Research: BME lawyers far less likely to become judges than white lawyers

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Only 10% of BME applicants were shortlisted


New research has revealed that aspiring judges from a black and ethnic minority (BME) background are “far less likely to succeed” in their applications to the bench than white lawyers.

Stats from the Judicial Appointments Commission show that, of the lawyers who applied to be recorders (low-level judges) last year, only 10% of BME candidates were ever shortlisted. This is compared to 20% of white candidates. Of those who made the shortlist, 29% of BME lawyers were recommended for appointment. This is 17 percentage points less than the corresponding figure for white lawyers (46%).

It should also be noted that, since 2012, not a single BME candidate has applied to or been appointed to the Court of Appeal.

The Bar Council is seriously concerned about these findings. Sam Mercer, who is head of equality and diversity at the Bar Council, described this “inequality” as “unacceptable”, and added:

Those appointed as recorders make up the pool from which the ranks of the senior judiciary are drawn. Lack of diversity at this level has huge implications for the ethnic make-up of our most influential and respected tier of public servants.

The legal profession’s stance on ethnic diversity has, unfortunately, been a cause for concern for some years.

Dame Linda Dobbs — Britain’s first black, female High Court judge — gave a shocking tell-all interview earlier this year when she revealed that she had experienced racism earlier in her career. Reflecting on her time as a pupil barrister, the Sierra Leone born judge recalled that she was booked to represent members from extreme-right wing party the National Front. The clerk who gave her the brief allegedly told her to “do an Al Jolson in reverse… get a bit of tennis white and do that to your face and they won’t know the difference.”

Recognition of this shocking behaviour shows that progress towards a more diverse, tolerant legal profession has been made in recent years.

And this progress extends to the judiciary. The new figures are actually very encouraging on the gender diversity front at least: 45% of those recommended for appointment to the judiciary last year were women, continuing an ongoing trend towards reducing the male domination of the bench.



Boo hoo.



typical white cis-gendered tears.

Please don’t threaten my bodily integrity.



Here’s news for your LC: All that BME / Diversity stuff you keep on banging about – guess what? WE DO NOT CARE!!

How about, instead of 10 repetitive articles about how unequal the legal industry is – you write 1 substantive article, which is actually topical and relevant for current law students / recent grads?

For example, your recent piece about how different practice areas suit different personality types was actually quite OK. Can we please have more relevant stuff like that here?


Anonymous 2

This is hugely topical and relevant for aspiring BME law students / recent grads… You may not care, as you may not face the same institutional prejudice, but others do.



You do not care because it does not directly affect you… obviously. Also it is apparent that you do not identify with this group and troubling issue therefore you dismiss it.

If this were a gay/straight, regional, mental health or class issue would you then care? Perhaps due to it directly affecting you and/or someone close to you.

Discrimination is discrimination, whether it is subtle or overt and its needs to be illuminated.


Gregory Lauder Frost

If they can’t become judges in this jurisdiction, nobody is preventing them from returning to their natural homelands. Asia for the Asians, Africa for the Africans, White countries for everybody! Anti-racist is a code word for anti-white. Diversity is a code-word for white genocide.



Their natural homelands? You sound ridiculous.



That is a laughable and poorly worded argument masquerading as outrage. I recognise and denounce it for the coded dog whistle waffle it is.

Must try harder. Presumably these individual are British Born and therefore they are home. No one is trying to commit genocide, you should be ashamed.



Interesting that you assume that all Legal Cheek readers are white so this article can’t be relevant for anyone. How telling.


Not Amused

How big are the respective candidate pools?



Is it possible that the BME lawyers who didn’t get appointed weren’t as able and/or qualified as the white and BME lawyers who did get appointed?



Das raysis bruv, innit doe?



That old tired excuse. Or alternatively maybe those deciding are more comfortable with those that look like them and who they can identify as coming from a similar background.

Surely statistically there are many “high flying able bodied” BME candidates out there, to advance there “may not be” is disappointing.



Is it possible that those sitting on the Bar Council are not idiots and have genuine concerns for why BME people are not getting these roles?



If BME candidates aren’t applying for the roles, why is it a surprise that they aren’t being appointed?



Could it be worth questioning why no BME people are applying for the roles? I suspect there is more to it than them just not wanting to apply.



Ding Ding Ding. It’s all the BME lawyers’ fault



Yep, Legal Cheek commenters can’t bear the thought that there precious institutions might actually encourage inequality.



The recorder statistics are concerning, although it’s difficult to draw any conclusions on the limited evidence provided.

The CA statistic is meaningless. How many BME judges have there been in the High Court in that time with sufficient experience to apply? None from memory. It would be more useful to know the equivalent statistics from the High Court application process.



Why are Legal Cheek commenters SO reluctant to accept that BME people face prejudice and barriers in the legal world? You consistently demand more evidence, more stats, more facts – nothing is ever enough. Do you dislike the idea of social mobility? This is not some hack telling us this, it’s the Bar Council. If they have cause for concern, I’m assuming there is a genuine reason for it.



I am not rejecting out-of-hand the hypothesis that BME lawyers face institutionalised and structural barriers. I think this is certainly a possibility.

Rather, I am rejecting the unsupported presumption that white lawyers and BME lawyers must automatically be equally qualified and equally able. Where is the evidence to support this supposed axiom that so many commentators, like you, seem to unquestioningly embrace?

People relentlessly cite figures such as those in the article above to support the argument that the Bar is institutionally prejudiced against, for example, people of colour. And such figures do of course raise serious questions which need to be properly investigated. However, in themselves, such figures do not prove anything, and there are myriad other explanations which could account for the discrepancy.

Speaking personally, I have never witnessed prejudice at the Bar which could properly be characterised as racist. What I have witnessed, and indeed do witness, however is institutionalised discrimination against people from low-socioeconomic backgrounds. Given that BME citizens of this country are disproportionately overrepresented in the lower classes, could it be that figures such as those in the article above serve as a proxy to what is, in my view at least, a far more pressing and apparent problem?

Given that BME students perform disproportionately poorly at A-level and are disproportionately represented at ‘good universities’, could it be possible that the average BME candidate who meets the minimum threshold necessary to apply to the Bench is not as qualified as the average white candidate who meets that threshold?

I appreciate and respect your concern. However, at the same time I am worried by the extent to which what should be intelligent discussion is dominated by logical fallacies such as ‘correlation=causation’.

Respectfully, a figure which shows BME citizens are underrepresented at the Bench does not prove that they are being unfairly discriminated against on account of their colour. What would prove that BME citizens were being unfairly discriminated against would be clear evidence that equally qualified white candidates were being favoured over equally qualified BME candidates.

So in answer to your question, the reason why ‘Legal Cheek commenters [are] SO reluctant to accept that BME people face prejudice’ is that the evidence provided is not enough to support the conclusions people such as yourself are drawing.

Likewise, the reason ‘[Legal Cheek commenters] consistently demand more evidence’ is that most right-thinking people only care about racism when it unfairly affects people regardless of their ability. Statistics which give no indication of a candidate’s ability, only whether they have applied for a job, are insufficient to draw conclusions of prejudice on account of colour.



Bumblebee with that absolute smackdown. Hear hear.


Dialogue with a Bee


I am uncomfortable with your phrase “equally able”… I throw it back at you, where is the evidence that they are unable. Other than the fact that there are less of them in these positions, is there other empirical evidence to support this hypothesis?

That the figures exist AND there is this continuing outcry regarding this particular glass ceiling, should be cause enough for alarm. That some (not saying you are one of them) dismiss this, is alarming yet expected.

Understanding why you state you have never encountered it, is anecdotal and does not mean that such behaviour doesn’t exist and isn’t perpetuated, it simply means you have not experienced or seen it.

Similarly to the way I didn’t see it in previous employment when colleagues that do not look like me used to explain that they were given code words whenever certain clients entered the door seeking service. I was excluded from any such conversation for obvious reasons. And until informed I was blissfully unaware. See I too have my own anecdotal experiences.

I also reject your premise BME candidates “that meet the minimum threshold” are not as qualified. Who says and how do you prove they meet the minimum threshold, where is the empirical data supporting this?

Equally I challenge your correlation= causation argument, while I agree number can and do lie, historically the associated numbers have not advanced,even though more and more of those disadvantaged BME’ers are getting good degrees and going to the “good unis”.

Now I am not saying the lack of a judiciary reflecting modern Britain is solely based on racism, however I am saying based on the empirical evidence mixed with some anecdotal, surely it must be a significant part of the equation.

Respectfully, the “lack of evidence” is not the reason why legal Cheek commenters are reluctant to accept evidence, it is because they don’t care about the issue and no one likes such numbers and the correlation that the numbers mean inequality being thrown in their face.

We all want to believe decisions are based solely on merit, however those of us with a little experience KNOW this is not necessarily or definitively the case, life has few absolutes. Intrinsically as a species we are tribal ; if you are not from my tribe that may strongly affect my decision when all other things are equal, which by definition makes things unequal.

As Bob Marley said “He who feels it knows it”; he also said “If the cap fits, let them wear it”



As much as lefties like to bandy percentages around they are meaningless without knowing the qualifications and experience of those shortlisted compared to those rejected.



Yes the Bar Council is just making this all up of course! For goodness sake. You would rather do anything than help BME people out in this industry.



Why do all Legal Cheek commenters absolutely despise the idea of encouraging BME people to be at the bar and despise the idea that it’s a bad thing that the bar is so unequal? Any mention of inequality and you all lose your marbles and instantly blame only BME people. It’s naive to act like internal bias and barriers to BME people do not exist. Equality is a nice thing guys, we should encourage it.



“We’re just cleverer ok!!” – white unsuccessful pupillage and TC-hunters


Low level judge

Wish I was a recorder…..


Creepy old grandpa

No one cares.


Haile Jus Tafari of Counsel

All dem bumpa clot ragamuffins no
Reply me once in all dem 300 plus times me apply. I receive racism de bar coz me wig won fit on me rasta wool bonnet. Dey say me goan back to Jamaica when me born in Brixton.

Is discrimination from dr blood clots all dem time



Seriously? That doesn’t breach the comments policy? It’s the keyboard warrior equivalent of putting on blackface and a curly wig.



I’m a Barrister from a BME background. I sound and am from a middle class background and got pupillage some years ago. Bumblebee is right, the initial barrier is socio-economic and not racial. At least that has been my experience. There are many from a BME background at the Bar. Far more I find than those with a ‘Common voice’ or ‘Unlike you Mr BME Barrister, don’t sound like one of us’ (both things I have heard many, many times).

The frankly somewhat shocking judicial appointment statistics likely coincide with the greater number of Solicitors applying to sit. Here you will find a far greater number of BME candidates who also fall into lower socio-economic groups. Some/many (who knows) won’t be as good as those who were appointed. The statistics however, seem to suggest that there is a wider problem.

I have faced very little racism in my life and know many who conflate people not liking them ‘Because it’s racism’ when in fact the problem is, that said person is a tool. I do occasionally face wonderful situations like this:

Me: Hello, my name is Mr BME Barrister and I’m your Barrister
Client: You speak really good English for someone with a name like that


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