First bar census reveals little improvement in diversity statistics

Diversity at the bar has increased only marginally over the past five years, the results of the Bar Standard Board’s first-ever census of the profession has revealed.

The Bar Barometer report, which examines trends in the profession over the five years from 2005-06 to 2009-10, reveals that the proportion of self-employed female barristers has increased by just 1.5 percentage points over the period.

During the 2005-06 year there were 3,543 female barristers, representing 30 per cent of all practising barristers. While the figure had risen to 3,860 in 2009-10, as a proportion this represented 31.5 per cent of the total.

Similarly, the proportion of BME barristers at the self-employed bar increased by a small margin. In 2005-06 BME barristers accounted for 9 per cent of the 11,818 self-employed barristers practising at the bar. By 2009-10 the proportion had risen by just 0.6 percentage points, with 1,175 of the 12,241 self-employed barristers declaring that they are BME.

The self-employed bar is made up of 734 independent chambers, 347 of which are based in London.

The total number of practising barristers rose by 4.4 per cent over the five-year period, from 14,623 to 15,270. Of the 2009-10 figure, 80 per cent (12,241) of  barristers practised at the self-employed bar, with the remaining 20 per cent (3,029) being employed.

Despite the growing number of qualifying barristers, the report shows that the number of self-employed tenancies available are in decline, dropping by 12 per cent from 531 in 2005-06 to 467 in 2009-10.

At the top end of the profession, however, the QC appointments committee has recently made up its biggest number of silks for several years (14 March 2011).

Elsewhere, the report confirmed that the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) has seen an overall drop in application numbers over the last five years, with a decline on average of 2.3 per cent.

However, applications and enrolment saw marginal rises between 2008-09 and 2009-10, from 2,540 to 2,657 and 1,749 to 1,793 respectively.

The number of BME students on the BPTC grew by 33.7 per cent between 2004-05 and 2008-09, climbing from 591 (35 per cent of the total) to 790 (44 per cent), but fell for those in pupillage from 88 (16 per cent of the total) to 68 (13 per cent) over the same period.