The chair of the Bar Council has questioned the legal profession’s tendency to group black, Asian and minority ethnic lawyers together, saying the BAME label may ‘disguise the fact that there's massive under-representation of black members of our community at the bar’.

Giving a Gresham College lecture about diversity, Derek Sweeting QC said ‘progress has been very slow in some areas’. ‘I think we need to be honest about why that's the case and why sort of some bits of the bar are still what people thought they were years ago… dominated by people from private schools, perhaps Oxbridge, and also from a particular ethnic and social background.’ Sweeting backed the introduction of diversity targets to improve the situation.

The bar chair added that the profession should consider whether BAME is ‘actually a cosmetic category’ to disguise a ‘massive under-representation of black members of our community at the bar still’.

Mass Ndow-Njie, a barrister at the Government Legal Department and founder of Bridging the Bar, said he was one of just 13 black pupils between 2019 and 2020. Speaking at the lecture, he said: ‘Data shows that a black person who's applying for pupillage who has the exact same grades as a white person at undergraduate level and at bar school, they have around half the chance of securing pupillage than their white counterparts.'.

Last year, the Bar Standards Board said all chambers should provide anti-racism training and take positive action to boost diversity. The regulator also expects chambers to produce and publish an anti-racist statement, and will review the profession’s response next month.

The Gresham lecture was chaired by Professor Jo Delahunty QC, emeritus law professor, who is soon to be succeeded by Leslie Thomas QC. Recent Gresham professors include Sir David Calcutt, Richard Susskind, Vernon Bogdanor, Baroness Deech of Cumnor and Sir Geoffrey Nice.