The Bar Standards Board's (BSB) 2019 report on the ethnicity, gender and social background of barristers was released this month. This report shows that the Bar continues to be less diverse than the UK as a whole with figures revealing that a third of barristers are still privately educated, and there is more to be done to improve diversity at the Bar.
This report summarising the latest available diversity data for the Bar in England and Wales was published this month, as a way to assist the Bar Standards Board (BSB) in meeting statutory duties under the Equality Act 2010 and developing relevant and targeted policies.
There are many benefits to greater judicial diversity. Dr. Miranda Brawn, who set up The Miranda Brawn Diversity Leadership Foundation which helps to empower the next generation of leaders across all diversity strands and sectors including the legal sector and the Bar in the UK, argues that "diversity within the judiciary is fundamental to a truly democratic and legitimate legal system". The more accessible the Bar is, the better it can represent the society it serves and the BSB has a statutory responsibility to monitor and promote diversity and inclusion both as an employer and a regulator.
The available data collected from records in December 2019, published in January 2020, suggests that over half of British-educated QCs attended a fee-paying school. Only around 7% of the population of England and Wales attend independent school between the ages of 11-18, making the 34.3% of privately educated barristers at the Bar a "disproportionate amount", as stated by the BSB.
Approximately 14.4% of working age adults in England and Wales are from a black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) background. The percentage of BAME barristers increased by 0.6% since December 2018 to 13.6%, which is the biggest year on year increase seen since the Diversity at the Bar Report began in 2015. However, this is mainly due to the fact that Asian and minority ethnicities are well-represented, whereas stastically speaking, there are fewer black barristers than their population share warrants.
2019 not only marked the 125th anniversary of the Bar Council, but also 100 years since women could become lawyers for the first time with the passing of the Sex Disqualification Removal Act. This year there was a greater proportion of female pupils at the Bar in comparison to male pupils (54.8% vs. 45.2%). However, when looking at gender equality within the barrister and QC levels at the Bar, the percentage of women increased by 0.6% bringing the total of female barristers up to 38% compared to an estiamate of 50.2% of the UK working age population, and the number of female QCs or silks rose this year by 0.4% up to 16.2%.
This year's report also revealed an underrepresentation of disabled practitioners at the Bar. Only 6% of barristers disclosed having a disability which is substantially lower than the number of disabled adults of working-age in the UK, which is 13.4%.
Overall, the available data and responses from 2019 shows that there has been a steady improvement in diversity at the Bar which is positive. However, when we look at the 17,367 members of the Bar in the UK, the upper levels of the legal profession - barristers and QCs - tend to be dominated by white, British males. Amit Popat, the BSB's Head of Equality and Access to Justice said that "one of the BSB's key strategic aims is to encourage a more diverse legal profession, and these annual diversity reports provide a strong evidence base so that action can be taken." While this data shows a slow and gradual improvement to diversity at the Bar, a similar trend to that of previous years, there is certainly more that needs to be done to make the Bar more diverse and inclusive to completely reflect the society it serves, and this report will hopefully be a step in the right direction.