommendations set out by the IBA to aid the legal profession in urgently addressing workplace bullying and sexual harassment focus on raising greater awareness of these issues; implementing and revising policies and standards; the importance of improved training; increased dialogue and greater accountability across the profession; increasing intra-profession dialogue and best practice sharing; developing flexible reporting models; and maintaining momentum to achieve genuine change.

Noting that bullying and sexual harassment are not unique to the legal sector, Mark Ellis, IBA Executive Director, said: ‘These types of behaviour are insidious and must be confronted. The legal profession has been called upon regularly to advise other industries on bullying and sexual harassment. However, our ability to drive broader change is undermined if our own house is not in order. The IBA will promote cross-sector collaboration to ensure these societal-wide issues are addressed.

Baroness Helena Kennedy, QC, Director of the IBA’s Human Rights Institute, said in her closing remarks at the London launch: ‘Lawyers and other legal professionals must be able to work in environments that are safe and supportive. Bullying and sexual harassment is never appropriate, and the profession must do all it can to stamp out such misconduct.
The NBA AGC will be held from August 23 – 29 at the Convention Centre of the Eko Hotel and Suites, Victoria Island, Lagos

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