20 August 2019

New report on diversity within our complaints-handling system

Monitoring complaints against barristers to make sure disciplinary processes are carried out in a fair and unbiased manner has always been our priority.

This is important, because it enables you, us and the public to be sure that everyone is treated fairly if a complaint is made about a barrister's professional conduct.

Over the years, we have made improvements to the way in which complaints are dealt with to minimise the potential for unconscious bias in the process. The aim is always to ensure that a barrister's social background, including any protected characteristics, do not affect the way in which a complaint is handled.

For example, one of the improvements to the process has been to remove the barrister's name from assessment reports, to minimise the risks of potential unconscious bias arising from assumptions made about the ethnicity of a barrister based on their name.

Last month, we published a new statistical report on our website titled Complaints at the Bar: An analysis of ethnicity and gender 2012-2014. This latest report analyses three years of data to investigate factors contributing to differences across gender and ethnicity in the numbers of complaints made, and the outcomes of complaints. We have been monitoring these issues since 2007 but the report analyses the data in greater depth than previously.

Earlier reporting had shown a disparity in the outcome of complaints between BME and white barristers. However, the data had not been analysed in great enough depth to be able to account for the differences.

The latest report indicates that when other factors are accounted for, (eg, source or type of complaint, practising status of the barrister etc) the ethnicity of a barrister does not have a significant effect on the outcome of complaints.  Independent findings made in the past also concluded that our complaints-handling process itself was not discriminatory.

However, the new findings suggest that complaints about female barristers are less likely to be referred to disciplinary action than complaints about male barristers.

The report's findings have enabled us to make further improvements to the complaints-handling process. From now on, assessment reports will be further anonymised to avoid identifying a barrister's gender unless it is directly relevant to the issues of complaint. Read more in our press release.