Barristers’ clerks are being forced to undertake diversity training as chambers seek to protect themselves against discrimination claims such as those brought against 4 New Square.
A number of sets have ramped up their diversity training efforts as the issue moves to the top of the agenda for the barristers’ profession.
The profession’s regulator, the Bar Standards Board (BSB), is drafting new rules on equality and diversity. These rules, which are expected to be put before the board in the autumn and implemented with the bar’s new Code of Conduct next year, will make existing good practice guidelines on equality and diversity mandatory.
Meanwhile, courses on diversity and equality run by the Inner Temple are filling up within hours of being announced. The other Inns of Court are following Inner Temple’s example, with Middle Temple restarting courses in the autumn and Gray’s Inn also planning training.
Only Lincoln’s Inn, where 4 New Square is located, has no plans to run diversity courses, although a staff member said it had done so on one occasion.
Hardwicke Chambers is one set to have sent all of its staff on diversity training. Practice director Amanda Illing said the training had raised awareness of appropriate behaviour and language in the workplace as well as focusing on recruitment issues.
“It hasn’t come a moment too soon for the bar and clerks’ rooms,” added Illing.
At 3 Verulam Buildings all staff are to be educated in diversity following earlier training for senior practice managers. Barrister John Odgers, who chairs the set’s equality and diversity committee, said clients expected staff to be aware of diversity issues.
“We have to keep an eye on the fairness of our internal regime,” Odgers said, adding that 3 Verulam Buildings has also just carried out an “exhaustive internal consultation” to improve its parental leave policies and the retention of female barristers.
David Barnes, chief executive at 39 Essex Street and chair of the Institute of Barristers’ Clerks (IBC), said the IBC was encouraging members to receive training and was also engaging with the BSB in drafting the new rules.
4 New Square barrister Aisha Bijlani recently won the right to pursue a racial and disability claim against the chambers in the Employment Appeal Tribunal TheLawyer.com, 27 June). The decision follows the Employment Tribunal’s dismissal of Bijlani’s 16 claims in March 2010.