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.