18 September 2018

Scottish survey highlights violence against legal professionals

Legal professionals are increasingly victims of violence and threats says Scot's Law Society, proposes recommendations.

One third of solicitors who took part in a recent survey in Scotland say they have been victims of violence or threatening behaviour in connection with their work.

Most at risk

The survey of over 1,100 solicitors has revealed that around one in eight respondents (12 percent) have experienced violence, a third (33 percent) have experienced threatening conduct and over one in four (27 percent) experienced threatening communications. Only a fifth (20 percent) of physical attacks on solicitors were reported to the police. The vast majority of incidents (90 percent) took place within solicitors’ offices or in a court or tribunal environment. Clients or former clients of a solicitor, or of the opposing party’s solicitor, accounted for over 60 percent of violent incidents. Reporting of incidents was low, with women appearing to be less likely than men to make a report. The research is the first of its kind in Scotland, and forms part of the Law Society of Scotland Journal’s annual employment survey of solicitors. The results highlighted that criminal defence solicitors are most at risk, with almost half of those who responded reporting more than four incidents in the last five years. Prosecutors and family lawyers, who often deal with highly sensitive cases such as divorce and child custody, had also been targeted.

Recommendations offered

Alison Atack, president of the Law Society of Scotland, said ‘I am extremely alarmed by the survey findings,’ adding ‘there should be no tolerance of any threat of violence towards legal professionals, or indeed anyone providing a service to members of the public, something that has been highlighted recently by the proposed Scottish Parliament bill to protect retail workers’ and ‘we intend to take forward our initial recommendations, including working with other organisations in the legal and justice sectors, as a matter of urgency to try to minimise the risk of violence against people working in the legal sector.’ The Law Society recommendations aim to improve solicitors and other legal professionals’ personal safety and build a ‘no tolerance’ culture across the legal and justice sector to reduce violence and threatening behaviour.