Ethnic minority barristers are more likely to face complaints from the regulator than their white colleagues, a study by the Bar Standards Board has revealed.

Analysis of complaints made between 2015 and 2019 found that barristers from minority ethnic backgrounds are 1.7 times more likely than white barristers to have complaints raised against them by the BSB, based on information from sources such as judges, the Solicitors Regulation Authority and self-reports.

The data also revealed an association between ethnicity and disciplinary action which is ‘close to statistical significance’. The BSB concluded, therefore, that there may be a link between minority ethnic backgrounds and a greater likelihood of a complaint being referred for disciplinary action. This could entail referring the barrister’s conduct to an independent tribunal or to a panel of the BSB's independent decision making body. 

On gender, the regulator found that male barristers who are the subject of complaints are over twice as likely to have their case referred for disciplinary action than female barristers and 30% more likely to have an internal complaint made against them – a new development since 2014.

The BSB said it is not clear why gender and ethnicity would show such a relationship with disciplinary action.

Practice areas were also shown to be a contributing factor, with immigration barristers more likely to face internal complaints, and family and employment barristers more likely to attract external complaints from members of the public, lawyers and other outside sources. Perhaps less surprisingly, the number of years since call is associated with a reduced likelihood of complaints – with the exception of public access lawyers.

Commenting on the findings, BSB director of legal and enforcement Sara Jagger, said: ‘This report illustrates our commitment to transparency in the way in which we deal with reports about barristers’ conduct. Our decision making is regularly reviewed to ensure that it is of a high quality and free from bias and it is essential that we keep monitoring these issues.

‘Our decision-making processes have changed significantly since the period covered by this report and later this year, we will be reviewing the impact of those changes on the outcomes for barristers with different diversity characteristics.’

The study examined 2,190 complaints against barristers from January 2015 to October 2019. The complaints were made against 1,723 individual barristers.