The immediate past chair of the Bar Council has welcomed work by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to ensure greater gender parity in its instructions but said female fraud barristers are “a long way from parity” with their male colleagues.
Earlier this week, we reported that the CPS was developing a new set of briefing principles which highlight the importance of equality of opportunity when selecting prosecution advocates, and using new technology to monitor the allocation of cases, including returns.
Amanda Pinto QC, an international fraud specialist at 33 Chancery Lane, said it was “common to see entirely male counsel leading on both sides of a complex and high-profile fraud case, but women leading teams are rare and all-women teams rarer still”.
Writing on the Bar Council website, she said it was not until 2018 that she was in a fraud trial with more than one female QC.
“This state of affairs is reflected in the legal directories where, even in the 2021 editions, less than 12% of those said to be the leading QCs in financial crime are women. We must break this self-fulfilling cycle.”
Ms Pinto said although there were greater numbers of women getting fraud work at the junior end, “we are a long way from parity”.
Figures released by the Bar Council last year showed that women made up 33% of the self-employed criminal Bar but only received 23% of the total earnings.
She explained how the Bar Council’s work with the CPS found that different types and levels of cases were not being allocated proportionately. “As a result, changes are already being made to improve practices.”
At the much smaller Serious Fraud Office (SFO), women make up almost 50% of the overall workforce and the director, general counsel and chief capability officer are all women.
She quoted Sarah Lawson QC, general counsel of the SFO, as saying it was “encouraging” that SFO data showed that equal numbers of male and female barristers had been instructed over the past year.
Ms Pinto concluded: “To do meaningful analysis, we need good-quality evidence to underpin it so, we have to strive further to collect diversity data.
“We need to build confidence that this data is important so that practitioners provide it; that robust data will lead to systems that identify whether we are distributing work fairly and successfully building the skills and experience of advocates from diverse backgrounds. If we fail to do this, we will never make progress.”