The oversight regulator is to step in to ensure more progress from frontline regulators in improving diversity within the profession.

Dr Helen Phillips, chair of the Legal Services Board, said this week that following ‘years of limited movement’ over the issue, her organisation will use its oversight role more effectively to ensure change.

The LSB has worked since the start of the year to understand how regulators such as the SRA and BSB are performing in this area, and specifically what understanding they have of barriers to entry and progression.

Results have been ‘disappointing’ so far, said Phillips, with just three of the regulatory bodies – the BSB, ICAEW and SRA – able to show they understood the composition of those under their regulation. Although most regulators showed they understood the barriers to entry, there was little evidence they were using this knowledge to deal with the problem.

Phillips added: ‘No regulator was able to demonstrate that they currently have a comprehensive understanding of whether their disciplinary/enforcement procedures disproportionately impact certain groups. 

‘There are shortcomings in the collection of diversity data across the sector and there is also no consensus on what types of interventions have been successful to meaningfully improve diversity across all the protected characteristics.’

Phillips said the LSB will help regulatory bodies collect and evaluate the right data to show which interventions have worked. Her organisation will also review the performance framework next year to best measure how regulators are faring.

The LSB will work alongside the Legal Services Consumer Panel and its own recently-established public panel to understand how black, Asian and minority ethnic consumers experience access to justice and the service they receive from legal providers.

The SRA has pledged to publish a report later this year setting out what proportion of solicitors facing prosecution are from ethnic minority groups. It is more than five years since a review commissioned by the SRA found evidence of disproportionality, and recommended that the regulator publish data on how its policies affected minority groups. To date, nothing has appeared.