By Luke Mclean
Improvement of diversity within the Judiciary starts with Chambers.
According to the Lord Chief Justice, “Significant progress is being made towards a more diverse judiciary”. Whilst this is somewhat a positive step forward, it cannot be ignored that this may not be the case for Black aspiring lawyers throughout the UK.
Statistics show that BME groups make up 12% of the bar and approximately 13% of the country’s population. Whilst this seems to imply that the Bar is representative of the UK’s populace, further research and examination into these statistics, proves that this is not entirely true.
Upon separating Black ethnic groups from other ethnic groups, significant disparities within the recruitment of pupil barristers at chambers have been discovered.
A report produced in December 2015 by the Bar Standard Board in regards to diversity at the bar, revealed shocking and disappointing figures. Out of 16,336 practising barristers, QC barristers and pupil barristers, only 184 are Black Caribbean and 216 Black African.
Considering that Black ethnic groups make up 3% of the country’s population, the Bar would be representative of the country, had it inducted 489 Black lawyer’s minimum. However, this is not the case as there are only 400 Black Lawyers at the Bar.
If the Bar wishes to maintain that it is representative of the Black community, these figures suggest that it is currently suffering from a shortage and in need of 89 Black barristers at a minimum.
This, unfortunately, is not where the story ends.
The Lord Chief Justice states that “significant progress is being made towards a more diverse judiciary” but statistics have revealed this to be a somewhat overstatement, particularly in reference to ethnic diversity at the bar. The improvement of Black lawyers being recruited into the top judicial positions including Circuit Judges, District Judges and High Court Judges is redundant and just 5.9% of court judges identify as BAME whilst over 10% of the country’s population are of BAME.
In the report, statistics show that only 5 Black Caribbean pupils were recruited by Barristers Chambers in contrast to 322 white pupils, and only 8 Black African pupils were recruited by Barristers chambers in contrast to 19 pupils of “any other white background”. These statistics outline the apparently inequitable nature of the bar and the extra hurdle Black aspiring lawyers must face before qualifying as a barrister.
Issues as to why there is such a shortage of Black lawyers within the profession must be a priority of the Lord Chief Justice and the Bar Standards Board. Furthermore, the need for an increase in ethnic diversity at the Pupil Bar is urgent, particularly when BME individuals make up 24% of Crown Court Defendants.
As an Aspiring Barrister studying on the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) at The City Law School, I have observed various Criminal and Civil Courts across London. I have observed that a significant proportion of Defendants and Victims are of Black Minority Ethnic Group. It is important that these Defendants and Victims have access to lawyers that understand them culturally, particularly in relation to language and their formation of friendships.
Coming from a BME group myself, I can be sure that there is a lack of trust in the justice system amongst the black community and many individuals would prefer to be unrepresented even if eligible for legal aid. I have noticed that there is a real communication gap between Black Defendants and Barristers, whereby many Barristers of opposing ethnicities struggle to understand the dialect; broken English or slang used by a vast amount of these Defendants leading to dissatisfaction with the way their case was put and withholding information that could be vital to their case. This is not the justice system we want in the United Kingdom and a representative bar is one way how to increase confidence in the system.
Ethnic Diversity at the bar needs significant improvement and “diversity within the Judiciary starts within the Chambers”, in particular, the recruitment of Black Pupils. If the country wishes to see a bar that is representative of the country in which they reside, it is vital that Barristers Chambers are the first to make that change.
Many thanks to Luke for this insightful piece!
Luke Mclean is an Aspiring criminal Barrister studying the BPTC The City Law School. He obtained an Upper Second Class LLB Law Degree at the City, University of London and has completed various internships and pupillages. His interest for Criminal Law became apparent when he noticed many of his friends or acquaintances being convicted of serious crimes. His curiosity and wit led him to a potential career in law. “Every day when I read the crime section of my borough newspaper I see someone that I know or know off, it’s ridiculous”.