Study slams BSB and chambers for failing to reveal diversity data

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By Thomas Connelly on

Damning study comes as top black judge launches campaign to address racism on the bench


A new academic study has slammed both the bar regulator and chambers for failing disclose diversity data.

The latest study — undertaken by Dr Steven Vaughan, who is a senior law lecturer at the the University of Birmingham — heavily criticises chambers for failing to comply with the rules relating to the publication of diversity stats.

Describing the issue as “widespread” the top legal academic suggested there was an apparent “misinterpretation” of disclosure requirements, as well as clear examples of “regulatory failure” by both chambers and the Bar Standards Board (BSB).

Entitled “Prefer not to say: diversity and diversity reporting at the bar of England & Wales”, Vaughan undertook his own survey in relation to diversity compliance, questioning 160 chambers.

The Birmingham-based lecturer discovered that while 91 chambers were happy to disclose stats relating to diversity in one form or another, fewer than one in four were willing to reveal information relating to barristers’ socio-economic background, sexual orientation or disability status.

Despite many chambers remaining tight-lipped over details regarding tenants, Vaughan discovered they were more forthcoming in relation to other staff, such as clerks and administrative assistants. Reflecting on the discovery, he said:

This is striking, and suggests that barristers may feel (for whatever reason) differently about diversity disclosures than the staff who work in their chambers. One might hypothesise that, in the hyper-privileged and hyper-traditional world of the Bar… barristers believe that anything which marks them out as different and/or as an outsider is potentially harmful.

Vaughan — who spent nine years as a City lawyer, first at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and then Latham & Watkins — also fired several warning shots to those at the BSB.

With no formal obligation for chambers to forward diversity stats onto their regulator, Vaughan argued that the BSB was missing a vital source of information. As a result, the study claims the BSB’s website — which contains information regarding diversity at the bar — could not only be “misleading” but also demonstrate a “lack of transparency”.

Vaughan’s study comes as one of England and Wales’ top black judges launches a campaign to address they way in which ethnic minority judges are treated.

In an open letter to the Lord Chief Justice, judge turned political activist Peter Herbert suggested ethnic minority judges are failing to report incidents of racism for fear for career reprisals.

Herbert — who is chair of the Society of Black Lawyers — told Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd that the way in which black and ethnic minority judges are being treated by other colleagues is becoming a “growing issue”. Continuing, he said:

It is extremely important that BME judges feel confident to discuss matters of equality, diversity and bias without feeling that their judicial careers would be jeopardised in so doing. For many … the route to holding judicial office has been a real struggle against adversity, so your support, however indirect, would be most welcome.