I have been a member of the Midland Circuit since I was a pupil in 2005/2006. Equality and Diversity (E&D) has always been an important issue for me. I want the profession to be more diverse from the very top down, representing the society it serves and fully welcoming and encouraging those from underrepresented groups whether of race, ethnicity, gender, religion and/or social disadvantage – A Bar for All.
The killing of George Floyd on 25 May 2020 shocked the world. It reawakened very important discussions and reignited the momentum for change. As the years have gone by, there have been changes within the profession, moving it in the right direction; however there is still much work to be done and we should not become complacent. As the Midland Circuit representative for the Bar Council Race Working Group (RWG) I am proud to represent my Circuit and be a part of change; something many of us want and are working towards. This article aims to highlight the initiatives and work taking place in the Midlands at all levels.
As a Circuit, the Midlands supports the work that is being undertaken by the Bar Council and the RWG and is committed to encouraging chambers to implement guidance, such as the recent Positive Action Guide, which is aimed at increasing diversity at the Bar and encouraging applications from all underrepresented groups. There have been recent changes in structure and administration; but what has remained constant is the Circuit Committee’s commitment to look for initiatives and to offer support to the Bar and legal community across the Midlands with its agenda for change to achieve a more representative, diverse profession.
The Midland Circuit Women’s Forum (MCWF) came into being in 2018. It has a diverse committee, which includes silks and juniors from a number of different chambers and practice areas across Circuit. The aim of the MCWF is to encourage and help every woman barrister on the Midland Circuit to stay at the Bar, and to help them progress and fulfil their potential as juniors, QCs and judges. Following the events of 25 May 2020, the MCWF put out a statement, setting out its commitment to tackle racism for both now and the future:
"To our black and minority ethnic friends & colleagues. We will ACT.
"We will begin in our places of work. That is where we can have an impact right away. Being barristers affords us an opportunity to advocate in the workplace for and with our black and minority colleagues and employees. In addition, we are committed to having a better understanding of all our clients.
"But we will not stop there. We will speak out against racism. We will confront it. We will look to empower. You have an ally in us.
"We will not stop there. We will support the growing movement that now exists to bring long lasting, systemic change both within and outside the legal sector. We will not stop there.
"We will raise the next generation to challenge racism and to speak out against the injustice and inequality against all minorities that society has historically failed to address."
MCWF continues to collaborate and support other organisations promoting Equality, Diversity and Social Mobility (EDSM) both on and outside the Circuit.
Last year the Midland Circuit set up a Social Mobility Committee; its strapline is a “Bar For All”. The focus is on social deprivation which often affects those from minority communities and making the Bar more representative of the community it serves. The Social Mobility Committee will be making a formal proposal to the Midland Circuit Committee to introduce a scheme akin to the one being run successfully on the Western Circuit, whereby 50% of our mini pupillages on Circuit are provided to individuals from Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority backgrounds, LGBTQ+ and disabled candidates and those from state schools and/or impacted by social mobility. The aim would be for individual chambers to voluntarily sign a Circuit Pledge, #Barforall and commit to the scheme.
The Social Mobility Committee is in the process of recording videos to promote a career at the Bar to students from underrepresented backgrounds. The cast of the videos is socially diverse and includes many of our Circuit members from underrepresented groups. Further, a Circuit Pupillage Event specifically for the Midlands is being organised. The Social Mobility Committee has forged links with many of the local Universities, particularly non -“red-bricks”, and will be collaborating with the MCWF and other organisations to hold this event.
The Midland Circuit continues to promote access to the Bar. For the past 3 years the Circuit has offered fully funded mini pupillages to students who may not otherwise be able to afford such an experience. This year there has been a record 280 applications, mainly of a very high calibre, showing just how many underprivileged students Circuit is reaching. The scheme has placed 15 students, with a further 5 mini pupillages to be offered this year. At least one of the successful applicants went on to be offered a full pupillage on Circuit.
Applications are specifically encouraged from those from underrepresented backgrounds, be that minority applicants, or those who are the first in their family to attend university. The ethos behind the mini-pupillage scheme is to promote access to the Bar for all, and offering this experience is just one way in which the Midland Circuit seeks to enable that.
This Black History Month has seen a variety of events and new initiatives across Circuit including providing funding for 40 copies of “Equal to Everything: Judge Brenda and the Supreme Court”, as part of the initiative to provide copies to every primary school in the West Midlands. B-Law is about to be launched and there has been the launch of a new annual essay competition award, “The JAWACH Award”.
There are a variety of organisations on the Midland Circuit, which support Black, Asian and underrepresented minority groups, do take a look, follow and support them on social media platforms. Birmingham Black Lawyers (BBL) is committed to embracing diversity within the Birmingham legal community through organised events for students and practitioners. The Black Solicitors Network (BSN), a nationwide established organisation, has a regional branch in the Midlands. The Midland Asian Lawyers Association (MALA) focuses on promoting diversity and equality in the legal profession. It organises networking and career development events across the region and promotes the legal profession to BME children and schools in inner-city areas and/or with a large BME population. Black Minority Ethnics at the Bar (BME@TB) aims to increase the number of black practitioners within the profession and to share information and signpost individuals to organisations such as those above as well as others including: BBN, BWiL, BMLNetwork, Bridging the Bar and BME Legal so they are aware of resources and support available to them.
Nationwide, chambers are playing their part; reviewing their policies and setting up initiatives to promote EDSM, and the Midlands is no different. In the Midlands, either through initiatives of respective chambers or as individuals at the Bar, there is a commitment to recruiting from the widest pool of talent. Various chambers sponsor events held by organisations on Circuit to promote E&D. There are also collaborations with local law firms, universities and schools where members offer their time to speak at events, judge mooting competitions and support those from underrepresented groups.
Both Circuit and individual chambers within the Midlands have links with the Local Law Societies. The Law Societies for Nottingham, Leicester and Birmingham all have specific Equality and Diversity Committees/Sub-Committees, which provide information for members and hold events to promote EDSM initiatives. The Law Societies are also forging more links with local schools in deprived areas of their cities to help pupils to see that law is a real career option for them. Nottingham collaborated with MALA to host an event with a focus on those within the legal profession from BME and underrepresented groups. This was the first, both organisations hope, of many to come. Leicester is proud of the fact that three of their Presidents have been from Leicester’s Asian Community and this year, in Black History Month, saw the appointment of the first African Caribbean Deputy Vice President, Gina Samuel-Richards. Further, for the first time in its 202 year history, in July 2020, Birmingham Law Society appointed its first ever black President, Inez Brown.
Like many organisations and institutions, the University Bar Societies in the Midlands have been and remain fully committed to making diversity and inclusivity the forefront of their initiatives. University Bar Societies in Nottingham, Warwick, Leicester and Birmingham have been active in promoting access to the Bar, for students traditionally disadvantaged and underrepresented at the Bar. Mentoring schemes and networking opportunities are in ample supply and students at these Midlands universities benefit from a wide range of barrister panel and networking events. The subject matter for such events has addressed topics such as being a minority ethnic at the Bar, being a woman at the Bar, social mobility opportunities, LGBTQ+ and disability representation. The various Bar Societies work with local chambers and other institutions to signpost students to greater opportunities and access to information. The University Bar Societies have proven instrumental in helping to encourage the next generation of barristers to diversify the profession.
Karen Kabweru-Namulemu is a barrister at KCH Garden Square and is the Midland Circuit representative on the Bar Council’s Race Working Group. She is the Secretary for the Midland Circuit Women’s Forum and founder of BME at the Bar.