Bar Council set for first Black chair after Mills election

Mills: Deeply honoured and humbled

Barbara Mills KC is set to become the first Black person and person of colour to lead the Bar in 2025 after being elected as vice-chair of the Bar Council for next year.

She will also be only the fifth woman to hold the post in its history – the Bar Council marks its 130th anniversary next year – and the first family law practitioner in 35 years.

Current vice-chair Sam Townend KC, a civil practitioner at Keating Chambers, was elected unopposed as chair of the Bar for 2024.

Called in 1990, Ms Mills took silk in 2020. She is joint head of chambers at 4PB in London, while also sitting as a deputy High Court judge. She has been a recorder on the South-Eastern Circuit for over a decade.

Speaking in 2020, Ms Mills recounted how, when she was appointed a recorder, one of her colleagues had said with a straight face: “Your appointment must be really good for their stats.” When she asked why, he explained: “Well, you tick both boxes, black [and] woman”.

She remembered that, at two or three years’ call, she had been confused with a court usher. Her brother had commented that she needed to “up your swagger and make sure that next time you enter the court, nobody thinks you’re anything but the barrister”.

A Fellow of the International Academy of Family Lawyers, the silk specialises in complex children cases, often working with local authorities and guardians in care proceedings, particularly where cross-border issues arise.

Writing in 2021, Ms Mills said discrimination was the “sole identifiable cause” for the paucity of Black barristers, particularly at QC level.

As co-chair of the Bar Council’s race working group, she oversaw the landmark Race at the Bar report later the same year. This concluded that the time for talking about race inequality at the Bar was over and all organisations with a stake in the profession should set specific targets for improvement.

A follow-up report last year found that chambers were focusing their efforts to improve racial diversity on recruitment rather than progression or retention.

Ms 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.

“As the first specialist family practitioner to take up the position for 35 years, one of my main areas of focus will be to raise the profile of the publicly funded family Bar…

“My second area of focus is to continue the vitally important work on equality, diversity and inclusion at the Bar.

“Since we published the Race at the Bar report, we have seen some progress but there is so much more to be done across race, gender, disability, and social mobility where the scales require rebalancing.”

Meanwhile, at the Law Society, solicitor Amerdeep Somal has been named as the new chair of its board from the start of next year, succeeding former president Robert Bourns.

The board is the primary body that sits below the Law Society council and is responsible for implementing the strategy and business plan approved by the council. It is made up of the office-holders, council members, senior executives and independent members.

Ms Sohal is a former chief Crown prosecutor, leaving the Crown Prosecution Service in 2003, who is now the complaints commissioner to the financial regulators.

She is also a judge of the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal, chief commissioner at the Data and Marketing Commission and sits on the board of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, having held a range of other non-executive roles over the past 20 years.

In another senior appointment, Richard Orpin has been named the new director of regulation and policy at the Legal Services Board.

He joins from Ofcom, where he was public policy principal, leading the communications regulator’s engagement with government and Parliament on all broadcasting and media matters.

Before joining Ofcom in 2014, he worked at the Department for Culture, Media & Sport for seven years, including as head of domestic gambling policy.

His appointment follows the departure of Chris Nichols in February to take up the role of chief executive of the Enforcement Conduct Board.

Finally, the Bar Standards Board is about to lose one of its senior executives after Oliver Hanmer was named as the head of supervision and compliance monitoring at the Payment Systems Regulator.

Mr Hanmer has worked for the Bar regulator for nearly 25 years and is currently director of regulatory operations.

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