Chair of the Bar makes statement on reports of discrimination against barrister

9 November 2018

Andrew Walker QC, Chair of the Bar, said:

 "Discrimination against a barrister on the basis of a protected characteristic is completely unacceptable.

 "The Bar Council is fully committed to supporting members of the Bar in tackling discrimination in all circumstances.  As part of this, we take the issue of fair access to work extremely seriously, and provide clear guidance for barristers and their clerks on dealing with discriminatory instructions.  Instructions which seek to discriminate against barristers, whether on the grounds of gender, race, age or any other protected characteristic, must be refused.  We strongly encourage barristers and clerks to inform us of incidents by calling our confidential equality & diversity helpline, so that we can provide immediate support and guidance and monitor incidents.  We also provide regular training to barristers and clerks on appropriate ways to deal with discriminatory instructions.

 "Wherever discrimination does arise, it must be challenged by all branches of the legal profession.  The close working relationship between barristers, their clerks and solicitors means that no one should turn a blind eye.  As the Law Society made clear over a quarter of a century ago, not only must solicitors not discriminate when instructing barristers, but if a solicitor is unable to persuade a lay client not to do so, then that solicitor must cease to act.  So far as we are concerned, despite substantial changes made by the Solicitors' Regulation Authority (SRA) to the Solicitors' Code of Conduct in recent years, this is still the clear professional (and legal) obligation of solicitors.

 "I am confident of the commitment of our solicitor colleagues as a profession to playing their part in fighting discrimination in all its forms.  Many champion diversity and fair briefing practices at the Bar, and we are grateful to them.  Nevertheless, I have raised this issue personally with the Law Society, and will be looking for a firm reminder to their members of their ethical duties and responsibilities.

 "We would urge any of our members or clerks who do encounter discrimination of this sort to remind the solicitors concerned of their professional obligations, and to report any non-compliance to the SRA."