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It will take women 50 years to comprise 50% of all QCs

1st Feb 2017

The Bar Standards Board’s annual report on diversity has shown that nearly nine out of ten barrister QCs are men, and on current trends the women silks who will help achieve parity have yet to be born.

The report stated that some progress was made last year, but also exposed how far there is to go.

Nearly two-thirds of practising barristers are men, many of whom went to private schools. Of the 4,000 barristers schooled in the UK who disclosed where they were educated, four out of ten went to fee-paying institutions, compared to 7% of the total population. Some 10,000 barristers failed to answer the question, which suggests that the disparity may be higher still.

The percentage of women barristers increased by 0.6 during the last year to 36.5% , but just 13.7% of silks are female (a statistic which has increased by 0.7%). At current rates of change, it would take over half a century for women to comprise 50% of all QCs.

Some 12.2% of barristers are black and minority ethnic, but the percentage of BME QCs is 6.4% (up 0.1%).  The report notes that on current trends it will take a century for the percentage of BME silks to mirror the general population.

However, the gender and ethnic diversity of pupil barristers is about equal to the population of England and Wales, with women making up 51.3% of students.

The report admits there have been there have only been “minor changes” in the profile of the bar since 2015.

BSB director of strategy and policy Ewen MacLeod said that although the data showed “an improvement in gender and ethnic diversity at the Bar, especially at pupil stage, there is more that needs to be done to improve diversity within the profession.”

Bar chairman Andrew Langdon stated that “One of the key challenges is to get women to stay in the profession for longer, widening the pool of talented women available so that more can apply for silk and judicial appointment. We also need to increase the number of BAME barristers who become QCs and go to the bench, and to enable more state school students to join the profession. If we succeed, we will have a legal profession and judiciary that reflect the communities they serve.”