Legal profession’s use of ‘BAME’ label criticised

updated on 26 April 2021

The legal profession’s use of the ‘BAME’ label to group Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic lawyers has been criticised by chair of the Bar Council, Derek Sweeting QC.

He questioned whether the use of the term ‘BAME’ actually disguises a “massive under-representation of Black members of our community at the Bar still” during a Gresham College lecture about diversity earlier this month.

Sweeting said: “Progress has been very slow in some areas.

“I think we need to be honest about why that's the case and why sort of some bits of the Bar are still what people thought they were years ago… dominated by people from private schools, perhaps Oxbridge, and also from a particular ethnic and social background.”

Also speaking at the diversity lecture was barrister and founder of Bridging the Bar, Mass Ndow-Njie. He explained that he was one of only 13 Black pupils at the Bar between 2019 and 2020, while also highlighting that “data shows that a Black person who's applying for pupillage, who has the exact same grades as a white person at undergraduate level and at Bar school” has about half the chance of securing pupillage that their white counterpart has.

At the end of 2020, the Bar Standards Board urged all chambers to provide anti-racism training and introduce “positive action measures” to improve diversity at the Bar. Chambers are expected to publish their anti-racism policies, with the regulator set to review the profession’s response in May, according to the Law Gazette.