Securing equal opportunities in recruitment of pupils

22 March 2018

As many chambers are involved in the recruitment of pupils at present, both Andrew Walker QC, the Chair of the Bar, and Robin Allen QC, the Chair of the Bar Council's Equality and Diversity and Social Mobility Committee emphasise the need to be serious about equal opportunity.

Reflecting the aim of the Bar Council to represent "a Bar of all and for all" we urge you all to pay very careful attention to the need to have a fully inclusive process for the recruitment of pupils, and to strive at all times to ensure equal opportunity in recruitment. Extensive resources are available to support you in making sure that you recruit in a non-discriminatory way. Bar Council advice and guides on fair recruitment and selection, and also in overcoming bias can be found here   on the Bar Council's Ethics & Practice Hub.  

Last November, the Bar Standards Board  (BSB) published research showing a significant link between ethnicity and success on the BPTC course and in attaining pupillage, reporting that white candidates were twice as likely to secure pupillage as BAME candidates (Black Asian & Minority Ethnic) (see  here).  

Given the work already undertaken by chambers to ensure recruitment processes are fair and transparent this is of great concern to the profession. The Bar Council wanted to know more and has asked Professor Martin Chalkley to analyse historic data from the Pupillage Gateway so as to establish what might be happening and thus decide how best to advise chambers and prospective pupils. We have now received his report, which is here. 

This was not an entirely straightforward task: only about 50% of pupils are currently recruited via the Gateway and information on the Gateway is not complete on all applications or applicants (e.g. academic performance).   However, there is enough data (90,000 applications made by 6,000 applicants) for the Bar Council to be able to say that the true picture about differential success in pupillage is more nuanced than that offered by the BSB Report.  

Professor Chalkley has advised that the data show that - other things being equal - some ethnic groups perform as well as their white counterparts, while others do not.  Those performing well seem to be Irish, Black Caribbean, Asian Indian and mixed White & Black African, White & Asian, and White & Black Caribbean. Black African, Asian Bangladeshi and Chinese applicants are not performing as well. For some the attainment gap is large. There also seem to be some significant differences between men and women within the different ethnic groups. This assessment has to be considered with some care as it is qualified by the extent of the data available. 

Professor Chalkley has been able to confirm, however, that there is no significant difference in the prospects of success of women and men overall. 

Before we can draw firm conclusions from this assessment the Bar Council wishes to do much more work, for example, unpicking whether candidate behaviour (e.g. links between ethnicity, practice area, popularity of certain chambers and number of applications made) and/or chambers current practices influence success. The Bar Council's Equality, Diversity and Social Mobility (EDSM) Committee and the Education & Training Committee therefore propose to look at this more closely in longitudinal studies.  

The Bar Council's Equality and Diversity Committee will work with Professor Chalkley to find out more fully what is happening and will report in due course. We will also work with others, including key intermediaries such as the Inns and BPTC providers to ensure that candidates have access to the information, advice and support that will enable them to maximise their chances of success in any application round. 

Andrew Walker QC, Chair of the Bar

Robin Allen QC, Chair of the Bar Council's Equality and Diversity and Social Mobility Committee.