Diversity at the Bar of England and Wales

May 20, 2023

Diversity at the Bar of England and Wales is gradually improving, but more progress is needed to make the profession truly representative of society. The bar reports that these areas include socio-economic backgrounds, gender, ethnicity, disability, and sexual orientation.

Data suggests that a disproportionately high percentage of barristers attend a UK independent school between the ages of 11-18; 19.5% of the Bar had attended an independent school, compared to 6% of school children in England at any age, reflecting a great contrast and lack of representation regarding education, but there is also evidence of more social mobility because as of 2022, 42.3% of the Bar are first generation to attend University.

The overall percentage of women in the Bar (December 2022) was 39.7%, compared to an estimate of 50.2% of the UK working age population being female, reflecting a need for more female representation. Moreover, retention rates reflect that women are still leaving practice prematurely in greater numbers than men; a Bar Council report about the experiences of women at the self-employed Bar suggested reasons why this might be the case, including that “The most significant challenges [for female barristers] were avoiding being pushed into certain types of work and balancing career and caring responsibilities. These challenges may play a large part in the high attrition rate; many women leave the Bar after becoming parents and do not return.”  

The overall percentage of barristers from minority ethnic backgrounds (1st December 2022) was 15.2%, and the proportion of pupils from ethnic minority backgrounds increased by 5%, but with varying trends for ethnic groups. For example, the proportion of pupils from Asian/Asian British backgrounds has grown from 6.3% to 9.5%, whereas the proportion of pupils from Black/Black British backgrounds has remained the same (3.8%) for nearly 30 years, reflecting a need for more diversity of ethnic minorities and focusing more on specific ethnic minority groups.

There still appears to be an underrepresentation of disabled practitioners at the Bar, with 7.3% of those who provided information on disability status disclosing a disability. Despite the increase, this is substantially lower than an estimate of 15.8% for the percentage of the employed working age UK population with a declared disability.

Excluding non responses, 10.9% of pupils, 6.9% of non-KC barristers, and 5.4% of KCs provided their sexual orientation as one of Bisexual, Gay or Lesbian; or another sexual orientation (not including heterosexual), reflecting that there is an increase in diverse representation of sexual orientations.

Statistics highlight that there is a shift towards increasing diversity in regard to the course of a barrister’s education, and the Bar itself, with evidence reflecting a positive change in society, but more needs to be done to break down the stigma that you can only be at the Bar if you are wealthy, male, white, and from a good university.

https://www.innertemple.org.uk/celebrating-diversity-at-the-bar – interesting link on celebrating diversity, could be included just to show readers who are interested.

All statistics from: https://www.barstandardsboard.org.uk/uploads/assets/8e1b9093-b2f7-474f-b5faa3f205d26570/BSB-Report-on-Diversity-at-the-Bar-2022-FinalVersionv2.pdf 

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