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14/08/2008

Institutionally racist

We are not institutionally racist. SRA October 2007

This is not housing law related, but it is of significance to many in the sector.

Lord Ouseley, the former head of the Commission for Racial Equality, was jointly commissioned by the Solicitors Regulatory Authority and the Society of Black Lawyers to conduct an independent investigation into the SRA’s treatment of BME solicitors and firms, in a perhaps belated response to repeated complaints that BME firms were disproportionately targeted for interventions and that complaints and disciplinary proceedings were also handled in a discriminatory way. Even at the level of referrals of law students for character or suitability assessments, black and asian students are disproportionately represented.

The Guardian has obtained a copy of the report (and the Times also reports, more moderately). It makes for very uncomfortable reading for the SRA.

The report finds that the very way the SRA operates has ‘potential discriminatory effects’, and that

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 solicitors

Awareness of the problem and progress on diversity issues at the the SRA is negligible, as management

regard the commitment to equality and diversity as superficial, tokenistic and unimportant.

And some SRA staff are quite simply racist:

Not to be under-estimated is the level of prejudice and bias which exists among personnel in this and other similar organisations

such that

some ethnic minority lawyers are judged to be guilty through racist stereotyping before an investigation is started (Guardian precis)

The report makes 39 recommendations, and demands ‘urgent, active and swift implementation’. Any chance of that? Well the current SRA leadership might have problems as the report found that:

The SRA at present lacks the drive and the equality and diversity competence within its managerial and leadership spheres to make the changes happen.

This is a pretty devastating condemnation of the practices and culture of the SRA. Let us hope it marks a watershed moment.

Giles Peaker is a solicitor and partner in the Housing and Public Law team at Anthony Gold Solicitors in South London. You can find him on Linkedin and on Twitter. Known as NL round these parts.

18 Comments

  1. Michael

    NL, Given that Lord Ouseley would have failed in his remit had he not found some racism, this report can hardly be described as a devastating condemnation of the culture and practices of the SRA.

    “Potentially”, “commitment to”, “prejudice and bias with exists among personnell”, “similar organisations” (!!) It’s desperate stuff.

    So insubstantial is the report that the Guardian felt the need to put words in Lord Ouseley’s mouth.

    And unecessarily so.

    It’s not as if discrimination in the SRA is hard to find.

    Had he taken a moment to scritinise the terms of Qualified Lawyers Transfer Regulations he would have found an indisputable (not potential) preference given to overseas lawyers (who have never completed a training contract) over English-&-Welsh educated nearly-legals who have to jump through that increasingly elusive hoop should they wish to join the SRA’s roll.

    But maybe because it is against the “wrong” group, namely its own, it was always unlikely to provoke the good Lord’s sensibilities. The university-going English middle classes are not much of a cause celebre, I know, but it wouldn’t take a lot of spin to make a decent story.

    If it could be shown that the admitted in-comers were mainly Aussie & Saffa, and the local post-LPC paralegals & fee-earners denied access to the roll were as diverse as a London law school, that really would be a chunky equality stick with which to beat the SRA into levelling the playing field.

    Where to find that stats though?

    Reply
  2. NL

    You think? I don’t buy the ‘had to find some racism’ line myself. My reading is that the ‘potentially’, ‘could be perceived as’ etc. were a classic CRE/Civil Service way avoiding a direct statement of liability which, in the context of the SRA would be thoroughly actionable. Not least, it is clear that, in the words of the report, not the Guardian, there are staff who are actively prejudiced, that this has involved a presumption of guilt or fault at the very earliest stages of an investigation and that the management, both middle and senior of the SRA has done nothing to actively root out or prevent this attitude and behaviour. Behind the Civil Servicese the report is making a clear finding and also a finding of the inability of the current board to correct the problem. That latter finding was not qualified by any ‘potentially’ or ‘perceivably’, which rather undermines your view of this as a tedious administrative chore of self-flagellation. Not that the report will necessarily make any great difference of course.

    As for the QLT, you make an interesting point, one that may well have some validity, as well as instant appeal to the un-trainee’d hordes. Have a look for those stats, and while you are at it, the stats on the origin of those coming through the QLT, just to support your aussie/SA claim. You could then correlate this with the stats on traineeship numbers, just to demonstrate the ‘indisputable’ impact on the domestic trainee programme. (In a pot and kettle moment, I’d have to say that Indisputable has always struck me as one of the most desperate of qualifiers, much worse than ‘potentially’. It just demands a demand for backing the claim up.)

    Reply
  3. Michael

    If you’ve got some sharp ruse for raising a dispute against the existing QLT rules, then that is wonderful news for thousands of us.

    My reading was that while preferential treatment was afforded overseas applicants (who largely did away with the training contract condition in the early 70s) there is no way other than completion of a traing contract for English post-LPC hopefuls – irrespective of the length and depth of fee-earning experience – to gain addmittance to the roll.

    Do you know something we don’t (but would very much like to) know?

    As for the good Lord, I doubt even the Guardian itself would withstand a probe unscathed.

    Reply
  4. Millie

    You’re either a wind-up merchant or a genu-whine DailyMailista, Michael. If the SRA can’t meet the highest standards of Equality&Diversity then why should the governing bodies of less influential professions even bother reaching? As overseers of the law of the land, our trade organisation should ensure that it is beyond reproach and it has patently failed to do so in the eyes of Lord Ouseley who (despite your tacit, nae sarcastic, slurs) has consistently demonstrated selfless impartiality, as evidenced by his post-riots Bradford report.

    The iniquities of the QLT, though perhaps valid, should not and must not detract from the institutional racism waged by the SRA against BME law firms competing with established old-boy networks within our borders.

    If posh university boys are not yet a cause celebre for those pushing for real equality then that is probably because they still enjoy the lion’s share of privilege.

    Let go, why don’t you?

    Reply
  5. NL

    Um, Mike, if you brought the same reading abilities to bear on the report that you did on my last comment, it would explain a lot. I have no ‘get out’ nor suggested any existed. I was asking you to provide the figures to give, you know, a teeny little bit of credibility to your assertions. I would have thought calling you out on your use of ‘indisputable’ might be a clue. Never mind.

    Reply
  6. Michael

    The figures are in and institutional arcism is undeniably proven.

    Using the Ouseless statistical analyses method, it was confirmed today that the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme was by far the most popular means of qualification as a solicitor in 2007.

    Transferring Tralthalmadorians accounted for more 75% of new additions to the roll, as against only 58% coming from training contract completions. The remaining 47.89% was made up of down-trading barristers and uppity ILEX fellow, proving indisputable arcism within the higher echelons of the SRA, particularly among the senior cleaning staff and delivery persons.

    These incontrovertible figures were underlined by the all too typical story of a long-serving Udopian fee-earner employed at a city law firm and unable to secure a training contract whilst over 34 of the most recently employed waiters in his local greasy-spoon were from outerspace jurisdictions. He pertinently asks: “Is it coz I is turquoise?”

    Those on the fringes of the profession fare no better with representatives of the Jeddiist outdoor clerks network, Al-Fr’esco claiming that since the 7-Eleven atrocity the SRA have forced them to buy more than half of their lunches from Spar and even Lidl, at a net cost to their members of over 29 pence in the pound.

    More shockingly, the figures revealed close links between the SRA and the BMP as a spokesperson for the Brainiest Martian Party revealed: “There is no link whatsoever between us and that organisation. In fact I’ve never heard of the SRA. Nevertheless, I firmly believe over a quarter of an undisclosed proportion of them would definitely exclude Martians from their private functions – or even invite them”.

    This painstaking analysis all goes to prove – irrefutably – that the warring factions within the SRA were ultimately responsible for the current situation in Iraq as the powerful influence of pro-NATO elements, supporters of the Hussein regime, and the plain bloodthirsty within the most reverred profession in the whole wide world (nae universe) spilled over into the international arena.

    As Lord Ouseless himself states:

    “The blame for the past 12 years of this decade-long war must be laid firmly at the door of these 5 arcist factions:

    Bush Allies, Saddam Allies, & Sadistics!!”

    Reply
  7. Anonymous (E2)

    Lets face it, the SRA (and its predecessor the OSS) are institutionally racist. Speak to the large majority of BME Solicitors and they will say the same thing. It’s a shame the Regulator takes professional membership fees from BME Solicitors each year – what does it do? – uses that money to harrass them. I doubt if it will change. In 2006 similar accusations were made and now it’s 2008 and nothing has changed. In 10 years time it will probably be the same – racist policies and procedures.

    Reply
  8. Michael

    Perhaps.

    But it is still among the least racist institutions on planet Earth.

    If not THE least. Unless you can you name a few less racist institutions?

    You call.

    Reply
  9. Michael

    King of the typo aren’t I…

    I did of coure mean

    “YOUR call”

    Reply
  10. NL

    @Michael: Of coure.

    Reply
  11. Michael

    Aha, of course. Just what we’d expect… typical

    Well name one.

    Somebody, name an organisation – on Planet Earth – that is less racist than the SRA.

    Shall I get the ball rolling? Ok

    The Bar Association?

    The Black Solicitors Network?

    The BBC?

    The Metropolitan Police?

    The Black Police Association?

    The White Policemen for the Promotion of Black Policepersons Particular Interests?

    The Indian Restaurateurs Commission for Chav Chefs?

    The MOBOs for h o m o s?

    The Turkeys for (Greek-Cyriot) Christmas?

    Name em!

    Reply
  12. NL

    @Michael: Sorry, but the wind ups end here. Please take note.

    Reply
  13. Derek

    Yes, and for your information Lord Ouseley would have used a hypothetical comparator (a concept which, given your posts on Malcolm, will be quite beyond your intellectual capacity) and NOT an actual comparator.

    It is pointless to argue that the SRA is more (or less) institutionally racist than another organisation. The issue is whether it is racist compared to a hypothetically non-racist organisation.

    And by that measure, it most certainly is.

    Reply
  14. Nearly Legal

    Um Derek, are you talking to me, or to Michael? It sounds like you are talking to Michael, but the posts on Malcolm were mine (unless you mean Michael’s comments on posts on Malcolm. I can’t remember if he commented).

    Just checking so I know whether to be insulted or not.

    Reply
  15. Derek

    I was definitely talking to Michael who was alone on this blog in not understanding the patent iniquities of the ridiculous HoL judgment in Malcolm.

    Reply
  16. Nearly Legal

    Thanks for the clarification, Derek, I can remain happily un-insulted.

    Reply
  17. Anonymous (E2)

    Agree with you Derek – the point is whether the SRA is racist…………and it most certainly is.

    Reply
  18. Ethan

    Indeed, the SRA is institutionally racist. The only good thing is that SRA is becoming more independent from the Law Society and so can hopefully deal with the rascism within its process.

    Once they realise that a solicitor who is breaking the code of conduct by, for instance, misappropiating clients funds, or one who deals in immigration law and is people trafficking on the side, it doesn’t matter what race they are. If the solicitor is inclined to dodgy deals, and is given the oppotunity to engage in them, they will…

    Reply

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