A disproportionate number of black and ethnic minority (BME) barristers are subject to complaints and punished by their regulator – but the system itself does not discriminate, an independent report published today concludes.
Research based on four years of Bar Standards Board data found BME barristers to be over-represented in the complaints process in relation to external complaints. White barristers are also more likely to have a complaint dismissed without disciplinary action, while BME barristers were more likely to have action taken against them.
But a review of the data by external organisation Inclusive Employers found no apparent failings with the complaints procedure and no evidence that it was discriminatory.
The review describes the process as ‘clear and balanced, with ample opportunity to seek advice and review decisions’.
It adds: ‘From an equality and diversity perspective, our view is that the procedure itself is not at fault. This means that other factors, as yet to be identified, are causing the disproportions shown in the data.’
The report puts forward a set of recommendations to improve the procedure, including equality and diversity training within three months of joining for all BSB committee members, training to take in ‘unconscious bias’ and a greater role for an independent observer to check on equality issues.
Names of the subjects of complaints should also be withheld from the committee and a formal invitation sent to the Society for Asian Lawyers and the Society of Black Lawyers to meet in order to discuss the implications of the review.
The outcome of the study echoes a similar analysis of SRA statistics, published in December 2011, which found no evidence of discrimination despite a similarly disproportionate number of regulatory actions against BME solicitors.
Director of the BSB, Dr Vanessa Davies (pictured), said she was pleased that the complaints process had been endorsed. ‘To ensure that our systems are as fair and as robust as possible, we will be acting on the report’s recommendations to further improve existing processes including taking further steps to anonymise cases considered by the professional conduct committee.
‘We make certain that all members receive the proper equality and diversity training upon joining the committee.’