Half of barristers’ chambers were found to be non-compliant with equality and diversity rules introduced in response to new laws, a report to the Bar Standards Board has revealed.
A monitoring report of a sample of 32 chambers, submitted to the board, showed full compliance was ‘not very high’.
Of the sample, 16 (50%) were found to be either compliant or fully compliant, with just six chambers (19%) fully compliant.
The equality and diversity rules on the Code of Conduct for the bar were brought into force in September 2012 in response to changing equality legislation. Non-mandatory guidance had been found to be ineffective to tackle concerns about the underrepresentation of woman and BME barristers.
The rules cover action to tackle retention of women, underrepresentation of disabled people, overrepresentation of woman and BME barristers in lower remunerated practice areas and inequality in work allocation.
They include requirements to develop policies, monitor the diversity characteristics of chambers, analyse diversity data on work allocation, ensure fair recruitment training for selection panels and offer rent relief to members taking parental leave.
The rules with the highest level of compliance were those requiring the production of an equality and harassment policy – in this area 30 chambers (94%) were compliant.
The area of least compliance was the rule requiring production of an equality action plan – only 50% were compliant.
The report said chambers managed ‘reasonably well’ in relation to reasonable adjustments, flexible working and parental leave requirements, with 67-80% compliance.
All sets had complied with the requirement to appoint an equality and diversity officer and diversity data officer.
On selection panel training, 22 sets had complied with the requirement to have at least one person trained in fair recruitment on each panel, but only 17 had ensured that the lead person responsible for recruitment had the requisite training.
A ‘good percentage’ (78%) of sets were conducting workforce monitoring and 71% monitored applications to chambers.
Three-quarters of chambers (24) had a parental leave policy in accordance with the rules, 20 had compliant flexible-working policies and 24 had compliant reasonable adjustment policies.
In light of the findings, the BSB made seven recommendations, including raising awareness of the rules and providing greater guidance and assistance to chambers.