Ethnic minority lawyers discriminated against, report finds

Vikram Dodd
The Guardian, Thursday 14 August 2008

The body that regulates solicitors has been discriminating against ethnic minority lawyers and subjecting them to potentially ruinous investigations, an independent report has concluded.

The report, obtained by the Guardian, finds the Solicitors Regulation Authority pays “lip service” to equality, and is plagued by a leadership that lacks “competence” on diversity issues.

Alex Wiens

It finds black and minority ethnic lawyers are “stereotyped” with SRA staff assuming guilt before they start investigating complaints against them. It says the organisation is open to the charge of being institutionally racist and was more likely to investigate ethnic minority lawyers than white ones.

It says: “The organisation has deficiencies which impact adversely on [ethnic minority] solicitors.”

The report was written by Lord Ouseley, the former head of the Commission for Racial Equailty. He headed an independent review, jointly commissioned by the SRA, into why black and Asian solicitors were more likely to be targeted by the organisation, which is the regulatory arm of the Law Society.

It follows years of complaints from black and Asian solicitors that the SRA treats them unfairly.

The report, to be released today, is highly critical of the organisation’s leadership and says: “The SRA at present lacks the drive and the equality and diversity competence within its managerial and leadership spheres to make the changes happen.”

It says the failings have “potential discriminatory effects” and says despite promises of reform, the SRA can be labelled as racist: “Potentially this still leaves the SRA open to the charge of institutional racism, as its policies, procedures, practices and actions, however unintended, can be seen to have disproportionate detrimental and discriminatory outcomes for BME [black and minority ethnic] solicitors.”

It continues: “Not to be under-estimated is the level of prejudice and bias which exists among personnel in this and other similar organisations.”

The report says this is the case with a minority of staff and adds some ethnic minority lawyers are judged to be guilty through racist stereotyping before an investigation is started.

The SRA, which was created in 2006, handles complaints against solicitors and can investigate them for a variety of matters.

Peter Herbert, chair of the Society of Black Lawyers and a member of the working party that produced the report, said: “Black and minority solicitors faced racism. This is as serious for the legal profession as the Lawrence inquiry was for racism in the Metropolitan police.”

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