• Jade Strain

Black History Month: The legal system and ethnicity

Updated: Feb 8, 2021

This month we reflect on Black History Month, and particularly how representative our legal system is towards Black and Ethnic Minority background groups on both sides of the law. We also take an inward look at how we are doing as a firm and how we plan to progress in the future.

Diversity within the legal system

According to the Solicitor’s Regulation Authority (SRA), the latest figures identify that 21% of solicitors in England and Wales identify as BAME. With 20% of the individuals sitting at partner level. In 2015 this number was at just 11%.

Most notably from recent years is Judge Grace Amakye, a black female who was appointed a Circuit Judge in April 2015. Based at Snaresbrook Crown Court, Judge Amakye has been the chair of several serious criminal and sexual assault cases. These include jailing a paedophile who had 20,000 indecent images of children and a man convicted of a series of racial sexual attacks on women. At a time where just 8% of the UK’s judges identified as BAME and under half are female, Judge Amakye’s appointment was a crucial move forward for diversity.

Lord Reed, who took over as the head of the Supreme Court in 2020 has recently commented on the lack of diversity in the all-white bench. When asked whether a judge from a Black or Minority Ethnic background would be appointed, he commented, “I hope that will be before I retire, which is in six years’ time.” He also added that the lack of diversity “cannot be allowed to become shameful if it persists”. Lord Reed took over the prestigious post from Lucy Hale, the first female president of the court who retired in January 2020.

There are several groups working hard In order to increase diversity within the legal sector. Particularly The Law Society’s Ethnic Minority Lawyers Divison (EMLD) which aims to “empower black and minority ethnic (BAME) lawyers across England and Wales to overcome structural, procedural and attitudinal barriers within the profession.”

A new recruitment platform, Rare, has also increased in popularity. Rare looks to connect exceptional graduate candidates from BAME backgrounds within top law firms. Their key aim is to identify and promote individuals who may not have come from the same background that so many within the law sector have been privilege to. Some of the biggest law firms have worked with Rare, including BCLP, Allen & Overy and Bird & Bird. Rare uses a dedicated data system to analyse each candidate and identify performers that others may miss due to unconscious bias. They have also developed 6 award-winning programmes of development including ‘Advancing Black leaders’ and ‘Articles’, the latter of which is based around BAME individuals interested in applying for vacation schemes and training contracts with legal firms.

Convictions & Reoffenders

Bias within the law is unfortunately not a new situation. However, in light of the Black Lives Matter movement which has affected the world recently, we have taken a look at the true nature of diversity within our UK criminal justice system.

Clinks, an organisation who support, promote and represent the voluntary sector working with people in the criminal justice system and their families recently reported that BAME individuals are over represented in the system. “People from BAME communities are more likely to be arrested and more likely to have decisions go against them in court. They are more likely to be subject to adjudication or use of force, reporting poorer experiences of prison life overall. They are over represented in probation caseloads and reoffending rates.”

Clinks notes that the 2017 Lammy Review, by MP David Lammy goes some way to providing recommendations to tackle these issues. One section covers the alarming proportion of BAME youth offences, which had risen for first time offenders from 11% in 2006 to 19% in 2016, with same percentage rise for BAME re-offenders. Lammy said: ‘We have got a lot of young people from BAME communities who have very low trust in the criminal justice system. Their perceptions of magistrates and judges is [that they are] a very long way from the communities they represent. The real issues are where are the working-class magistrates and judges? Where are the BAME magistrates and judges? There are significant parts of the country, with significant BAME populations, where there is no BAME judge or magistrate in sight.’

Organisations such as the Stephen Lawrence Trust are working hard to build communities, support diverse recruitment and create a fairer society to enable all individuals to be treated equally in all walks of life, including the criminal system. The Prison Reform Trust is aiming to “Reduce the use of prison, that is about who goes to prison and for how long”, meaning:

  • Only the most serious crime should result in a sentence of imprisonment

  • Prison sentences should not be so long that they destroy hope, and should always make full and constructive use of time inside.

Serenity Law & Diversity

Serenity Law is a forward-thinking modern practice and we pride ourselves on valuing clients and team members from all walks of life. We have built the foundations of our business around our values:

Recognising Inclusivity & Diversity

Here at Serenity Law we welcome candidates from diverse backgrounds. We value experience and constantly strive to balance the diversity within the team.

Technologically Aware

Serenity Law LLP is a boutique commercial law firm that uses technological innovation to improve the quality of our client services and deliver efficient business solutions. We have adopted our way of working using technology to deliver client services that are sustainable, by adopting our services we have less impact on the environment we reduce waste, prevent pollution and have adopted to greener ways of transport for business travel.

Taking Time To Listen

We take time to listen to and understand our client’s concerns and customise a solution that directly responds to their individual needs. We believe in creating and maintaining an inclusive and collaborative business and we value in creating a diverse, positive and healthy environment for our team members and clients.

Ensuring Transparency

Transparency and fair policies – we are transparent on our fees, and building new service packages with greater transparency and pricing (e-commerce/retainer packages. We also ensure we are open with our new team members about Serenity’s values and what we expect from each member. New and established members of the team should also be able to feel that they can be open and honest with both the co-founders and other Serenity team members.

Do You Want To Grow With Serenity?

We are currently looking for Solicitors and Legal Counsel who share our values, embrace technology and have an entrepreneurial spirit to grow and develop the Serenity brand in their region. We hire based on experience and alignment with our values.

For more information please contact Michelle Carpenter Hanson or to find out more about what we do, please visit our about section here.