Research published by the Bar Standards Board (BSB) has shown a correlation between certain characteristics, such as gender and ethnicity, and the likelihood of a complaint being made against a barrister and the outcome of the complaint. Years call appeared to have a slight impact, while certain practice areas were more prone to complaints than others.  

The Complaints Diversity Analysis looked at complaints made about barristers in England and Wales between January 2015 and October 2019. 

During the period under analysis, the BSB divided complaints into two categories: ‘internal’ complaints raised by the BSB based on information from a variety of sources, including self-reports of potential professional misconduct, referrals from other BSB departments or other regulators, judicial criticisms, and public/media coverage of barristers’ behaviour; and ‘external’ complaints raised by members of the public, legal professionals or other external sources.  

In terms of gender, the analysis found male barristers were more than twice as a likely to have a complaint referred for disciplinary action compared with female barristers. Male barristers were also found to be around 1.3 times more likely to be subject to an internal complaint. The paper reported no “statistically significant” relationship between gender and whether a barrister was subject to an ‘external’ complaint.

The report also concluded that there was no “statistically significant” between gender and whether cases were closed without investigation; however, it said gender was “close” to being significant, which suggested suggesting there may be “some association” between being male and a lesser likelihood of a complaint being closed without investigation.

In the context of race, barristers from minority ethnic backgrounds were found to be around 1.7 times more likely to be subject to an ‘internal’ complaint compared with white barristers. 

The analysis found no “statistically significant” relationship between ethnicity and whether cases were closed without investigation or referred to disciplinary action, or whether a barrister was subject to an ‘external’ complaint. 

However, ethnicity was “close” to statistical significance when looking at whether cases were referred to disciplinary action, which suggested there may be an association between being from a minority ethnic background and being subject to disciplinary action. 

Encouragingly, analysis of year-on-year trends suggested that from 2017, the association between ethnicity and the likelihood of an ‘internal’ complaint being referred for disciplinary action had become weaker, suggestive of a positive change.

No link was found between years call and complaint outcomes, which suggested age and number of years’ experience did not affect the likelihood of a complaint being closed without investigation or referred to disciplinary action.

Years call did, however, decrease the likelihood of being subject to an ‘internal’ complaint.

The practising status of the barrister was found to be relevant – each year spent as an employed barrister was associated with a decrease in the likelihood of being subject to both types of complaint, while each year spent as a QC was associated with a decrease in the likelihood of being subject to an external complaint. 

In contrast, each year spent as a public access barrister was associated with an increase in the likelihood of being subject to an external complaint. 
Immigration barrister were more likely to be subject to an internal complaint, with family and employment barristers more likely to be subject to an external complaint.

Unsurprisingly, complaints made by those who could be said to have less knowledge of the conduct expected of a barrister – such as litigants in person – were more likely to be closed without investigation.

BSB Director of Legal and Enforcement, Sara Jagger, commented: "This report illustrates our commitment to transparency in the way in which we deal with reports about barristers’ conduct. 

“Our decision making is regularly reviewed to ensure that it is of a high quality and free from bias and it is essential that we keep monitoring these issues. 

“Our decision-making processes have changed significantly since the period covered by this report and later this year, we will be reviewing the impact of those changes on the outcomes for barristers with different diversity characteristics.”

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