BSB report shows increasing diversity at the Bar but still room for improvement

updated on 05 February 2021

While diversity is improving and the barristers’ profession is becoming more transparent about diversity data, it still falls short of representing the demographic of the society it serves, the Bar Standards Board’s (BSB) report on Diversity at the Bar 2020 shows.

This year’s report showed an attempt to offer a more forensic investigation of ethnicity than before, replacing the term ‘BAME’ with ‘minority ethnic groups’ and providing more disaggregated ethnicity data. Practising barristers from minority ethnic backgrounds have increased to 14.1% (up 0.5 percentage points from last year), slightly exceeding the 13.3% estimate of the England and Wales working age population.

Within this, Asian/Asian British barristers make up the majority with 7.5% (up 0.3 percentage points). Black/Black British barristers make up 3.2% (up 0.5 points) and remain slightly below the proportion of the working age population. This can largely be attributed to pupil barristers, where the number of respondents from minority ethnic backgrounds is at 22.9%. In comparison, the number of QCs from minority ethnic backgrounds increased by 0.7 percentage points, reaching 8.8%.

Men continue to outnumber women at 60.9 to 38.2% of the practising Bar, although the gap is narrowing and the split between male and female pupil barristers was equal. This follows a drop in female pupil barristers compared to last year which the report attributes to an exceptional 2020. In QC roles, the percentage of women in practise rose to 16.8% (up 0.6 percentage points).

The larger pool of participating barristers and the new ways of reporting data may make it difficult to draw exact number comparisons to last year. However, the report indicates a Bar moving towards increased diversity and representation, while becoming more comfortable discussing these topics.

There remains room for progress though. BSB Head of Equality and Access to Justice Amit Popat said: “While we are pleased to see that the Bar is increasingly diverse, there is still more work to be done to make the profession truly representative of society. As the regulator, we are committed to taking action to help achieve greater diversity. We are currently reviewing our Equality Rules, have published an anti-racist statement for barristers and chambers, and recently launched a pilot race equality reverse mentoring scheme to address cultural barriers to equality at the Bar.”

The full Diversity at the Bar report 2020 can be found here.