The bar appears to be making some progress in its efforts to increase representation of women and ethnic minorities, but there appears to be little movement on the hugely disproportionate number of privately educated barristers, latest diversity statistics show.
Statistics published due to be published today show very slight increases in the number of females at the bar and the percentage of Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) barristers.
According to Diversity Data 2017, women constitute 37% of those currently practising at the bar, compared with 36.5% in 2016. Only 15% of QCs are women.
There was also a 0.5 percentage point increase in the proportion of BAME barristers, which now stands at 12.7%, up from 12.2%.
However, compared to last year, the figures continue to show that the percentage of barristers who attended a fee-paying school remains vastly disproportionate to the general population. The Bar Standards Board’s report, approved during a board meeting on Thursday, notes that, even accounting for a low response rate of 36.7%, the proportion of barristers who attended a fee-paying school is ’almost double that of the UK as a whole (7%)’.
But this appears disingenuous at the very least, as it does not take account of the low response rate and seems to assume that everyone who did not respond was state-educated. Of 16,857 pupils, practitioners and QCs, just 5,919 (35%) disclosed where they went to secondary school. Of that 5,919, 2,081 went to to a UK fee-paying institution - some 35%. Bearing in mind that almost two-thirds of the profession declined to say where they were educated, the state-private disparity may be be much higher.
The BSB added: ‘Overall, both gender and BAME representation at the bar continue to move towards better reflecting the demographics of the UK population.’
Also discussed during the meeting were potential action points on addressing retention and progression of women at the bar.
The BSB said it had undertaken various workshops during 2017 to 'explore practical solutions’ during which various examples of ‘good practice’ were suggested.
The BSB, which discussed draft recommendations, said it would publish final guidelines based on the workshops next month.
However, board members disputed what points to include in the final papers. Certain recommendations - including on managing allocation of work and approaches to flexible working - could apply to both men and women, members said.
One idea that clerks could give solicitors a list of all available barristers and allow the solicitor to choose a barrister, was criticised as potentially ‘outsourcing work’. Another suggestion in the papers is that chambers could allocate a 'nominated person', responsible for allocating work who would be 'impartial' between the barrister and the clerk and would help ensure communication.
Allowing a women a limited period of rent-free time in chambers after returning from maternity leave was also suggested.
The papers also recommend taking a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to sexual harassment and suggested that clerks could be called upon to challenge any cases of discrimination or harassment.
Previous research undertaken by the BSB in 2016 revealed that two in five respondents had experienced harassment and discrimination during their career.
The recommendations are not finalised and are subject to change.