Disability and Access at the Bar

Disability and Access at the Bar
In commissioning this article, LexisNexis reached out to the Bar Council to work with us in examining the challenges facing disabled barristers and clients at the Bar today. Faisel Sadiq, Chair of the Disability Sub Group discusses the ongoing reforms to accessibility, the unique difficulties facing the bar, and the impact of inaccessibility on our justice system and society.   
According to the Papworth Trust’s 2018 report on disability[1], there are 13.3 million disabled people living in the UK. Whilst people with a disability make up 18% of the working age population, they are twice as likely to be unemployed as those without a disability. They will have higher costs (on average spending £550 per month extra attributable to their disability) and higher debt (disabled people are twice as likely to have unsecured debt totalling more than half of their income). Yet those with disabilities still face significant impediments in obtaining employment, with 1 in 5 employers indicating that they are less likely to employ a disabled person.

The BSB’s most recent report on diversity[2] (“Diversity at the Bar 2018”) indicated that of those members of the practising Bar that responded, 2.8% of the total self-identified as having a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010. Soberingly, the figures showed that the proportion of barristers with a disability fell with seniority (3.1% of pupils identifying as having a disability as against 1.1% of silks).

For the last decade, the Bar Council, the Bar Standards Board, and the Inns of Court have collectively sought to improve the diversity of the practising Bar. This is viewed both as an end in itself (it being accepted that the Bar ought to reflect the community from which we are drawn and that we seek to serve) as well it being understood that as the senior judiciary are still predominantly drawn from the Bar, increased diversity at the bar will have an impact on the make up of the judiciary too.

 Access to the Bar for the disabled continues to be affected by a number of factors that include:

  • Cost;
  • Discrimination;
  • Physical access to Chambers; and
  • Access to the Courts.

Cost remains a significant problem. As a profession that is to

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