The bar’s rules on fair allocation of work should be tightened to ensure barristers are not picked on the basis of gender or race, the Bar Council has said following allegations that an Asian barrister was dropped by a solicitor on the instruction of a client.

Responding to the Bar Standards Board (BSB) consultation on its latest strategic plan, the representative body said a ‘reconsideration’ of the regulator’s approach on work allocation might be warranted. ‘Our experience is that these rules are not having the desired effect,’ the council said. The BSB Handbook says chambers have an ‘obligation of fairness’ in presenting names of barristers for consideration by instructing solicitors. 

The council added that the BSB should ensure allocation of work reflects the general population and make up of people entering the profession.

Last month a row erupted after Afghan barrister Rehana Popal claimed that an instructing solicitor had told her that their client wanted a ‘white male’ barrister.

That prompted the Law Society to say that solicitors should refuse their client’s instruction if it breaches their code of conduct. The Solicitors Regulation Authority’s Code of Conduct states that solicitors must not discriminate unlawfully in the course of professional dealings and must provide services ‘in a way that respects diversity’.

Popal, the first female practising Afghan barrister in England and Wales, posted on Twitter after the incident: ‘Great to know that no matter what you do in life, you’ll still be judged by the colour of your skin and gender.’

The Bar Council’s consultation response adds: ‘Given that the diversity profile of entrants to the profession is broadly representative of the population arguably the bulk of regulatory attention on diversity should be focussed on progression and reviewing/ensuring existing regulation is fit for purpose in addition to ensuring compliance with pre-existing regulation. We urge the BSB to consider reviewing the effectiveness of the rules on the fair allocation of work.’

The council added that more work needs to be done to address high levels of bullying, discrimination or harassment.

The BSB’s three-year strategic plan (2019-2022) states as its aims: ‘delivering risk-based, targeted and effective regulation; encouraging an independent, strong, diverse and effective legal profession; and advancing access to justice in a changing market.

The consultation window closed last week.