Chambers has set up a system that is intended to deal with matters before they become problems. We have found that the ‘godparent’ system and the regular meeting with the Head of the Pupillage Committee at the advocacy workshops all constitute an excellent way of ensuring, as far as possible, that the pupils have someone to talk to and discuss their worries and problems. However, in the event that the pupil needs to take the matter further and if a problem cannot be resolved by the Pupil Supervisor, then Chambers provides a procedure whereby the pupil can take the matter to the Head of the Pupillage Committee, the Head of Chambers, and if they wish, the Bar Council.
Chambers recognises that this is a particularly sensitive area where embarrassment, fear of causing a fuss, of being labelled, or of adverse judgment may prevent a complaint being made in the first place. It is Chambers’ policy, therefore, that as far as is practicable, names of complainants will not be released (save to those persons conducting the investigation and to the person complained against) without their consent. Equally, complainants will not be victimised or suffer detriment because of a complaint made in good faith. A number of situations which may give rise to complaint are as follows:
- Selection of pupils, tenants and staff from internal or external applicants
- Conduct of pupillage.
- The working relationship with pupil and Pupil Supervisor.
- Distribution of work in Chambers.
- Pressure or instruction to discriminate in the distribution of work.
- Sexual or racial discrimination/harassment.
- Harassment or other discrimination originating within or outside Chambers.
A person subject to discrimination in any of these situations may, at their choosing, deal with the matter in a number of ways:
Voicing a Concern
Where an aggrieved person merely wishes to voice their concerns and no more, they can approach either the Head of the Pupillage Committee (Charles Sherrard QC) or the Secretaries of the Pupillage Committee (Ben Gordon or Lisa Wilson) for a confidential discussion. This is primarily intended to provide support and advice without the matter going any further.
The second option is the lodging of an informal complaint. This can be done orally to either the Head of the Pupillage Committee (Charles Sherrard QC) or the Secretaries of the Pupillage Committee (Ben Gordon or Lisa Wilson). An informal complaint is designed to act as a method of resolving disputes without the need for a formal investigation to determine the issue. If the complaint concerns the conduct of a person in Chambers, it may be that such a person can be made aware that they are causing offence and so cease the offending behaviour. Alternatively, where the complaint concerns a decision taken within Chambers, it may be that such a decision can be reviewed or, if appropriate, overturned. An informal complaint may also be made for the purposes of seeking advice.
The third option is the lodging of a formal complaint. This must be in writing and must set out the allegation(s) complained of so as to enable Chambers to carry out a thorough investigation of all the matters concerned. If actual or potential discrimination has been found, remedial steps will be taken immediately. These may include a re-evaluation of a decision, a further opportunity to be considered for an interview or a pupillage, tenancy, brief or post as the case may be, a change in working practices, further advice, training or support, comparative monitoring of work allocation and any other action, including disciplinary steps against the offender, that appear to the panel to be appropriate.
In the conduct of formal complaints, the following grievance policy shall have effect:
- Any pupil having a grievance or problem should first try to resolve the problem by speaking to his or her Pupil Supervisor,
- If the pupil feels that he or she cannot speak to their Pupil Supervisor about the problem, the pupil should speak to either of the Secretaries to the Pupillage Committee for the time being, one of whom shall be male and one of whom shall be female,
- All complaints shall be in writing, whether or not they concern a member of Chambers or a member of staff,
- Confidentiality will be maintained at every stage. The name of the Pupil and person complained of shall not be divulged save to those investigating or resolving the matter,
- The Secretaries will conduct a preliminary enquiry into the problem and, having defined the issues of the complaint, will bring the matter to the attention of the Head of the Pupillage Committee within two weeks of receiving the complaint. Should the problem involve any complaint of discrimination or inappropriate sexual behavior, the Secretaries to the Pupillage Committee will bring the problem to the attention of the Head of the Pupillage Committee without delay,
- If the complaint involves the Head of the Pupillage Committee, the Secretaries will bring it to the attention of the Head of Chambers,
- The Head of the Pupillage Committee (or where the complaint involves that person, the Head of Chambers) shall try to resolve the problem, by hearing the pupil and the person complained of, with at least two other senior members of Chambers (the panel). There shall be at least one representative of each sex on the panel. No member of such panel should have a conflict of interest between themselves and the complainant,
- The manner of the hearing shall be determined by the panel in accordance with the rules of natural justice and fairness. The complainant has a right to make representations and/or to be independently represented as does the person against whom the complaint has been lodged. The parties shall be informed in advance as to how the panel intend to conduct the hearing,
- An investigation should not, save in exceptional circumstances, last longer than six weeks from the date of complaint. The panel shall come to a determination as to fact, and how the matter is to be resolved within one month of the Head of the Pupillage Committee or the Head of Chambers receiving the written complaint,
- The finding shall be reduced to writing and given to the parties,
- The pupil shall be informed of the relevant Bar Council Committees, should they wish to take the matter further or receive counselling,
- No action of any type shall be taken against any pupil who makes a complaint in good faith, whether found to be made out or not. Any pupil who feels that action is being taken against him/her in such circumstances should bring any complaint to the Head of the Pupillage Committee or the Head of Chambers immediately.
The Pupil is entirely free to choose which avenue of problem resolution he or she wishes to adopt.