BSB launches probe after report identifies possible race bias in disciplinary work

Davies: BSB will check for unconscious bias

The Bar Standards Board (BSB) has become the latest regulator facing questions over race discrimination in its disciplinary system after an internal report appeared to show the existence of racial bias.

The report, produced by the Bar Council’s research team late last year, showed black and minority ethnic (BME) barristers were over-represented both in BSB-generated and external conduct complaints.

An analysis of complaints data from 2007-11 concluded they were more likely to have a complaint referred to disciplinary action and less likely to have a complaint dismissed than their white colleagues.

In a finding that appeared to reveal discrimination, the analysis observed BME barristers were more likely to have a disciplinary action outcome upheld “even when controlling for differences in the subjects of complaints”.

The report said: “There is no evidence that BME barristers were subjected to a larger proportion of internal complaints for any reason other than their ethnicity.” It concluded that “the reason for these disproportionalities is not known” and called for an external investigation.

A qualitative review will be carried out by the independent agency Inclusive Employers, which describes itself as “an organisation created to help employers develop an inclusive workplace, avoid the pitfalls of discrimination, and get more from their workforce”.

In August the Solicitors Regulation Authority brought in race expert Professor Gus John to investigate after reports showed continuing evidence that BME solicitors were disproportionately likely to face intervention and disciplinary action.

BSB director, Dr Vanessa Davies, said: “While the findings of our report are clear, the causes of the over-representation are not. The first step is to take a fresh look internally at our complaints processes to ensure there is no unconscious bias operating.”

She added that the question of “external factors” may also be considered later, and said: “The board is keen to ensure there is no possibility of unequal treatment which is why we have commissioned a closer methodical investigation.”

Inclusive Employers will carry out its review over the next few months using face to face interviews and by examining the system for raising, referring and deciding conduct complaints. It will also conduct up to 100 file reviews and interview BSB “office holders and key staff”. Its report and recommendations will be presented to the BSB’s main board in September.


    Readers Comments

  • Rosemarie says:

    My personal experience is when you have professional problems do something different. I was a practicing lawyer. I worked for one of the largest law firms in Guyana–I enjoyed my work but when there is jealousy it makes life more challenging. I came off and changed to the teaching profession and even had challenges there when people realized that I was getting places professionally though I was an ordinary teacher. We must learn versatility–whilst teaching I continued to work with a Senior Counsel, doing his research, drafting and notetaking in court—everyone has a function and every man/woman has a place in this world. As a lawyer, I have had to mediate several matrimonial matters and other family issues.
    I taught my students to be versatile. Cannot take a defeatist position. I know of Doctors who left the medical profession for entrepreneurship.
    I have read several books by female lawyers–Eve was Framed by Helen Kennedy QC, Cherie Blair’s autobiography and a sequel of accounts of practice and life of a female lawyer


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