People with disabilities continue to be underrepresented at the Bar. In the most recent Bar Standards Board report, Diversity at the Bar 2021, only 6.8% of respondents declared a disability. This is significantly below the national estimate for the employed working population in the UK, which is 16.4%.

However, there is currently a real opportunity to implement significant changes which would make the Bar more accessible. The rise of charities such as AllBar and BDABar are starting to bridge the gap between those who know what changes are needed and those who can make them possible. While these changes would need to be significant, these changes are achievable. The shift to remote working by the courts and the legal profession during the pandemic demonstrates an ability to adapt to new ways of working; there are lessons to be learnt.

The lived experience

This article will explore the challenges currently faced by barristers and prospective barristers with disabilities, focusing particularly on accessibility and reasonable adjustments as well as the culture at the Bar. The article then outlines what we can learn from the pandemic, specifically in terms of remote working and communication. The article will conclude by suggesting possible solutions to increase disabled access to the Bar and overcome barriers in relation to accessibility, reasonable adjustments and culture.

To put this in context, I am a disabled barrister and my disability affects my right arm and right leg. Consequently, the examples I use from my own experience focus on mobility. That said, this article is not limited to the issue of mobility impairments and intends to highlight the difficulties faced by barristers with disabilities as a whole.

Challenges at the Bar

Accessibility and reasonable adjustment

A significant barrier to those with disabilities is the inability to access and easily navigate Inns of Court, court buildings, chambers and solicitors’ offices. This includes not only a lack of wheelchair accessible entrances but also disabled toilets, disabled parking, hearing loops, lifts and accessibility for guide dogs. In 2020, the law firm Bolt Burdon Kemp found that only 16% of courts in the UK are fully accessible to wheelchair users (ie offering disabled toilets, wheelchair access and disabled parking) and only 77% offer hearing loops and allow assistance dogs. Furthermore, as highlighted by Faisel Sadiq in his article Restricted access: the reality (Counsel December 2021), even courts that are theoretically fully accessible may present challenges to barristers with disabilities. For example, old carpets may present a trip hazard or disabled toilets may be located a significant distance from the courtroom. This is then compounded by a lack of reasonable adjustments within the courtroom, putting barristers with disabilities at a disadvantage. For example, narrow benches may force barristers to sit away from the advocates’ bench. Limited access to the courtroom before a hearing can make it difficult to set up specialist equipment. This is not only making barristers’ lives more difficult but may also be limiting career progression. Fifty per cent of the barristers who responded to the Legally Disabled? survey conducted by Cardiff University expressed concern that inaccessible working environments limited their opportunities.


As highlighted by Dr Gregory Burke in his article Lessons learnt: An accessibility journey for the Bar (Counsel April 2022), those with disabilities are overwhelmingly seen as clients rather than barristers. It is telling that the BSB Equality Rules Handbook focuses on the needs of clients with disabilities when discussing reasonable adjustments, only mentioning flexible working as a possible reasonable adjustment for barristers.

The perception of disabilities as ‘something that happens outside the Bar’ has led to reluctance among those currently working within the profession to disclose their disabilities. As highlighted within the Diversity at the Bar 2021 report, only 60.2% of respondents actually provided disability information, meaning that just under 40% of barristers providing data chose not to disclose their disability status. When asked about disclosure during the Legally Disabled survey, ‘most people training or working at the Bar admitted consciously concealing their impairment’. This not only prevents people accessing the support they require but prevents those entering the profession from seeing potential role models.

Lessons from the pandemic

Remote working

The pandemic, for all its challenges, substantially improved remote working across the legal profession, particularly within the court system. This certainly resolved the big issues of travelling to courts inaccessible by public transport or accessing courts without disabled access but a number of other issues were resolved as well. For example, my disability makes standing for any period of time difficult and thus, every time I go before a Circuit judge or higher, I must ask permission to address the court sitting down. This also requires finding somewhere in the court building to sit and have discussions, which is not always an easy task. These challenges obviously disappear when joining a court hearing from your own home and everyone is sitting in order to be seen on screen. Additionally, remote working is a safer option for those who are more vulnerable to COVID-19.


Remote working also improved communication between advocates and the court. Pre-pandemic, speaking to the court usher about a hearing required trying to intercept them as they called on various cases. Since the introduction of remote working, I have more email addresses for ushers and clerks, as well as judges. As discussed below, this is useful not only for general case management but also for liaising with the court in terms of access and reasonable adjustment.

The impact of remote working

The change to remote working did not only benefit barristers with disabilities but also seems to have positively impacted the Bar as a whole. In the recent Barristers’ Working Lives 2021 survey by the Institute of Employment Studies, 60% of barristers surveyed put ‘more remote working’ as a future change that they wanted in their practice.

Now the restrictions imposed by the pandemic have lifted, there is a move towards in-person hearings. There are reasons behind this, such as improving access to justice for clients who would otherwise feel cut-off from the process. However, this does not mean that the lessons learnt from the pandemic and remote working should be entirely ignored, as will be explored in the next section.

Possible solutions

Accessibility and reasonable adjustments

As a starting point, barristers and prospective barristers with disabilities need to be able to access Inns of Court, court buildings and chambers. In most cases, this will require an accessibility assessment. Accessibility assessments are vital to ensuring equal access, not only because they highlight areas where improvements in accessibility are needed but also because they provide information about how accessible a building currently is. This information can then be published on an organisation’s website, providing crucial information on accessibility to barristers or prospective barristers and eliminating the need to visit the premise beforehand. This can be done even for rented buildings. For example, Middle Temple owns the building where my chambers, 4 Brick Court, is based. We were able to liaise with Middle Temple about our accessibility concerns and discovered it had already instructed AccessAble to undertake an accessibility audit of all their buildings.

While publicly available information about accessibility is crucial, this does not diminish the need for individuals to have open communication with organisations about their needs. The simplest way to facilitate this is to have a dedicated reasonable adjustments officer who is able to manage requests for reasonable adjustments, particularly from those already working within the organisation. Organisations must then ensure that everyone who needs adjustments is able to contact this person. This is particularly important ahead of a court hearing. As suggested by Marisa Cohen in the article Daily battles of the differently abled (Christina Warner, Counsel December 2021), court staff should email the parties a week in advance to ascertain the access needs of the advocates and their clients.

From my own experience, this would be an incredibly useful and relatively simple step that could avoid disrupting hearings. For example, I have previously attended court to be told that both the public lift and the judicial lift were broken. This resulted in the entire court hearing being moved to a different building and consequently, the hearing starting over an hour late. Had this information been provided in advance, I could have informed them of my accessibility requirements and requested that the hearing was moved ahead of time.

In the short term, particularly post-pandemic, it is easier than it has been before to contact someone within chambers or the court system. Most chambers provide their general email address on their website and, as mentioned above, email correspondence with court staff and the judiciary has significantly increased for practising barristers. However, longer term, there must be an onus on organisations to find out about the adjustment needs of staff and legal professionals already within their premises as well as anyone visiting their premises. Where adjustments cannot be made quickly (eg due to the need to make larger building renovations) or where individuals are particularly vulnerable to infectious disease such as COVID-19, consideration needs to be given as to whether remote attendance can be facilitated.


There needs to be a cultural shift in the way that disability is viewed at the Bar. Asking individuals whether they require reasonable adjustments must become as commonplace as asking about dietary requirements if the stigma and sense of ‘otherness’ are going to be addressed. This can be achieved in part via training, particularly through including disability awareness training as part of measures to promote equality and diversity. Promoting an open dialogue is also key and organisations must have clear policies in place around how requests for reasonable adjustments can be made and dealt with. Organisations that want to move towards providing a more inclusive environment for those with disabilities should advertise any training or policies they have on their website or social media. This would provide reassurance to visitors and potential applicants that their needs will be respected. For example, I am currently collaborating with BDABar to produce and implement a code of conduct at 4 Brick Court and we announced this via Twitter.

These changes are possible

This article has provided an overview of the challenges faced by barristers and prospective barristers with disabilities, including examples from my own experience, as well as lessons to be learnt from the pandemic and how these can provide a basis for potential solutions to the challenges those with disabilities face. While not intended to be exhaustive, either in terms of the challenges faced or the adjustments that are possible, I hope that it has provided food for thought. 

Further links

Legally Disabled? survey, Cardiff University
AllBar (Supporting Disability at the Bar)
BLEMI (Barristers with Lived Experience of Mental Illness) @BLEMI_UK
AccessAble (access audits)