In a plenary session entitled “Diversity – less talk, more action”, Desmond Browne QC, who represents over 15,000 barristers in England and Wales, detailed the profession’s sustained efforts to widen access and diversity. He noted that the Bar Council was the first profession to publish an Equality and Diversity Code, in 1995, and continues to strive to ensure that all those with the ability have the opportunity to pursue a career at the Bar, regardless of their background.

Speaking on the eve of the Minority Lawyers’ Conference, Desmond Browne QC said:

‘The Bar has led the way in reaching out to those from disadvantaged backgrounds through our work with organisations including the Social Mobility Foundation and Aim Higher. We have in place a range of initiatives including e-mentoring, internships and careers days for state school students from across England and Wales.

These measures form an important part of the Bar Council’s continued commitment to the implementation of the recommendations contained in the 2007 Neuberger Report, which provided the blueprint for promoting access to a career the Bar.’ Desmond Browne QC also challenged the Government to do more to promote equality of opportunity, in light of the proposed cuts to public funding for legally aided family cases. These cuts will hit women and ethnic minority practitioners particularly hard as they represent a significant proportion of legal aid family advocates. The March 2009 report, The Work of the Family Bar, by Dr Debora Price and Anne Laybourne of the King’s College London King’s Institute for the Study of Public Policy, demonstrates the complexity of the cases which family practitioners deal with on a day-to-day basis, and predicts the impact on BME practitioners of further cuts in this area.

During the plenary session, the Chairman addressed diversity within the judiciary, emphasising the benefits of a judiciary that is reflective of the communities they serve, and are sympathetic to and informed of the backgrounds of all those who enter the courtroom. He proposed a number of measures to achieve this, including outreach events, such as the four events planned this year, jointly hosted by the Bar Council and the Judicial Appointments Commission, to inform and encourage potential applicants. He also expressed support for the Law Society’s Diversity Charter, aimed at FTSE 100 companies, designed to seek information about the diversity of legal teams, and highlight the need to monitor the outcomes of competition for government work.

Chairman of the Bar, Desmond Browne QC, said:

‘The 7th Minority Lawyers’ Conference comes at a time when the Bar is doing more than ever before to ensure diversity in the profession. There are clear signs of progress, but the conference reminds us that there is still more which must be done.’