A report for the Bar Standards Board (BSB), which concluded that the regulator handled complaints involving ethnic minority barristers in a “transparent, consistent and fair” way, has been strongly attacked by equality expert Professor Gus John.
In his independent report for the Solicitors Regulation Authority, Professor John found that the disproportionately high number of ethnic minority solicitors in the disciplinary system was not the result of discrimination.
However, giving expert evidence at the High Court earlier this month, Professor John described the report for the BSB by consultants at Inclusive Employers as “singularly unhelpful”.
He said the report “ultimately fails to meet its own commissioning terms of reference as no qualitative investigation seems to have been undertaken” and did not take understanding of the issue of ethnic disproportionality “much beyond the parameters” of earlier research by the Bar Council.
Professor John said the report did not present a critique of the current BSB complaints handling and investigation system, and failed to suggest possible improvements.
The professor was giving evidence on behalf of barrister Portia O’Connor, who claims the BSB discriminated against her in the way it investigated complaints and is suing for compensation. Her action failed for limitation reasons and she is seeking to appeal that decision.
He went on: “The report does not enable the BSB itself, or any other reader, to understand what might account for disproportionality in the number of internal complaints raised against BME barristers, or in the adverse outcomes of the complaints handling process for both external and internal complaints.”
He concluded: “My overall assessment is that the review is singularly unhelpful to the BSB as a regulator concerned to understand and tackle the disproportionate impact of its complaints-handling protocols and procedures upon BME barristers.”
He added that the BSB was recommended by Inclusive Employers to commission an external equality expert to investigate complaints handling.
“It is clearly a matter for the BSB whether or not it adopts that recommendation,” he said. “The danger remains, however, that while these investigations and reviews continue apace, business will go on as usual and the complaints-handling process could well continue to give rise to damaging consequences for BME barristers.”
A spokesman for the BSB said the organisation was “unable to comment on a matter that may still be subject to an appeal.”