24 February 2016
Monitoring complaints against barristers to make sure disciplinary processes are carried out in a fair and unbiased manner has always been a priority for the Bar Standards Board (BSB).
This is important, because it enables the public, the barristers concerned and the regulator itself to be sure that everyone is treated fairly if a complaint is made about a barrister's professional conduct.
Since it was formed in 2006, the BSB has closely monitored and made improvements to the way in which complaints are dealt with to minimise the potential for unconscious bias in the process. The aim is always to ensure that a barrister's social background, including any protected characteristics, do not affect the way in which a complaint is handled.
For example, one of the improvements to the process made over the years has been to remove the barrister's name from assessment reports, to minimise the risks of potential unconscious bias arising from assumptions made about the ethnicity of a barrister based on their name.
The Bar regulator has today published a new statistical report Complaints at the Bar: An analysis of ethnicity and gender 2012-2014.
This latest report analyses three years of data to investigate factors contributing to differences across gender and ethnicity in the numbers of complaints made, and the outcomes of complaints. The BSB has been monitoring these issues since 2007 but the report published today analyses the data in greater depth than previously.
Previous reporting had shown a disparity in the outcome of complaints between BME and white barristers. However, the data had not been analysed in great enough depth to be able to account for the differences.
The latest report indicates that when other factors are accounted for, (eg, source or type of complaint, practising status of the barrister etc) the ethnicity of a barrister does not have a significant effect on the outcome of complaints. Independent findings made in the past also concluded that the BSB's complaints-handling process itself was not discriminatory.
However, the new findings suggest that complaints about female barristers are less likely to be referred to disciplinary action than complaints about male barristers.
The report's findings have enabled the BSB to make further improvements to the complaints-handling process. From now on, assessment reports will be further anonymised to avoid identifying the barristers' gender unless it is directly relevant to the issues of complaint.
Commenting on the report, BSB Director of Professional Conduct Sara Jagger said: "This report illustrates our commitment to transparency in our complaints-handling process. It is essential the BSB keeps monitoring these issues to ensure our processes are fair and free from bias.
"It is pleasing that the report indicates there is no significant difference in complaints-handling between BME and white barristers, however it is an area we will continue to monitor.
"We do, however, need to look more carefully at the new findings in relation to the potential issue of gender bias and ensure that we take action to address this. Nevertheless, the report shows the public and the profession that they can have confidence in the fairness of our complaints-handling process."
Notes to editors
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