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| 2 minutes read

Discrimination at the Bar

The BSB's latest report is troubling, but nothing particularly new or surprising. As a long time Bar trade unionist (20 years on the Bar Council from 1988) I would suggest that this is indeed not a problem of the Bar, but of all of us, in the legal professions and outside them. 

Karon Monaghan QC undertook a fantastic review for us of the effectiveness (?) of the Equality Act 2010 in her speech to the Lincoln’s Inn EDI Forum event on Monday night, which made depressing listening in a number of respects; as she explained, the various EHRC reports both prior to the Act and after, up to this year, show that not that much has changed over 10 years, despite the Act. This probably speaks to cultural inertia which more laws cannot in themselves overcome, though they can, or should at least, help to give a lead.  I spent a lot of time when in Welsh government discouraging the resort to more law (in various policy contexts) when the legal framework wasn't really the problem.

The legislator’s concentration on protected characteristics can, moreover, fail to address the socio-economic disadvantage which (also) underlies much of the disadvantage to those with those protected characteristics, and also the recognised serious problem of large numbers of poor white boys not being able to succeed either, so that for all of those reasons notions of real social mobility are often, perhaps usually, largely illusory. I am one of those who of course did enjoy real social mobility, though at the expense of my friends who could not pass the 11+, so I would not choose to promote the benefits of selective schooling for the few as the best plan for the future of state education (which, after all, educates most of our children), but I do find it difficult to accept that those of us from the majority white but socio-economically disadvantaged groups should be treated as part of the problem because we aspired to get to Oxbridge (other quality universities are available), or the Bar etc., even though I have to accept that whilst I have my sense of having come from a working class background, my children - despite their non-selective state education - very much do not! These are complex, deeply ingrained and intergenerational problems.

Let us at least follow Scotland and bring s1 of the Equality Act into force, and much more like it (and with some clear provisions please)! Then, I suspect, far more people with the current protected characteristics would be able to enjoy equality of opportunity, and maximisation of their talents, that they so richly deserve and we as a nation absolutely need. That way lies real equality rather than the statutory sham (fig leaf?) we suffer now.


Please note the views expressed are my own.

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equality and diversity, discrimination and equality, barristers, pay gap