Bar fails to lure ethnic minorities and women

The number of barristers in independent practice rose last year to more than 11,500 for the first time – but the percentage of women and ethnic minorities in the profession has remained static.

Statistics published in the Bar Council Annual Report show a marginal increase in the number of self-employed barristers to 11,564 in 2004, compared with 11,248 in 2003. In contrast to the perception of a gradually shrinking bar, there are nearly 1,500 more barristers in independent practice now than there were five years ago.

The proportion of male and female barristers, though, has remained unchanged over the past three years, with males making up 71 per cent of self-employed barristers. This is despite a nearly even split of male and female entrants to the bar.

Meanwhile, the number of new pupils is dropping. There were 139 fewer pupils in 2004 than in 2003, a drop of 20 per cent. The percentage of pupils from an ethnic minority also dropped, from 20 per cent in 2002 and 2003 to 16 per cent last year.

There continues to be only a small number of employed barristers, with the number rising slightly to 2,800 in 2004 from 2,737 in 2003. A higher percentage of employed barristers than self-employed barristers are female, with the same being said of ethnic minorities.

Last year the Bar Council disbanded its Equal Opportunities Committee, separating it into three committees: race and religion, sex and sexual orientation and age and disability. Each reports to the general management committee. The committees are working to implement the bar’s new Equality and Diversity Code.