The U.K.’s Bar Standards Board has issued guidelines cautioning barristers against social media attacks on judges and the justice system. However, the devil is in the ‘lack’ of detail. The Telegraph has the story.
Barristers have been told not to launch “gratuitous attacks” on judges or the justice system on social media.
The Bar Standards Board (BSB), which regulates the profession, has revised its guidelines to provide clarity on what barristers are allowed to say online.
The nine-page guidance lists a “non-exhaustive” set of examples of the types of conduct on social media that could amount to a breach of the regulations, including “comments about judges, the judiciary or the justice system which involve gratuitous attacks or serious criticisms that are misleading and do not have a sound factual basis”.
Free-speech advocates, however, have warned the guidance fails to explain when robust debate of opposing views would be viewed as discrimination or harassment.
The BSB said the guidelines “make clear that it is the manner in which barristers express their views that is more likely to concern us rather than the substance of that view”.
However, it caveats that by adding: “Although the substance of a barrister’s view may also raise regulatory issues.”
The Bar Council welcomed the guidance, saying barristers ought to be capable of “maintaining civil discourse”.
Toby Young, founder of the Free Speech Union, warned that the guidance was “unavoidably imprecise” and open to interpretation.
He questioned the use of the word “gratuitous” and said it was not clear when a “robust response” to a point of view one disagrees with would turn into “harassment”.
He said: “This guidance represents a good-faith effort to balance barristers’ right to freedom of expression with the need to protect the reputation of the profession, but the problem is the language used by the BSB when describing what it has a ‘regulatory interest’ in is unavoidably imprecise and open to interpretation.
“For instance, what is an acceptable criticism of the justice system and what is ‘gratuitous’?
“At what point does a robust response to someone with whom you disagree cross the line and become ‘harassment’?”
The news comes after a number of barristers have used social media to vehemently disagree with colleagues, or, in some cases, to directly attack them.
Worth reading in full.