Chambers “expected” to commit to race audits and ‘positive action’

Neale: Reverse mentoring scheme growing

Chambers should conduct race equality audits and, if necessary, introduce “positive action” to address the problems identified, as well as publish anti-racist statements, the Bar Standards Board (BSB) said today.

Last night’s meeting of the full board of the BSB approved an Anti-Racist Statement that was published this morning.

It features four “anti-racist expectations” for chambers and BSB entities to fulfil in response to the issues of underrepresentation and adverse impacts facing barristers from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds.

The board heard that the Black Lives Matter movement “has created a significant amount of positive energy within the BSB and at the Bar, to tackle race inequality”.

The statement outlines the steps the BSB itself is taking to evaluate and strengthen its own commitment to anti-racism, before going on to explain how chambers and entities can “embed an anti-racist approach in their work”.

Compliance will not compulsory – the statement does not have the status of a rule – and so will not form the basis of disciplinary action.

“However, we would expect all chambers to have regard to the four actions set out in the statement in reviewing their own action plans,” the paper before the board said.

The audit would aim to identify the barriers to race equality, and would followed by introducing positive action measures to tackle any issues highlighted.

The BSB gave examples such as targeted adverts to recruit people from BAME backgrounds into work experience or pupillage opportunities, and measures to support practising BAME barristers with development, marketing or progression opportunities.

“Where appropriate, and in response to evidence, positive action measures should be targeted at specific groups (e.g. Black Caribbean) and take an intersectional approach (e.g. Black Caribbean women).”

Last month, the Bar Council published a guide on positive action – covering other issues as well, such as giving female barristers preferential access to briefs after returning to chambers from career breaks – and said it could bring about real change in addressing under-representation at the Bar.

The third action recommended by the BSB is “comprehensive anti-racist training for all barristers and staff”, and the fourth to “produce and publish an anti-racist statement for members of chambers and the public, to set out your commitments to address race inequality and ensure senior level buy in to, and accountability for, those commitments”.

The BSB statement also encourages sole practitioners to take “proportionate steps” to fulfil the expectations, such as undertaking training, and says the same for employed barristers – to whom the equality rules do not apply – starting with discussing the expectations with their employers.

The BSB will conduct a thematic review of the profession’s response to this statement during its 2021-22 business year.

This will ask what actions have been taken in response to the actions, taking into account “the resource challenges experienced by some chambers, as a result of Covid-19”.

Separately, BSB director general Mark Neale’s report to the board said that its reverse mentoring scheme – which sees senior White barristers being mentored by pupils or Bar students from BAME backgrounds – “continues to grow”.

Thirty-seven people have applied to take part in the pilot and eight pairings have been confirmed so far. The pilot will consist of around 10 pairings and its impact will be evaluated next year.

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