The Bar Standards Board (BSB) has today published a new statistical analysis of the outcomes of complaints made about barristers in England and Wales, and the likelihood of barristers being subject to a complaint, between January 2015 and October 2019. The way in which reports about barristers’ conduct are dealt with by the BSB changed significantly in October 2019, so an equivalent analysis will be undertaken again later this year to understand the effect of the new system after two years of its operation.
The aims of this research were to investigate the relationship between barrister characteristics - particularly gender and ethnicity - and the outcomes of complaints against barristers, and the likelihood of practising barristers being subject to a complaint during this period.
During the period under analysis, the BSB divided complaints into two categories “internal complaints” (complaints raised by the BSB based on information received from a wide variety of sources, including self-reports of potential professional misconduct; referrals from other departments of the BSB; referrals from other regulators; judicial criticisms; and public/media coverage of barristers’ behaviour) and “external complaints” (complaints raised by members of the public, legal professionals or other external sources, who wished to make a formal complaint about a barrister).
The key findings from this analysis include:
- Male barristers subject to a complaint were found to be around 2.1 times more likely to have their case referred for disciplinary action compared with female barristers subject to a complaint;
- Male barristers were also found to be around 1.3 times more likely than female barristers to be subject to an “internal complaint”;
- There was not a statistically significant relationship between gender and whether cases were closed without investigation, or whether a barrister was subject to an “external complaint”. However, gender was close to being significant when looking at whether cases were closed without investigation, suggesting that there may be some association between being male and a lesser likelihood of a complaint being closed without investigation;
- Compared to White barristers, barristers from minority ethnic backgrounds were found to be around 1.7 times more likely to be subject to an “internal complaint” compared with White barristers;
- There was not a statistically significant relationship between ethnicity and whether cases were closed without investigation or referred to disciplinary action, or whether a barrister was subject to an “external complaint”. However, ethnicity was close to statistical significance when looking at whether cases were referred to disciplinary action, suggesting there may be some association between being from a minority ethnic background and a greater likelihood of a complaint being referred for disciplinary action; and
- Analysis of year-on-year trends of complaint outcomes and ethnicity suggests that while there were a greater proportion of complaints referred for disciplinary action for barristers from minority ethnic backgrounds in comparison to White barristers prior to 2017, from 2017 onwards there is no clear trend. This suggests that the association between ethnicity and the likelihood of an “internal complaint” being referred for disciplinary action may have become weaker from 2017 onwards.
Similar research was published by the BSB in 2016.
Commenting on the findings, BSB Director of Legal and Enforcement, Sara Jagger, said:
"This report illustrates our commitment to transparency in the way in which we deal with reports about barristers’ conduct. Our decision making is regularly reviewed to ensure that it is of a high quality and free from bias and it is essential that we keep monitoring these issues. Our decision-making processes have changed significantly since the period covered by this report and later this year, we will be reviewing the impact of those changes on the outcomes for barristers with different diversity characteristics.”
A summary of the research findings can be found here on our website.
Notes to editors
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