08 August 2012 at 12:31 BST

Academic launches racism probe at legal regulator

A leading academic is to investigate allegations of 'institutional racism' at the body that regulates England's 115,000 practising solicitors.

Ethnic miniority firms: harsher treatment at hands of regulator?

Professor Gus John will conduct an independent eview of the Solicitors Regulation Authority, following claims that the body suffers from endemic racism in its dealings with ethnic minority lawyers.
The weekly Law Gazette newspaper reports that the Society of Black Lawyers accused the SRA of ‘institutional racism’ earlier this year, but the regulator has always denied any bias, adding that most complaints are made about small firms – where the majority of ethnic minority solicitors practice.

Random cases

Prof John carried out a similar service for the Crown Prosecution Service in 2003, and now chairs the equality, diversity and social mobility advisory group of a major review of legal education and training.‘I am pleased to have been approached to undertake this review as it is an important exercise for the SRA, and for BME [black and ethnic minority] solicitors and their practitioner groups,’ said Prof John. ‘The review will draw on a number of random cases and the evidence gathered should help the organisation respond to the recent allegation from the SBL that it treats BME solicitors more harshly than their white counterparts.’

Conditional support

SBL chairman Peter Herbert welcomed the appointment, but warned: ‘Our support is conditional on his having access ... to the 14 cases of alleged race discrimination currently being brought against the SRA, which the SRA disclosed in April this year. It is for the professor to set the limit of his audit, not for the SRA to do so before it begins.’
Mr John is expected to complete his report by late autumn. The Guardian newspaper reports that he is currently a fellow of the London Centre for Leadership in Learning at London University’s Institute of Education, and visiting faculty professor of education at the University of Strathclyde. He also chairs the body Parents and Students Empowerment (PaSE).
The SRA did not comment directly on the appointment, but it issued a statement that included an arguably more friendly comment from Prof John: ‘Although I cannot at this stage presume what the case audit will reveal, whatever the outcome, it shows the SRA is responsive to the concerns of practitioner groups and has taken another important step towards being transparent.’


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