Nearly nine out of ten barrister QCs are men and on current trends the women silks who will help achieve parity have yet to be born, latest diversity statistics show. 

The Bar Standards Board’s annual report on diversity concludes that some progress was made last year – but it also exposes how far there is to go. The findings prompted  call from the Feminist Lawyers Society for immediate action to bridge the gender gulf.

Nearly two-thirds of practising barristers are men and many of them went to private schools. Of 4,000 barristers schooled in the UK who disclosed where they were educated, four out of ten went to fee-paying institutions - compared to 7% of the total population. Some 10,000 barristers failed to answer the question, suggesting the disparity may be higher still. 

At 36.5% the percentage of women barristers increased by 0.6 per cent during the last year, but just 13.7% of silks are female (up 0.7%). At current rates of change it would take over 50 years for women to comprise half of all QCs.

Some 12.2% of barristers are black and minority ethnic, but the percentage of BME QCs is 6.4% (up 0.1%).  The report notes that on current trends it will take a century for the percentage of BME silks to mirror the general population.

More encouraging for the BSB is the fact that the gender and ethnic diversity of pupil barristers is roughly in line with the population of England and Wales - 51.3% pupils are women.

The report admits there have been there have only been ’minor changes’ in the profile of the bar since 2015.

BSB director of strategy and policy Ewen MacLeod said: ’While the data show an improvement in gender and ethnic diversity at the Bar, especially at pupil stage, there is more that needs to be done to improve diversity within the profession.

’One of our three strategic aims is to improve diversity and to enhance equality in practice and culture at the bar. We urge barristers to complete the diversity data questions when renewing their practising certificates for the year ahead. The more accessible the profession is for everyone, the more it is able to represent the society it serves.’

Bar chairman Andrew Langdon QC echoed MacLeod’s disclosure plea, adding: ’One of the key challenges is to get women to stay in the profession for longer, widening the pool of talented women available so that more can apply for silk and judicial appointment. We also need to increase the number of BAME barristers who become QCs and go to the bench, and to enable more state school students to join the profession. If we succeed, we will have a legal profession and judiciary that reflect the communities they serve.’

On disclosure, a BSB spokesperson told the Gazette: 'We are not allowed to oblige members of the profession to disclose diversity data. However, we do encourage all barristers to complete their forms as part of our drive to understand diversity demographics.'

Jo Shaw, barrister founder of the Feminist Lawyers' Society, said:  'The "news" that the bar still fails to represent the population we are supposed  to serve will surprise no one. At present our clients largely miss out on the ideas, talent, energy and intellect of all but a narrow unrepresentative minority. It is wholly inadequate to talk about 'getting' women, BAME people or those from any underrepresented group to do anything as though somehow inequality is somehow their responsibility.

She added: 'Unless and until those in positions of power in the profession act now to force change from above, it will take generations if ever to occur. While some in the highest echelons of the judiciary may be sanguine about this irrational delay, for hundreds of thousands of qualified, keen and dedicated people it is too long to wait.'