The case of barrister Rehana Popal who was asked to return a case by her instructing solicitor because the client wanted a white male is truly dispiriting. What is positive though is how the Legal world has come out to support her and the statement from Christina Blackwell of the Law Society stating that no solicitor should accommodate such a request is great.
What makes this case so shocking is partly how open it was. In some ways, this sort of direct discrimination is easier to deal with. What is harder is dealing with discrimination that isn't so explicit. How do you deal with the client who doesn't openly say that they don't want a non-white female barrister (or mediator) but nevertheless always selects a white male.
We are currently working on a major CEDR Foundation project looking at diversity within the mediation field (findings to be published next year). It is my hope that we can deal with not only the sort of explicit prejudice that professionals like Rehana Popal have experienced (and continue to do so) but that more broadly we can champion a change in hidden attitudes.
To do this, we all need to accept that we should not only challenge when there is explicit prejudice such as in this case but that we also need to challenge implicit and lazy thinking, which allows for discrimination to happen by omission. As professionals, we should expect our clients to engage with us in a way which makes no room for prejudice, explicit or tacit.
To find out more about CEDR's Foundation project on Diversity and Inclusion click here or email Frederick at firstname.lastname@example.org
Frederick Way is the Head of the CEDR Foundation.
'What we can be clear about is that solicitors must not discriminate unlawfully against anyone on the grounds of any protected characteristic. A solicitor should refuse their client’s instruction if it involves the solicitor in a breach of the law or the code of conduct. Where a solicitor realises they have breached the code they may have a duty to report themselves to the regulator