19 February 2013

Diversity Review of Complaints Processes

The Bar Standards Board has commissioned an external agency to review its professional conduct complaints processes. The action was taken following an internal report which showed that Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) barristers were over represented in the complaints process.

Director of the Bar Standards Board, Dr Vanessa Davies said; "Our complaints statistics suggested that some groups had more complaints made against them in the system.


"While the findings of our report are clear, the causes of the over-representation are not. The first step is to take a fresh look internally at our complaints processes to ensure there is no unconscious bias operating.  At a later date, we may need to consider whether there are external factors too, but the next steps will be clearer once this review is completed.

"The Board is keen to ensure there is no possibility of unequal treatment which is why we have commissioned a closer methodical investigation."

Independent agency Inclusive Employers will undertake the review which will consist of a mixture of face-to-face interviews and an examination of the system for raising, referring and determining all types of complaints. They will also liaise with relevant stakeholder groups.


The core findings of The Report on the Diversity of Barristers subject to Complaints 2007 - 2011 which sparked the review include:

  • BME barristers are more likely than white barristers to have external complaintsreferred to disciplinary action.
  • BME barristers are more likely than white barristers to have complaints upheld following a referral to disciplinary action.
  • Male barristers are subject to a larger proportion of internal complaints than theirproportion at Bar but the difference on the basis of gender is not as pronounced as the difference on the basis of ethnicity.

Inclusive Employers will carry out the review between February and April and the report, along with recommendations for further action, will be presented to the Board in September 2013.  

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Notes to editors

  • The full diversity report is available at https://www.barstandardsboard.org.uk/media-centre/research-and-statistics/
  • Internal complaints are raised by the Bar Standards Board and usually relate to practising requirements (for example failure to report CPD activity). If the barrister admits the charges, the Professional Conduct Committee will consider a sanction.
  • External complaints are investigated by the Bar Standards Board and if there is enough evidence to indicate that the Code of Conduct has been breached, the complaint will be heard before an independent panel convened by the Council of the Inns of Court.
  • The Bar Standards Board only considers complaints that refer to breaches of the Code of Conduct. Complaints about the service received by a client from their barrister are the responsibility of the Legal Ombudsman. This change was implemented in October 2010.