One of the founders of the Black Solicitors Network (BSN) has called on the legal regulators to consider introducing quotas and targets to promote diversity.
Cordella Bart-Stewart, a fee-paid immigration judge and sole principal of Stewart & Co, was speaking during a panel discussion at the publication of the 2014 BSN Diversity League Table.
Among the 41 firms responding to the diversity survey, women make up 25.4% of partners. The survey also revealed that 5.7% of partners are from an ethnic minority background, compared with 8.1% across the sector as a whole.
Approximately half of ethnic minority partners (3.1%) are from an Asian background, with the proportion of black partners continuing to remain particularly low at just 0.5% of all partners.
Bart-Stewart said: 'We are in a situation where, at the very least, we have to look at targets being set by the regulators in terms of seeing change.' Citing class as another barrier to diversity, Bart-Stewart said: 'Without targets, I do not think the leaders in our profession are going to look outside the usual groups in terms of addressing the issue.'
In a statement of support, Christopher Stephens, chairman of the Judicial Appointments Commission, said five BAME lawyers were recommended for circuit judge posts (9% of total recommendations) and four for district judge (civil) positions (7%). BAME lawyers made up 7% of all recommendations for positions requiring legal experience.
Citing these figures, Kim Hollis QC asked Bart-Stewart whether or not the time had come for targets and quotas.
'There is resistance to targets and an even bigger resistance to quotas, but the ones most resistant to quotas are the ones suffering the problems,' replied Bart-Stewart.
'It is very easy to say there should be a meritocracy, but who is defining merit?'
Bart-Stewart said the introduction of quotas and targets had to be 'holistic'.
She added: 'It has to be that the organisation, from the top-down, buys in. And I'm not sure in the legal profession that it is from the top-down. We have got very good HR people trying to make some influence in their firms and organisations, but the buy-in is not at the top and therefore it does not permeate, and so there is no change.
'If you do not do that within firms and chambers, we are not going to have the people with the experience for the judiciary. It cannot be targets or quotas on its own for the judiciary. It has got to be the whole profession.'