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‘Rushing More Ethnic Minority Students Into Pupillage Could Cause Culture Clash’

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OccupyTheInns cautions against a “knee-jerk” reaction to a study that found ethnic minority students are at a disadvantage in the pupillage application process.

As somebody who abhors discrimination in all its forms, I was extremely disappointed to read of the recent Bar Standards Board (BSB) study that suggests there is prejudice against students from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds in the pupillage application process. By all accounts great strides have been made at the Bar to rid it of the scourge of discrimination. Clearly there is more work to be done.

Before I proceed, I must say that I have never witnessed prejudice on racial grounds at the Bar. Indeed, my experience is that chambers are sometimes more disposed to the charms of a strong applicant with an exotic surname than a good old John Smith. However, I am not BME myself, and I am aware that racism works in subtle ways.

Consequently, the question turns to what we must do to fight discrimination. Complicated questions require complex answers. It is my submission that in this case we must refrain from the knee-jerk reaction of simply rushing more BME candidates into pupillage. This could cause a considerable culture clash for which I do not believe chambers would be ready.

As an alternative, more sensible, course, I urge chambers to gradually increase the number of BME pupils, while also increasing the number of culturally aware non-BME pupils with experience of living and travelling in other countries. By working together, these two groups could help bring about sustainable change.

Before university, I was fortunate enough to spend a gap year travelling, visiting both western countries and exciting emerging markets. During this time I learnt a great deal not only about myself, but different cultures. Most important of all, I realised that beneath our different skins and whatever national costumes we may wear, we are all human beings.

Sadly, despite their considerable intelligence, large numbers of barristers do not possess this insight. For far too many, their only experience of “abroad” is two weeks all expenses paid in the Seychelles each summer. No wonder certain barristers (who shall remain nameless here) have looked at me blankly when I tried to discuss the interests such as hip hop music and international fusion cuisine that I have developed partly as a result of spending time overseas.

However, we need to be persistent. Without wishing to blow my own trumpet, I believe that people like myself have a great deal to offer “old skool” barristers who may possess biases. I refer not to great gestures, but the everyday.

Be it through talking about the latest underground club night we attended, or even through offering encouragement to try something a little more adventurous on the lunch menu, young barristers with cultural awareness have much to offer in breaking down the prejudices that still sadly exist at the Bar. By recognising this chambers could kick out racism from the law for good.

OccupyTheInns graduated from the BPTC last summer, and was called to the Bar in July 2011. There’s more from OccupyTheInns here.