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BSB more likely to raise complaints against minority ethnic barristers

Jagger: Commitment to transparency

Minority ethnic barristers remain more likely than their White counterparts to be subject to complaints raised by the Bar Standards Board (BSB), new research has shown.

It also found that men were more likely than women to face regulatory action.

The BSB’s research team looked [1] at reports about barristers’ conduct received between January 2015 and October 2019, when the way in which they were dealt with changed; later this year the BSB will carry out another analysis to cover the last two years.

It found that barristers from minority ethnic backgrounds were “significantly” (1.7 times) more likely than White barristers to be subject to an ‘internal’ complaint – that is, one initiated by the BSB – while male barristers were 1.3 times more likely than female barristers.

The finding for ethnicity mirrored the findings of the last analysis the BSB carried out in 2016 [2], covering 2012-14, but the gender finding was a new one.

“It is worth exploring further why barristers from minority ethnic groups appeared to be more likely to be subject to internal complaints for complaints decided [during the period],” the report said.

The more years spent as an employed barrister, as a QC and since call were all associated with a decrease in the likelihood of being subject to an internal complaint.

By contrast, gender and ethnicity did not impact whether barristers were subject to an external complaint.

Some 59% of all cases were closed without investigation – a rising figure – and 10% were referred to disciplinary action, and the research found no statistically significant link to gender or ethnicity in either when other factors were taken into account.

However, gender was “close to being significant” when looking at whether cases were closed without investigation, the BSB said, “suggesting that there may be some association between being male and a lesser likelihood of a complaint being closed without investigation”.

Further, men were 2.1 times more likely than women to have cases against them referred to disciplinary action, while ethnicity was also “close” to statistical significance in being referred.

Researchers said area of practice may be an important control variable missing from their analysis.

“Analysis of year-on-year trends of complaint outcomes and ethnicity suggests that, while there were a greater proportion of complaints referred for disciplinary action for barristers from minority ethnic backgrounds in comparison to White barristers prior to 2017, from 2017 onwards there is no clear trend.

“This suggests that the association between ethnicity and the likelihood of an ‘internal complaint’ being referred for disciplinary action may have become weaker from 2017 onwards.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there was a link between years spent as a public access barrister and likelihood of being subject to a complaint, while those practising in more emotive areas of law such as employment and family – where unrepresented parties were also more prevalent – were more likely to face complaints as well.

BSB director of legal and enforcement, Sara Jagger, said: “This report illustrates our commitment to transparency in the way in which we deal with reports about barristers’ conduct. Our decision making is regularly reviewed to ensure that it is of a high quality and free from bias and it is essential that we keep monitoring these issues.

“Our decision-making processes have changed significantly since the period covered by this report and later this year, we will be reviewing the impact of those changes on the outcomes for barristers with different diversity characteristics.”

Research published late last year [3] by the Solicitors Regulation Authority showed that men and minority ethnic solicitors continued to feature disproportionately in its enforcement work.