New analysis cannot explain why BAME lawyers and solicitors struggle to reach bench

Shuja: Very little has been achieved to date on diversity

Other factors do not explain why solicitors and lawyers from ethnic minorities fare worse than barristers and White lawyers respectively when applying for judicial appointments, the Ministry of Justice has found.

However, gender has no impact on success rates, an “experimental” statistical analysis said.

The ‘deep dive’ review of 46 legal and 14 non-legal recruitment exercises in the six years to 31 March 2021 sought to control for the effect of “significant” factors such as professional qualification and attending Oxbridge and thus isolate the impact of a particular factor on the progress of 22,000 legal and 2,300 non-legal applicants through the various judicial selection tools.

It found no difference in success rates between women and men. However, even after controlling for legal profession and Oxbridge attendance, “overall Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) candidates do less well than white candidates for the majority of selection tools”.

Similarly, solicitor candidates do less well than barrister candidates for all selection tools. Social mobility was found to be a significant factor in some stages of the process as well.

There was no evidence of differences in outcomes for non-legal exercises based on gender or race, even though the selection tools used for both types of exercise are the same.

The reports cautioned that the findings were classified as experimental because the methodology was only recently developed.

It added: “The limitations of this analysis should be borne in mind; for legal exercises, although starting with 22,000 applicants, each time the group is split up into the necessary permutations of characteristics, and then further to look at individual selection tools, the groups can quickly become small in number.”

The intention is for further research and analysis in order to better understand the factors influencing target group progression through selection exercises.

Meanwhile, the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) today published its six-monthly diversity update, with the latest statistics reflecting the report’s findings.

More than one in five (22%) applicant lawyer was from a BAME background, but only 14% were recommended for appointment; 28% of applicants were current solicitors and 15% made it through the process.

The update highlighted a string of actions taken to tackle diversity issues, including a review of the statutory consultation process, and increasing the diversity of lay panel members – 70% of whom are now female, 18% from BAME backgrounds and 16% have declared a disability.

September marked the end of the first year of a pilot programme of targeted outreach for key court and tribunal roles, through which the JAC identifies and works with specific eligible candidates from under-represented target groups.

Since launch, the programme 136 of 278 applicants have received support from a targeted outreach team commissioner.

Law Society vice-president Lubna Shuja said: “Despite a significant number of applications from different target groups – including solicitors and Black, Asian and minority ethnic candidates – and considerable work to make the judiciary more diverse, it’s clear from these disappointing figures that very little has been achieved to date in driving diversity in judicial appointments…

“We are deeply concerned to see the new data about the significantly lower success rates of diverse applicants in the JAC process. We call on the JAC to investigate urgently the reasons for this differential performance and remove any remaining barriers.”

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