Rules that prevent chambers publishing statistics on their members’ sexual orientation have come under fire from representatives of lesbian, gay bisexual transgender (LGBT) barristers, more than a year after the Bar Council asked the Bar Standards Board to consider a rule change.
Barrister S Chelvan, equality and diversity officer at No5 Barristers Chambers, told a Gazette roundtable discussion: ‘We’re prohibited from publishing our results on sexual orientation… because it’s considered a “private issue”. We as chambers, even though we got consent from all members of chambers to get the data for [these] purposes, are not allowed to publish that data. That’s an institutional issue, which needs to change.’
He added: ‘Once we get rid of those institutional hurdles and barriers, then I think we can become more proactive.’
Under current BSB rules, chambers are not permitted to disclose information about their barristers’ declarations of sexual orientation 'unless all members of chambers have expressly agreed to the data being disclosed’. A further rule prevents publication if fewer than 10 barristers have identified as LGBT – an effective ban on publication even where full consent exists, given the size of most sets.
The Bar Council asked the BSB to review the rule more than a year ago. Sam Mercer, the council’s head of policy, equality and diversity, told the Gazette: ‘The rule exists to protect people’s confidentiality – but prevents those who do want to share.’
Diversity information collected by the bar’s ‘core data’ exercise is recognised as incomplete. For example, 2015 data showed no lesbian QCs even though many are professionally and publicly out.
A spokesperson for the BSB told the Gazette: ‘This rule was put in place in order to help protect the identity of LGBT barristers who did not wish their status to be become known (accidental disclosure of the sexual orientation of a barrister could be a risk in small sets of chambers). The BSB is reviewing this rule and is engaging with key stakeholders to consider whether an amendment would better represent good practice.’
Hardwicke’s Brie Stevens-Hoare QC noted that when equality and diversity work was conducted ‘very quietly’ that ‘doesn’t help those looking in, whether they be clients or whether they be people coming to the profession’.