The Rt Hon Baroness Scotland QC was appointed the Attorney General on 28 June 2007. She is the first female and ethnic minority person to hold the post. As Attorney General she is the Chief Legal Advisor to the Government, and has responsibility for superintending the prosecuting authorities in England, Wales and (until devolution) Northern Ireland.

Previously Baroness Scotland was a Minister of State at the Home Office (2003 to 2007). She has also held the posts of Parliamentary Secretary at the Lord Chancellor’s Department (2001 to 2003), and Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (1999 to 2001). She was also an Alternate UK Government Representative of the European Convention from 2002 to 2003. Baroness Scotland was called to the Bar in 1977, received Silk in 1991 and became a Bencher in 1997. She was created a peer in 1997 and was raised to the Privy Council in July 2001. She is a member of the Bar of Antigua and the Commonwealth of Dominica. She is an Honorary Fellow of The Society for Advanced Legal Studies, Wolfson College, Cambridge and of Cardiff University. She has an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Westminster and the University of Buckingham.

She is also a Dame of the Sacred Military Constantinian Order of Saint George. She is a patron of The Margaret Beaufort Institute, GAP, and is a member of the Thomas More Society and the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship.  In addition, she was formerly one of Her Majesty’s Commissioners for Racial Equality, a former Honorary President of the Trinity Hall Law Society, a former Chairman of the ILEA Disciplinary Tribunal, a member of the BBC World Service Consultative Group, Chairman of HMG Caribbean Advisory Group, the Dominican Representative of the Council of The British Commonwealth Ex-Service league and served as a member of the Millennium Commission from 1994-99.

Whilst in practice she specialised in family and public law and has chaired and represented parties in a number of inquiries relating to child abuse, mental health and housing. She was founder member and former Head of Chambers of 1 Gray’s Inn Square.

“The Bar is one of the best providers of legal services in the world; we have a disproportionately large slice of the market” is the starting point for the Attorney General, The Rt Hon Baroness Scotland of Asthal QC. She adds that commercial clients are increasingly “complex, multi-national, multi-cultural and multi-religion”, and having become more diverse themselves, they will demand diversity as well from the legal profession. However, she does not merely endorse diversity; she has taken it upon herself to do something about it. 

Demystifying the legal profession

I spoke to Baroness Scotland a few days after the Minority Lawyers’ Conference in April, which she had strongly supported and where she gave a keynote address. The conference’s theme had been “less talk, more action”, so in her speech, what action had she proposed? She appealed to a particular strand at the Bar, namely the tradition of one barrister helping another. “I asked people in the conference whether they would go back to backgrounds that had not produced lawyers and to schools and to give them the appropriate encouragement”. She has already set up a Youth Network which helps to de-mystify the legal profession when teaching children about their rights and responsibilities. “Whether we like it or not, every member of our profession is a role model”. In turn, the profession can be “more inclusive of lawyers of all kinds and descriptions”. Beyond the question of entry to the Bar, barristers must encourage their colleagues “to take the next step”, whether it is applying for Silk or for the judiciary, or for one of the panels of specialist prosecutors and civil lawyers amongst the departments which fall under the Attorney General’s aegis. She has responsibility for the Treasury Solicitors’ Department, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Serious Fraud Office, the Revenue & Customs Prosecutions Office and HM CPS Inspectorate. 

Panel counsel

It is because Baroness Scotland can set the goals and the rules for those panels that she is able to put her commitment into action. In July 2008, the Attorney General launched the strategy: “Achieving Equality and Diversity in the Procurement of Legal Services from the Bar”. This sets the “aspiration that by 2012 the diversity in all ways of the range of applications for external counsel positions [those who undertake civil and criminal work for the Government] will reflect as closely as possible the diversity of the available pool”.

She challenges the misconception that there is no point in applying unless one belongs to certain chambers. She recognises that talented barristers in sets that have not been well represented (or represented at all) may have no one to encourage them either to apply or to work their way up the lists. To combat that, “I am encouraging each of the panel members to mentor applicants, so an A panel member mentors a B panel applicant, a B panel member mentors a C panel applicant. This gives the opportunity to learn what it is like to be on the panels for those who may not get that from within their own chambers.” Has it worked? “I do see changes happening. At a recent reception for the C panellists, a broader section of barristers from different chambers attended. More thought they could apply, even as the first or only member of the chambers to do so, and that is sending a clear picture”. 

There is no question of compromising on quality—on the contrary. “At the moment, the profession attracts the most talented students; we are already fishing in a very talented pool, and we think that talent comes in every shape and form”. There is “a real mine of gold here”.

Understanding the Bar

In order to ensure that the panels reflect the make-up of the Bar, the Attorney General needs to know what the make-up of the Bar is. That exercise requires commitment and data. The Equality and Diversity Expectations Statement for Civil and Criminal Panel Counsel and their Chambers places a number of expectations on chambers itself, for example, to monitor all applications for pupillage and all appointees, staff, pupils and members, to take corrective lawful action where there are significant unjustifiable differences between those applying and those appointed to pupillages and as members and to focus recruitment efforts on addressing under-representation. She has asked for replies by 1 October 2009 (“I am trying to do my part as the major purchaser of legal services to ask chambers, so I am expecting from those chambers no more than the Bar Council’s own Diversity and Equality Code requires”).

She is also awaiting statistical data from the Bar Council on diversity in relation to ethnic background and gender in respect of years of Call, geographical region and area of speciality: “I need that data to make sense of what we are doing, so that I know whether the diversity of the panels reflect what is already there, to understand what more we need to do if the two sets of figures are out of kilter. We cannot make any sense of the proportion of those on the panel without understanding the pool in which we are going to fish.” 
I put to her the fact that the last time the Revenue & Customs Prosecutions Office had a general competition for panel members, 60% of barristers did not return the ethnic and gender monitoring forms. She is concerned that without this information, measuring progress is difficult, and is keen that the rationale for providing the information is better communicated. 

Sharing good practice

One area where the Bar excels is in pro bono work abroad, and as chair of the International Pro Bono Committee, Baroness Scotland has facilitated a core set of principles, to be universally available to set standards and guide those involved in delivering international pro bono work. These have been endorsed by the Bar Council, the Law Society, the Institute of Legal Executives and the International Bar Association. In addition, the Attorney General has launched a new database of international pro bono projects. It is accessible now to members of the International Pro Bono Committee though not yet to the public. It will, however, be made available to them in due course. “We don’t want to re-invent the wheel” but there is a need to share good practice, adding value by “pooling information, cross filtering ideas, giving each other support and making possible what is not possible when working alone”. 

With a general election next year, Baroness Scotland may not be in office when her plans come to fruition, but it is difficult to imagine how they would have come about at all without her initial support. Throughout our talk she remained upbeat and optimistic. “There is good news. I am still very proud of this profession and very grateful to those who are helping us remain where we should be.”

David Wurtzel is Counsel’s Consultant Edito