FROM DIVERSITY IN LAW: AN INDEPENDENT EDUCATIONAL PUBLISHING MAGAZINE

Promoting diversity: No bars to the legal profession

Stephen Hockman QC speaks to Amy McLellan about the initiatives that are in place to promote diversity

It is too easy to criticise barristers, with their wigs, gowns and traditions dating back to medieval times, for being out of touch and unrepresentative. Those - including myself - who fall back on outdated stereotypes of a profession dominated by white, posh Oxbridge types are quickly corrected by Stephen Hockman QC, the chairman of the Bar Council, the organisation which represents the interests of barristers.

"The fact is, if you look at the statistics, you will see the Bar is already extremely diverse comparatively speaking," says Hockman, who was born in Manchester in 1947 and was called to the Bar (the profession's jargon for passing the Bar Vocational Course) in 1970. "There are a lot of misconceptions about the profession but whether you look at it from a gender or ethnicity point of view, the Bar is already quite progressive."

Around one third of the Bar's members are women and 11 per cent are black and minority ethnic (BME), compared to a national percentage of about 8 per cent. Trainee barristers - known as "pupils" - are roughly 50/50 male and female, and around 17 per cent are from BME backgrounds. But the numbers, although encouraging, leave no room for complacency. "There is more we can do and should be doing," says Hockman.

Diversity is important to the Bar Council because a profession which is founded on respect for the rule of law and fundamental rights should be an agent for social change and inclusion. The profession cannot hope to function effectively or command respect from those it represents unless it reflects society as a whole. What's more, says Hockman, there are substantial commercial advantages in terms of attracting and retaining an excellent pool of talent.

A number of initiatives are in place to make sure women and ethnic minority barristers are represented at all levels and in all areas of the profession. The Bar Council is, for example, looking at ways to encourage more women and BME barristers to become more involved in the running of its various committees. It is also in detailed discussions with the Crown Prosecution Service to make sure there is an appropriately diverse range of barristers doing prosecution work.

But, perhaps most significantly, the Council is looking at how to open the Bar to people from a wide range of social backgrounds, irrespective of gender or ethnicity. There is limited data on the social background of Bar members, something the Council plans to address as part of a wider package of measures to make sure the profession doesn't become a middle-class enclave.

It is expensive to train to become a barrister, which can deter those from lower-income backgrounds. To qualify as a barrister, you must have either a law degree or a good first degree in any subject plus the demanding graduate diploma in law, which essentially crams a full law degree into nine months and can cost upwards of £6,000. The next step is the one-year Bar Vocational Course (the BVC), another £11,600. Would-be barristers must then secure a highly prized one-year apprenticeship, known as pupillage: around 1,500 students study for the BVC every year but there are only 800 pupillages on offer.

The costs of all this study in the face of such fierce competition can be a hurdle too high for many students, particularly those already feeling the pressure from debts accrued during their undergraduate years. Although the jury is still out on the recent changes in the higher education funding regime, the introduction of top-up fees has made these concerns more pressing.

In response, the Bar Council has set up a high-powered working group, chaired by a judge from the Court of Appeal, to ensure the profession's resources really do target those most in need of assistance during those expensive early years of study and training.

"There are some limitations on what any profession can achieve in this respect," admits Hockman, who points out that because a degree is a prerequisite for any candidate, the profession's recruitment policies are largely dependent on the social intake to higher education institutions. "No one profession can revolutionise the social structure of the country but we are trying to do everything we can to make sure lack of means is not a deterrent."

The Bar, with its long and prestigious history, is not short of funds and the four Inns of Courts (societies that provide support and training for the profession) already distribute around £4m a year in scholarships and awards to help students.

"We want to see whether there are ways those funds can be effectively co-ordinated to make sure they reach those who need it most," says Hockman. "We are also looking at whether there is scope for a low-interest loan scheme that could offer temporary relief until someone has established themselves later in life."

The Council also recognises that for many young people, the jargon and traditions of the Bar can be confusing and intimidating and it visits schools and universities to dispel some of the myths about the profession.

"This is a profession that is open to all those with talent, not just for those who are rich, posh or have connections," stresses Hockman. "Yes, everyone has to have a degree but it's very far from true to say everybody comes from an Oxbridge background."

The Council Chair is keen that people from all walks of life get to experience the variety and satisfaction he has derived from a career that has seen him become Head of chambers, deputy high court judge and a specialist in environmental law.

"I've been very lucky in my career and it's not over yet," says Hockman. "It's a very rewarding job and I've got great satisfaction from some weighty cases in the environmental law area."

As he prepares to return to practice at the end of this year, Hockman hopes some of the diversity work of the past year will ensure the profession a strong and sustainable future - and open the door for talented young barristers from a wide range of backgrounds.

See www.barcouncil.org.uk and www.legaleducation.org.uk

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballThe more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
News
business
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Ashdown Group: Trainee / Graduate Helpdesk Analyst

£20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable business is looking to rec...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Data Analyst - Essex - £25,000

£23500 - £25000 per annum + Training: Ashdown Group: Graduate Data analyst/Sys...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Account Manager

£16000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Graduate Account Manager is r...

Guru Careers: Graduate Account Manager / Sales Executive

£18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Account Man...

Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee