Coronavirus could undo efforts to improve diversity in the legal profession, with minority ethnic female barristers disproportionately affected by the pandemic, the Bar Council has said.

According to research commissioned by the representative body, barristers at most financial risk are predominantly female, black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME), young or with newer practices. Economist Professor Martin Chalkley found these demographic categories to be overrepresented in a major vulnerable group, and warned that ‘their loss from the profession would impact substantially on the diversity of those supplying legal services’.

Meanwhile, the most vulnerable group in Chalkey’s study – barristers whose first practising certificate was issued less than six years ago and who have been subject to large fluctuations in their fee earnings – is 51% female, despite women making up just 34% of all criminal legal aid barristers. Almost 60% of the group is between 25 and 34 years of age.

The Bar Council also warned that the resumption of criminal trials after the pandemic could be in jeopardy because of fallout from the profession. According to the study, half of legal aid criminal defence work is carried out by barristers at heightened financial risk due to Covid-19, and their loss would ‘constitute a severe obstacle to restarting criminal trials’.

The Criminal Bar Association announced this week that it will demand more financial support from the Treasury, with particular focus on the survival of chambers and the impact of coronavirus on junior barristers.