Queen's Counsel appointments - Women and ethnic minority candidates

13 January 2016

BME and women barristers under-represented in QC appointments:
Results do not bode well for equality and diversity of senior judiciary

Sam Mercer, Head of Equality and Diversity at the Bar Council said:"This year's QC appointments raises two big questions: Why are so few women applying to join the top ranks of the profession, and why are ethnic minority barristers not succeeding at the same rate as their white counterparts?"

The figures show:

  • Women applicants are still more likely than their male counterparts to be appointed to Queen's Counsel, (52.1% to 43.4%) but the number of female applicants remains disproportionately low (20.3% compared with a professional baseline of approximately 35% women) 
  • Less than one third (28.1%) of ethnic minority barristers who applied for silk were granted the award, compared with nearly 43.4% of all men and 52.1% of all women, and 
  • The success rate for barristers from ethnic minorities applying for silk has dropped significantly on last year, (28.1% in 2015/16 compared with 41.7% in 2014/15) although this figure has fluctuated considerably.

Sam Mercer, Head of Equality and Diversity at the Bar Council said:"We must find out why it is that ethnic minority barristers are less likely to succeed, and we need to work harder to get more women to apply."

"For ethnic minority barristers it is vital that we keep every stage of the QC appointments process under close scrutiny to ensure that all potential for bias is eradicated and that we are doing everything we can to encourage under-represented groups to apply.

"The very best and the brightest in the profession must be recognised, whatever their background. If we exclude under-represented groups from the top ranks, it means we are failing to benefit from their excellence.

"A very real concern is how these trends will impact the future of judicial appointments. As most of the higher-ranking judges are also Queen's Counsel, these figures tell us that tomorrow's senior judiciary may not reflect the communities it seeks to serve."

 "We know that women and ethnic minority barristers have been hit relatively harder by cuts to publicly funded areas of law and that additional economic pressures faced by women and the challenges faced by ethnic minorities mean they are less well represented, particularly at the top end of the profession."

The Bar Council currently operates a mentoring scheme to encourage women and those from minority backgrounds to apply for QC appointment.


Notes to editors

  1. Statistics on the ethnicity and gender of those appointed to Queen's Council are available from the Ministry of Justice here.
  2. Further information is available from the Bar Council Press Office on 020 7222 2525 and Press@BarCouncil.org.uk.
  3. The Bar Council represents barristers in England and Wales. It promotes: 
  • The Bar's high quality specialist advocacy and advisory services
  • Fair access to justice for all
  • The highest standards of ethics, equality and diversity across the profession, and
  • The development of business opportunities for barristers at home and abroad.

The General Council of the Bar is the Approved Regulator of the Bar of England and Wales. It discharges its regulatory functions through the independent Bar Standards Board.