For all its laudable efforts, the bar is still conspicuously pale and male.
…all white and mostly male, if the attendance at the Bar Council’s annual press party is anything to go by. Perhaps all the black, Asian and women barristers and Bar Council members invited were unable to tear themselves away from their briefs – or the Argentina v Switzerland World Cup match.
A brief glance around the room showed the most ethnically diverse people present were Linda Tsang from The Times and muggins here. There was not a single black or Asian face from the bar and only a couple of women.
This does not bode well.
A recent Gazette roundtable on the bar highlighted a worryingly backwards trend in diversity – a picture confirmed in the latest Bar Barometer report. Laudable efforts with bursaries, mentoring, out-reach and recruitment training had borne fruit at the publicly funded bar, but government legal aid policy clipped that fruit from the trees.
Meanwhile the more monied end of the bar – the chancery and commercial sets – seems yet to have got to grips with the issue.
Why is it that progress is so slow when it is something that the bar individually and as a whole recognises is important?
This matters. Apart from the notion that a career should be open to all with sufficient talent and ability regardless of background, the bar forms a large pool from which the future judiciary is drawn.
Delivering the Fiona Woolf Lecture for the women lawyers’ division at the Law Society, Lady Hale cited statistics on the make-up of the judiciary. As of 1 April last year, under a quarter (24.3%) of the judges in the ordinary courts in England and Wales were women. Only 16.7% of High Court judges, and 11.4% of Court of Appeal judges in England and Wales, were women.
Of the 11 male Supreme Court justices (Hale being the sole female) most, she says, fit the ‘stereotypical pattern of boys’ boarding school, Oxbridge college and the Inns of Court’.
This is the future of the judiciary if the profession allows it to become the future of the bar. Is it time for positive discrimination and targets or even quotas?
Hale repeated the analogy made by Professor Erika Rackley: like Andersen’s little mermaid, a woman is induced to deny herself and sell her voice – 'her dangerous siren call is silenced and in the silence difference is lost'.
The bar must take bigger and bolder strides if difference is not to be silenced.
Catherine Baksi is a Gazette reporter