The Bar Standards Board's complaints process is biased against male barristers, new research appears to show. But the system does not discriminate against black and minority ethnic (BME) barristers, the regulator says. 

A diversity review of the complaints process published today showed that while more BME barristers are the subject of complaints and punished by their regulator, this is down to factors other than ethnicity.

While previous studies had suggested a disparity in the outcome of complaints between BME and white barristers, analysis of the figures in greater depth showed that complaints about BME barristers were more likely to relate to a sole practitioner or an unregistered barrister and more likely to be initiated by the BSB.  

All factors make it more likely for a complaint to be investigated and for disciplinary action to be taken. 

However the new study suggests that gender does ‘significantly predict’ whether complaints are investigated and cases are referred to disciplinary action, even when other factors are taken into account. Figures show that the BSB is less likely to investigate or refer a female barrister than their male counterpart. 

The report suggested that the BSB should ensure there is no gender discrimination in the complaints process.

Sara Jagger, director of professional conduct at the BSB, said: ‘It is pleasing that the report indicates there is no significant difference in complaints-handling between BME and white barristers, however this is an area we will continue to monitor. 

‘We do, however, need to look more carefully at the new findings in relation to the potential issue of gender bias and ensure that we take action to address this.’ 

The BSB said that in response to the findings it would further anonymise its assessment reports to avoid identifying a barrister’s gender, unless directly relevant to the complaint.