Let chambers’ use sexual orientation data to promote diversity, gay barrister says

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Jul 07, 2017
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Legal leaders will join the London Pride parade, which was led by Sadiq Khan and his wife Saadiya last year, on Saturday

Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA

Regulators are dragging their feet over a review of the rules that prohibit chambers from releasing data on the sexual orientation of their lawyers, a prominent gay barrister has charged.

The Bar Standards Board (BSB) currently obliges sets to collect a range of anonymous diversity data covering gender, race, age, disability and sexual orientation. However, while there is no prohibition on chambers publishing their data concerning gender, race, age and disability, the regulator insists that information on sexual orientation – as well as religion and beliefs – is withheld if objections to publication are raised by barristers or staff at the chambers.

The board has argued that the prohibition on releasing data regarding those categories is necessary to protect sensitive matters of privacy. However, the watchdog has said it is reviewing its position.

On the eve of this weekend’s London Pride march, S Chelvan, an immigration and public law specialist at No5, the largest chambers in the country, told The Brief yesterday that the board had had sufficient time and should now decide to drop the ban. “Many chambers would like to promote how diverse they are in these areas and yet we are being prohibited from doing so,” he said. Chelvan maintained that some chambers would consider it to be a positive marketing and recruitment tool to be able to publicise sexual orientation diversity figures.

The watchdog, however, is sticking to its position. In a statement it said: “[The rule] was put in place in order to help protect the identity of LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] barristers who did not wish their status to be become known – accidental disclosure of the sexual orientation of a barrister could be a risk in small sets of chambers.

“The BSB is reviewing this rule and is engaging with key stakeholders to consider whether an amendment would better represent good practice.”

Chelvan also said it was disingenuous of the BSB to refer to transgender as he maintained that currently the board was not asking chambers to include that category in their survey of barristers. “At the moment, transgender and intersex people are invisible at the Bar,” he said.

Law chiefs to join Pride march

Senior legal profession figures will join the Pride march this weekend in the capital.

Leading the contingent will be Andrew Langdon, QC, the chairman of the Bar Council, the body that represents barristers in England and Wales. Joining him will be Christina Blacklaws, the vice-president of the Law Society, the quasi-trade union for solicitors in the jurisdiction, and Millicent Grant, the president of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives.

Joe Egan, the Law Society’s new president, said: “Just 50 years ago parliament voted for the first time to legalise homosexuality in the UK. Since then legal developments have shaped and advanced the freedoms we enjoy today. 

“We march in celebration of the significant progress that has been achieved towards a truly diverse and inclusive society and of our progress as a sector.”

The society’s participation in Pride marches has previously been marred by controversy. Two years ago, the then president Andrew Caplen was accused of boycotting the event because he could not reconcile it with his Christian beliefs. At the time, the society said its president did not participate in the march because of a pre-existing commitment.

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