Look At Me I Ain’t Your Enemy
The quote is from the Black Uhuru song, Solidarity (watch above and forgive me for showing my age). But really…
Yesterday I posted about how the BSB Guidelines should be viewed. A section of readers decided that the proper response was to start abusing the BSB – the Vice-Chair of which commented on the post and stood up to be counted.
I am bewildered by that response. A great deal of the reaction seemed to object to the fact that the BSB had issued guidance at all. That’s daft. Not only is it our regulator so that’s its job, but would we really have preferred silence followed by action of which no one was warned? I doubt it. Moreover, what the BSB said was that those who did not attend Court on the 6th January would be in breach of their professional obligations. That is exactly what the CBA has said. Yet a number of people have behaved as if this is a terrible thing for the regulator to have done.
That response diminishes the Bar as a whole. We have professional rules. Is it seriously being suggested that these be set aside for our convenience? If so, then the rules aren’t worth anything and we ought not to call ourselves professionals. Moreover, we would not dream of asserting that position in relation to an alleged criminal we prosecute or defend. We understand professionally that rules are there to be obeyed and that they have a value. I simply do not understand how any barrister worthy of the name could seriously propose that our professional obligations should be shelved so that we could do something that would otherwise be impermissible.
The point about the action on the 6th – which I, reluctantly, support – is that it is a breach of the rules. We are supposed to feel so strongly that we are prepared to breach those rules to make our feelings known and to bring the matter to wider public attention. That entails risk and to complain that the risk has now eventuated because the BSB has told you what you already know – i.e. that you are breaching the rules – is to behave like a spoiled child. If you did not appreciate the risk before then you should have done: however vulnerable members of the Bar may be, we are all adults and we are all obliged to inform ourselves of the consequences of our decisions before we make them.
I suspect that most moderately intelligent people know this. Which makes the sneering and complaints about the BSB even less impressive. I joined a profession that gave a voice to despised causes and nasty people. I did not become a barrister to join a chorus of contempt at supposed easy targets. We should not be making ourselves feel better by criticising a group of people doing their job, whose only “crime” is to disagree with us (if they do). Leave that to the Daily Mail – whose behaviour we say we scorn.
There is more than a whiff of “if you’re not with me then you’re against me” about this. That is a disgusting stance at any time and, in terms of a profession where each person makes their own choice and is then to be respected for it, it is inexcusable. And if this sounds angry then it is because I am. I am desperate to ensure that this great profession is able to continue. Not only is infighting antithetical to that outcome: if the values I am trying to preserve are undermined by a group of people who can’t accept dissent with grace and who apparently feel entitled to have everyone else do exactly as they wish, then what’s the point? Making snarky remarks about what seems to be an easy target and failing to correct impressions that you know to be inaccurate isn’t how members of the Bar behave. So, if it applies to you, don’t behave like that.
If people don’t want to strike then that is fine – those propounding a strike have failed to persuade their audience. We should all be used to that, and anyone with any professional self-respect asks themselves whether it is what they did wrong that meant the outcome was not the one they argued for. They don’t blame the Judge or the Jury unless they need to make excuses. And, even worse, tonight I was asked how particular individuals – not me – are going to behave. As if there were two teams. What an act of genius that is: to behave as if those who may actually agree with you are an enemy because they haven’t stood up on a soapbox and loudly announced that they are pure.
So let’s stop it shall we? I have not named any names – if this applies to you then you need not out yourself. And if you are thinking that this type of behaviour is what the Bar needs – please think again. The game needs to be worth the candle: it isn’t going to be if the profession can’t find a way to accept that not everyone will do what the majority wants and that individuals have a free choice. Nor, might I say, do any of us know what precisely will inform those choices. So it is best to judge kindly, rather than to assume betrayal - unless you think that dissidents ought to be forced to explain themselves, in which case you might find a better niche in one of the world’s nastier dictatorships.
We owe it to ourselves to restrain ourselves and to behave in a way that makes what we are trying to preserve worthwhile. No member of the Bar and no entity which has members of the Bar at its core should be accused of being the enemy or of betrayal. Please don’t let’s do it.