Letter: Obstacles barring the training of ethnic minorities

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The Independent Online
Sir: I was interested, though not surprised, to read that racial discrimination is a key factor in the high failure rate at the Council of Legal Education ('Black Bar students penalised by race bias' and your leading article 'Equal opportunities in barrister training', 11 April). Much is made of aspects of training that are not ethnic friendly. However, as a former barrister and a member of the ethnic community, the problem of racial discrimination at the Bar runs far deeper.

While I was at the Council of Legal Education, overseas students (which I was then) were separated from home students on the course and the former not allowed to take the 'practical exercises'. These are nothing more than mock versions of areas of day-to- day practice. It was essential to attend them to practise in the UK. There was a watered-down version for overseas students. To this day I do not know why. We all felt it was unfair but felt powerless to do anything.

I wanted to do the practical exercises but was asked to produce my passport and then told in no uncertain terms that I could not do them. Having changed my immigration status, I reapplied to do the exercises. After the Council of Legal Education had prevaricated and discussed the matter with the Home Office (without my permission), I was finally permitted to do the exercises. I lost more than a year in the process, although I had passed the vocational course at the first sitting.

Overseas students, paying high levels of fees, were openly treated differently to the home students. Now it is the turn of ethnic minorities, many of whom were probably born here and who feel the same way about attending stuffy dinners as their white counterparts. I can't help feeling that the inquiry is following the tendency of late for sweeping statements intended to appease certain sections without seriously addressing the real problems.

Yours sincerely,

MARIA FERNANDES

London, NW2

13 April

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