Bar Council code of conduct tackles age discrimination

The Bar Council has approved an amendment to its code of conduct to ensure age discrimination in pupillage and tenancy selection does not take place.

However, the amendment contains a crucial clause which states that discrimination can take place if it can be shown to be objectively and reasonably justified.

This is a clear compromise after the Commercial Bar Association’s (Combar) response to a bar consultation paper. The response said that the bar’s proposal for a blanket ban failed to allow discrimination on the grounds of age when such a move was “objectively and reasonably justified by a legitimate aim”. (The Lawyer, 7 May).

Combar’s paper added that there was little evidence supporting the claim that chambers exclude applicants aged over 35.

The association claims that the bar’s existing guidelines on age discrimination state that pupils under 30 are more likely to produce greater financial return.

The move by the Bar Council followed complaints from students who allege they were denied a pupillage because of ageism at the bar.

A recent analysis of Pupillage Application Clearing House figures illustrate that a man in his early 20s is five times more likely to get a pupillage than a man in his 40s.

The Bar Council said it was one of the first professions to ban age discrimination. It was spurred by a European Union directive of December 2000, which aims to outlaw discrimination in the workplace by 2006.

The amendment to the Bar Council’s code of conduct reads: “A barrister must not in relation to any offer of a pupillage of tenancy discriminate directly or indirectly.”