One of the only black QC women in England and Wales said the time had come to act and “stop talking” when it came to tackling racial inequalities in the legal profession.
Barbara Mills, co-chair of the Bar Council’s race task force, said the next 12 months would be “critical” for addressing systemic barriers at the bar.
These were identified in the Race at the Bar group’s landmark report, which found that there were only five black QC women (senior lawyers, also known as Silk) in England and the Country of Wales (two more were announced in the latest nominations, released on December 22). Another striking statistic was that a young black female lawyer with the same level of experience as a young white man charged £ 18,700 less per year on average, and an Asian woman £ 16,400 less.
Elsewhere, the judiciary said only 1% of court and tribunal judges were black, a figure unchanged since 2014
Mills said there had been “well-meaning people” in the profession, but a more strategic approach was needed to boost diversity.
“If, in a year – I shouldn’t say if – when, in a year, we have … all kinds of actors with clearly defined objectives, on which we can then work and hold them to account, this is real progress Mills said. “The system did not become like this overnight and neither of us can expect change to happen overnight, but what the members of the running task force and our brown and black colleagues expect , it’s a feeling, a feeling of visibility, that it’s changing – don’t talk anymore, change it and let me see it change, so I think the next 12 months are critical.
Mills said that the fact that the Race Task Force even existed and that there was open talk about racial inequality within the profession showed progress since she was first called to the bar. in 1990. But the next step required targets – not to be confused with quotas – to pave the way for concrete action, she said.
She avoided discussing her own experience, focusing instead on ‘reaching out as I climb’. But Mills has no illusions about her own visibility as a black female QC, given that by comparison there are 1,303 white men and 286 white women who are silks, according to the report, which used figures calculated before the last round of appointments.
“I was really struck when I took silk,” she said. “My inbox was flooded with messages from black women I didn’t know, either college students or young lawyers, saying, ‘Oh, my God, it could be. Thank you, thank you for making this possible. ‘ “
The targets for QCs from ethnic minorities, as well as for judicial and panel appointments, are part of a series of recommendations from the Race at the Bar report, which emphasizes access to the profession, retention, progress and culture.
Mills said those who asked if there really was a problem were in the minority and that she “can no longer understand or believe that anyone doubts the value of diversity.”
She said, “You can’t have a system where in something as fundamental and as important to people as the legal system, there are people in society who think there is a “Us and them” in progress. It cannot be. You can’t have a system where people think: well, the person who is going to represent me, has no idea of my life, of my culture, of my heritage, of what makes me, the person who is going to represent me. making a decision that will change my life, has no idea about my culture, who I am. It just doesn’t instill the kind of confidence in decision making that we need. “