UK supreme court collaborates with legal charity on diversity scheme

updated on 15 June 2021

In February 2021, Bridging the Bar (BTB) and the supreme court joined forces to collaborate on a diversity scheme for Black, Asian, and minority ethnic candidates. This collaboration marks the supreme court’s first paid internship for aspiring barristers, with a sole purpose to increase diversity in the judiciary.

The diversity scheme offers a five-day placement to eight BTB candidates who have either completed or accepted an offer to take the Bar course. The charity recognises that for some candidates, this might be their first time in court, so will assign each of them judicial assistants and coaching. The internship aims to provide unprecedented access that will be intellectually stimulating, enable candidates to understand the role of the Justices, facilitate mentoring and encourage aspiring lawyers from underrepresented groups to pursue a career in law. Successful candidates will be allowed to observe cases, discuss legal arguments, and gain a deep insight into the work of the supreme court. In addition to this, they will receive two days of coaching before their placement to help them prepare .

The scheme couldn’t have come at a better time as the judiciary and legal profession is under scrutiny over the lack of accessibility and diversity, more than ever. Just last year, the Bar Standards Board (BSB) diversity report confirmed that there remains a huge disparity between practising barristers who are privately educated and candidates who are state schooled. This report also shed light on the lack of diversity in the judiciary, which remains dominated by white and privately educated men. The current make-up of the UK supreme court consists of 12 white supreme court justices and two women. According to the government’s 2020 statistics, across the judiciary in England and Wales, Black, Asian and minority ethnic court judges make up a trifling 8%, with 4% in high court positions.

However, the UK supreme court seems to be taking a step in the right direction, by collaborating with a charity that is “committed to the promotion of equal opportunities and diversity at the Bar of England and Wales.” The legal charity is on a mission to “bridge” the gap “between today’s Bar and the diverse Bar our society needs.” Its three main objectives are to offer ethnic minorities and LGBT+ communities equal access to opportunity, through mentorship, and transparency.

Chief executive of the UK supreme court, Vicky Fox, said: “The court recognises that it has a leadership role to play to support increasing diversity of the judiciary and it is our intention that this programme will support the progression of underrepresented groups into the legal profession and ultimately into judicial roles.”

“We are looking forward to learning from the interns and hope that the programme will provide an intellectually stimulating experience for participants and support them to pursue a career in the law.”

Eleanor Tack, from the charity, expressed her elation: “I am very excited about this programme. It’s going to be a really challenging week for the candidates who will be asked to discuss legal arguments with the judicial assistants and justices and give a presentation at the end. For this reason, only candidates of the highest quality will be selected, and we expect the competition to be extremely high.”

With this internship, the supreme court aims to support the progress of underrepresented groups into judicial roles and achieve an inclusive environment. Over the past 10 years, small steps have been taken to improve diversity in the judiciary, however, progress has been too slow and insufficient.

BTB and the supreme court ran a free workshop last week, answering questions about the application process and the marking criteria. Applications for the programme opened on the Thursday 10 June and close on Saturday 10 July 2021.