Exclusive: Solicitors Regulation Authority 'not racist' but black solicitors treated harshly

Independent review finds ethnic minorities more likely to be disciplined by professional body

Crime Correspondent

The body that investigates solicitors has been cleared of institutional racism despite an independent inquiry concluding that it disproportionately pursues black and minority ethnic (BME) lawyers for alleged wrongdoing.

Ethnic-minority lawyers were more likely to be the subject of investigations and tend to receive stiffer punishments than their white counterparts, according to a report commissioned by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) into its own activities.

The report found that ethnic-minority lawyers were at greater risk of breaking regulations because they were more likely to set up on their own earlier in their careers. This was in turn because of a lack of opportunity at big firms, which retain a bias in favour of public-school and Oxbridge employees, according to  Professor Gus John, who led the review.

But his report concluded: “It is important that these results are not immediately interpreted as evidence of discrimination or racism on an institutional level.”

The report was criticised by a group representing black lawyers which said it was clear that “racial discrimination of one form or another” was responsible for the increased proportion of suspensions, fines and investigations suffered by BME solicitors.

The report was commissioned by the SRA after criticisms of the way that it pursued more than 3,000 investigations every year against solicitors amid allegations of race bias.

The report calls for closer scrutiny to discover “whether individuals… may have abused their position and exploited vulnerable solicitors”.

It follows claims that the SRA referred solicitors under threat of being struck off to “top-notch” advisers who charged thousands of pounds in fees with promises to resolve their problems.

The allegations led to a police inquiry but no action was taken. The case was excluded from Professor John’s examination of cases.

The SRA said: “Where there is evidence of abuse or exploitation of clients by a solicitor, the SRA investigates and  will continue to do so. We  cannot comment on individual cases.”

Professor John, an academic and experienced race-relations adviser, found that BME solicitors made up 13  per cent of the 166,000 total, but represented a quarter of misconduct investigations. He said of more concern was the finding that white solicitors were more likely to get minor punishments.

He looked at six cases involving BME solicitors in detail but concluded that there was no evidence to support a claim of racial discrimination in any of them.

He said: “It can be argued that BME individuals are less likely to come from backgrounds that enjoy the privileges of private schooling and, as a result, are under-represented in Oxbridge or other first-class higher-education institutions. As such, they lack the advantages enjoyed by other demographics when it comes to progressing in an élite profession such as practising law.”

The Society of Black  Lawyers said it was extremely disappointed with the  conclusion of the report  and said that it was fundamentally flawed.

“Any analysis that suggests race is not a factor simply makes no sense,” said Peter Herbert, the society’s chair. “There’s clearly a significant problem and the obvious conclusion is racial discrimination of one form or another.”

The bungled investigation by the Metropolitan Police of the murder of Stephen Lawrence led to the organisation being condemned as “institutionally racist” in the Macpherson Inquiry report of 1999.

The report prompted huge upheavals within the police but Scotland Yard has struggled to shake off the label in the intervening 15 years.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor