The six lawyer groups that advise the Solicitors Regulation Authority on its equality and diversity strategy have condemned as “fundamentally flawed” last week’s report on the disproportionate representation of black and minority ethnic (BME) solicitors in the regulator’s disciplinary work.
Rejecting the findings, the external implementation group (EIG) said the failure of the report by Professor Gus John “to draw any inference of institutional racism… is a shocking indictment”.
The EIG was set up to oversee the recommendations of the 2008 Ouseley report on the same issue. It comprises the Black Solicitors Network, Society of Black Lawyers, British Nigerian Legal Forum, Society of Asian Lawyers, Association of Muslim Lawyers and Turkish British Legal Society.
Professor John’s case review found that disproportionality continued at various stages of the disciplinary process. Despite 13% of solicitors being from a BME background, they were the subject of 26% of new SRA investigations, 29% of interventions and 33% of referrals to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT).
However, he concluded that this was caused by broader socio-economic factors around access to the profession, and not institutional racism at the SRA.
In a statement issued today, the EIG claimed there was no “evidential basis or empirical data” for such a finding. It added: “The EIG emphatically rejects this analysis as being fundamentally flawed… the EIG continues to be seriously concerned at the sheer numbers of BME solicitors being processed by the disciplinary system.”
A list of 12 “flaws” in the report included the failure to explain “how or why the strong inference of institutional racism and bias found by Lord Ouseley had disappeared in the years since his 2008 report, even though the statistical evidence appears to be similar”.
Also, “no consideration was given to the concept of ‘indirect racial discrimination’ where a policy or practice leads to a far greater likelihood of discriminatory treatment as a result of interventions and investigations of small firms”.
The EIG called for a “proper and evidential based review that involves interviewing BME solicitors and being advised by a legal expert on regulatory affairs”.
It said: “The failure of the review to draw any inference of institutional racism and without drawing any distinction between the different strands of disproportionality is a shocking indictment of a costly report that promised much but has delivered very little of value for the profession.
“The disproportionality seen in the profession is akin to the police arguing that institutional racism is not responsible for the stop and search figures. The review will lack all credibility in the eyes of the BME legal community.
“Not only have black and minority solicitors faced racism and investigations but the BME community has been denied access to the lawyers they need, with the mostly white firms employed by the SRA benefiting from such interventions and closures. The continuing disproportionality in interventions and sanctions is as serious for the legal profession as the Lawrence Inquiry was for racism in the Metropolitan Police…
“The SRA has shown a cavalier disregard for the rights of both BME lawyers and our wider communities. This is in direct contrast to the overwhelmingly white, middle class City firms enjoying almost complete immunity from such enquiries, investigations and disciplinary sanctions.”
The SRA has pledged to publish a full response to Professor John’s report by the end of May, while the SDT – noting that it had not been involved in the review at all – said it would do the same “in due course”.