Richard and Paul have covered why it is important for legal regulators to promote Equality Diversity and Inclusion. The Bar Standards Board (BSB) as the regulator of the Barristers profession very much supports what they have said.
The BSB is a public body for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010 and is bound by, and committed to, meeting the requirements of the Public Sector Equality Duty. The BSB’s vision is to ensure that it regulates the Bar in the public interest by promoting high standards, equality and access to justice. The BSB’s Strategic Plan, which covers the period 2022-25, includes a key strategic aim to promote equality, diversity and inclusion at the Bar, and at the BSB, and the profession’s ability to serve diverse consumers.
As Paul mentioned, this is a wide topic and I will not be able to do justice to all of it in the given time. So, I have focussed my attention on initiatives we are currently taking to further our Strategic Plan, cultural challenges and how the BSB is holding its own self to account in this area.
To begin with, here are some of the ways in which we as a regulator of the Bar are playing our part.
- Firstly, we are committed to working with the profession and stakeholders to challenge those aspects of culture at the Bar that are discriminatory and exclusive. For example, we are reviewing the Equality rules in our Handbook for Barristers to focus on the outcomes we would like the Bar to achieve on equality. However, changes to the rules alone will not help. Our partnership with the profession to implement these revised rules will play a key part. I would like to acknowledge here those members of the profession who are working hard and contributing to make a difference in this area through best practice.
- Secondly, Chambers have a significant role to play in helping us to deliver our vision of a Bar that is diverse, accessible, independent, knowledgeable, skilled and inclusive. Whilst working collaboratively, we will seek to avoid duplication of effort by focusing our attention on those areas where the BSB can make the greatest impact. We are currently exploring how we can support chambers to be more effective and consistent forces for high standards including in this key area.
- Thirdly, in 2022, we published our Commitment to Wellbeing for barristers, acknowledges that the wellbeing of barristers is important if they are to meet their own duties and, accordingly, that wellbeing is essential to the achievement of the BSB’s broader regulatory objectives.
- And finally, we will continue to work with all legal service regulators to promote the equality agenda. We have signed a joint statement with all legal regulators on tackle counter inclusive misconduct through disciplinary processes.
You will note, there is a theme in our regulatory approach here. The theme is that of working in collaboration and in partnership with others. Our approach is recognising that we cannot bring about the cultural change needed alone.
Culture change at the Bar is necessary to address the issues of bullying, discrimination and harassment in particular. This responsibility of shifting the dial sits with everyone. This type of behaviour has no place in a modern, inclusive Bar. Chambers hold a central role in addressing this pressing cultural challenge, particularly to foster environments that ensure safety and advancement of female barristers. For example, the establishment of secure reporting channels for unacceptable behaviour is pivotal. Designating senior advisers on bullying and harassment within chambers can be instrumental in creating a culture of trust and accountability, particularly for female practitioners who may be hesitant to come forward.
In the last few minutes, I would like to mention what the BSB is doing itself to promote equality, diversity and inclusion in its own work. We publish data annually on Diversity at the BSB. Our senior leadership team has 60% women, of which 75% are from a minority ethnic background including myself. We undertake regular surveys of colleagues on their experience of working at the BSB, which includes understanding any wellbeing concerns. We have established an Anti-racist working group, which I co-Chair, to ensure that the BSB is an inclusive workplace for all. We undertake Equality Impact Assessments alongside any work we do. For example, most recently, we have done a year-long market study into use of comparison websites at the Bar. We are also looking at the equalities impact, on both the profession and clients, of these websites.
I will finish by saying, the Bar Standards Board firmly believes that effective regulation is a cornerstone of an equitable, diverse and inclusive legal sector and we will continue to play our part to bring the change that is needed.
 Sara Carnegie is Legal Director at International Bar Association and Chaired this discussion.
 Richard Orpin is Director of Regulation and Policy at the Legal Services Board.
 Paul Philip is the CEO of Solicitor Regulation Authority.