Two-thirds of barristers’ chambers which provide legal services to the Crown Prosecution Service are failing to meet equality and diversity standards, it has emerged in the first survey of its kind.
Speaking at a Bar Standards Board (BSB) event earlier this week on equality rules in its code of conduct, Keir Starmer, the director of public prosecutions, said he supported the BSB’s desire to make the rules obligatory. The CPS’s experience is that non-mandatory standards are ineffective, he suggested.
Revealing the headline results of a CPS survey, the first compiled since the publication in 2007 of an “expectations statement” setting out voluntary standards for criminal barristers who prosecute on its behalf, Mr Starmer said only 35% of chambers had complied, 48% partially complied and 17% didn’t comply at all. Few had analysed or acted on the data collected, he added.
Under the statement, chambers are expected to monitor and take steps to achieve progress on a range of equality and diversity issues, including recruitment, career development, training, the fair allocation of work, flexible working, and harassment. Mr Starmer said the scheme was not made mandatory at the time because its purpose was “to raise awareness of what we were expecting from chambers”.
Chambers with more than 45 members are asked to provide progress reports annually, medium-sized chambers every two years, and sets with fewer than 20 members, every three years. The CPS is currently drafting a “benchmarking report” after compiling the first complete results since 2007.
Expressing his support for the BSB’s intention to introduce mandatory compliance with new diversity rules, Mr Starmer said the CPS’s voluntary scheme showed that while 84% of larger chambers collected and monitored equality data, just 12% of medium-sized and 20% of small chambers did so.
He continued that “even where data was collected, there was little evidence… of the information being analysed or used to identify and act upon under-representation”. Just 20% of large chambers and 8% of medium-sized ones provided members and staff with equality and diversity training. Among small chambers, not a single one had delivered training, he said.
Mr Starmer contrasted the Bar’s performance in diversity matters with improvements he said the CPS had achieved among its workforce in recent years. These included an increase in the number of black and minority ethnic lawyers serving at chief Crown prosecutor level or its equivalent from 5.3% in 2003 to 12.8% now. The proportion of women at a senior level has doubled, from 18.2% to 40% over the same period, he said.
He said that CPS plans to move from using lists to advocate panels, when instructing members of the self-employed Bar to prosecute in criminal cases, would be an opportunity to ensure compliance with equality and diversity criteria.