Desmond Browne: 'The Bar is not for me' – words no one should say to themselves

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The Independent Online

The Bar Council was the first profession to publish an equality and diversity code, as far back as 1995. But we all know that lip service is not enough: let no one underrate the difficulties, but it is not surprising if women and Black and Minority Ethnic practitioners look at the statistics, and say that for all the goodwill, not enough is being achieved.

It is common to talk of equality and diversity, but I prefer the phrase "diversity and inclusivity". It underlines the fact that at no stage should anyone be saying to themselves: "the Bar is just not for me". Misconceptions of that sort too easily become self-fulfilling prophecies.

In a society which does not by its nature do all that it might to promote social mobility, the process of ensuring diversity at the Bar must begin at school and continue all the way through to appointment to the Bench. Our highly successful and much appreciated mock trial competition for schools needs to operate in parallel with enlarged schemes for experience in chambers like that run by the Social Mobility Foundation. These schemes really work, particularly if there is continuing mentoring.

It is now a year since Lord Neuberger delivered his report on access to the Bar: implementation of the 57 recommendations cannot be done overnight, but that is not a reason for treating it as anything other than pressing. The merit of Lord Neuberger's recommendations is that they are all achievable, and we will be judged harshly if they are not achieved over the next few years.

At the point of entry to the profession, the statistics give some hope for optimism: equal numbers of men and women, and 17 per cent from a BME background; but then sadly it tails away. They represent only 31 per cent of the self-employed Bar as a whole, and a mere 10 per cent of silks. There is too much evidence of heads banging against glass ceilings.

Lady Prashar has commented that our judiciary is the envy of the world, "and now the way we select and appoint our judges is the envy of the world". I hope she turns out to be right, and that the figures for women and BME judges will start to increase, but for the moment I have to say the jury is still out.

Taken from the inaugural speech by the 2009 Chairman of the Bar Council, Desmond Browne QC, at Gray's Inn