Bar Standards Board issues interim guidance on social media use
The Bar Standards Board (‘BSB’) has issued interim guidance on the use of social media by barristers pending consultation. The guidance is being issued on the basis that the use of social media is inherently public as opposed to private and hence its use is likely to reflect on the reputation of the profession (and potentially impact on Core Duty 5).
The guidance warns against posts which are demeaning or insulting and discourages barristers from getting into heated arguments and posting material which could be deemed to be discriminatory. Such posts could impact on the core duties of acting with integrity and avoiding discrimination.
The guidance was issued in July 2022 but updates earlier guidance issued in October 2019. It comes in the wake of some high-profile cases which have attracted nationwide attention.
In August 2022, Jon Holbrook sued his former chambers for discrimination having been expelled from Chambers after his tweet suggesting the Equality Act empowered “the stroppy teenager of colour” attracted nationwide opprobrium. He claimed that he had been discriminated against on the basis of his political beliefs. The BSB had cleared him of misconduct in respect of the tweet ruling that he was “expressing [his] personal opinion on a piece of legislation rather than intending to demean or insult” (although he was fined £500 in relation to an unconnected tweet). Mr Holbrook's discrimination claim failed as it had been issued out of time.
On 5 September 2022, Antony Bennett, a barrister formerly at Doughty Street, was fined £500 and reprimanded for offensive tweets directed to an erstwhile colleague in chambers. Tweeting from a pseudonym account ‘@arrytuttle’, he had referred to his then colleague as a “lying propagandist”, “thick as pigshit” and “an absolute danger and a hater of leftist jews”. The tweets were described as “inappropriate and offensive”.
The Solicitors Regulatory Authority ('SRA') also has guidance on the use of social media and offensive communications (discussed in our previous blog here). These cases demonstrates the fine line that regulators are required to tread when policing free speech and the ever-increasing dominance of social media as a means of the communication of personal opinion. The topic is likely to split opinion but legal professionals should be wary in the use of public platforms to express political views particularly where such expression is not kept within the bounds of decency.
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Articles are intended as an introduction to the topic and do not constitute legal advice.