Bar Council elects first Black vice chair

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Barbara Mills KC starts in the role from January 2024

Barbara Mills KC

The Bar Council this week confirmed the appointment of Barbara Mills KC as vice chair, becoming the first Black person and first person of colour to assume the role.

Mills, who is joint head of chambers at 4PB and a family law specialist, was voted in by members of the Council and will take up the position from January 2024. Upon doing so she also becomes the first family barrister to take up the role in 35 years and will join the current vice chair, Sam Townend KC of Keating Chambers, who was elected unopposed as chair for next year.

Legal Cheek understands people don’t usually stand against the vice chair in elections and they usually go on to become chair, meaning we could see our first Black chair of the bar from 2025.

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Commenting on her election, Mills said: “When Baroness Hallett became the first woman to chair the Bar Council in 1998, I was inspired and uplifted, but it seemed like a hopeless dream for me. So, I am deeply honoured and humbled to have been elected as the next vice chair.”

Continuing, Mills said her two areas of focus will be to raise the profile of the publicly-funded family bar and to continue the work on equality, diversity and inclusion at the bar.

“I look forward to working with the Bar Council team and colleagues across the bar to take forward these priorities and represent the profession,” she said.

Mills was called to the bar by Inner Temple in 1990 and took silk in 2020. She sits as a deputy High Court judge and has been a recorder on the South Eastern Circuit for over ten years. Mills co-chairs the Bar Council’s Race Working Group, which published the Race at the Bar report in 2020.

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And yet there are still London chambers in 2023 with one or no Black barristers in the whole building.

I’m embarrassed for these places.

Against tokenism all for real merit

Indeed. There is one chambers that gives out so-called ‘black scholarships’ and guess what no black barristers. A lot of this is what one academic calls “reputational laundering”. As long as “deemed safe” black people are happy to take tokenistic roles, prizes, or scholarships then no change will occur. I’m not blaming black people, I’m blaming the white bar that is so resistant to the actual talent out there. I’m in practice and was lucky enough to go to a diverse school and relatively diverse RG university with lots of talented black people before going up to Oxford to do the BCL. The problem is the bar is not picking those types i.e. the right type. Why? it’s all down to background. Unlike white people, a lot of black people are born into the wrong class. Hear me out i.e. their family is poor because of racial oppression, not because of laziness. This is particularly true with black people of Caribbean heritage. That means a lot the clever black people come from lower socio-economic groups. But guess what, the bar is not racist its horribly classist. I’m not saying that race doesn’t play a role, but barristers can get over that. What they really find hard to stomach is black people from lower socio-economic backgrounds that are impressively clever. They see them as an oddity. Which means, no. This is why in my view we need race and class report. We need to let barristers know that they’re often getting it so wrong. About 3 years ago my panel interviewed a really impressive guy, but they all said no even though he was clearly good enough to go all the way. They could see it and said no. I thought it was a joke. And guess what, the black candidate they picked who fitted in because of their privileged in the end did our chambers and walked away before taking up his offer. All Im saying is that we need to do so much more. The Bar is behind I’m genuinely worried about it.

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