Barbara Mills QC

Barbara Mills QC

The first part of my childhood which was spent in Ghana, embedded in me a keen sense of family and belonging. Our move to England was sudden and rushed and came in the aftermath of a coup which left my mother with little choice but to move with her children to a place of safety. We arrived in England feeling welcomed but very much as guests and started a new life with only what we could carry –  five people with five suitcases. My mother was an incredibly strong character (she had to be). Her strict discipline and rule-driven parenting was at times rigid and no doubt rooted in fear – raising her children on her own in a foreign country took courage and resilience. She prized education above all else and ensured we had access to the best education with the help of assisted places in private schools.

I always wanted to be a barrister.  I was called to the Bar in 1990, which means this year marks 32 years in practice. I am a specialist Children Law practitioner and I deal with all types of disputes involving the welfare of children often with an international element.

A few years into my career, I began to really connect with the devastating effect of the adversarial court system on families in crisis. No one goes into court “fighting” to secure the order they believe is in their child’s best interests and speaks well and fondly of their ex-partner. The adversarial system necessarily inspires separating parents to review their relationship, excavate and focus only on that which has been negative or not worked well. It is easy in that situation to take eyes off the people in the middle – the children who have played no part in the separation, often have no real say and certainly no real choice as to the outcome.

My desire to be a part of a more holistic solution focused and restorative process led me to train as a mediator in 2005. Mediation enables me to help couples in disputes to remember that they will always be each other’s family, that the children need both of them and will always need both of them. That message, once accepted, enables parents to move forward in a spirit of collaboration and with a desire to repair, reshape and rebuild their family with a view to it remaining intact despite the separation.

Today, I combine my skills as a barrister and mediator with regular stints as the decision maker – whether as a  Recorder in the Family Courts or as an arbitrator.

In June 2020 I was appointed as the co-Chair of the Bar Council’s Race  Working Group (RWG).

The group’s focus is unique in that it has representatives from all of the Bar’s stakeholders as race based networks and initiatives. We have met roughly once a month since June 2020.

Our task falls into the following 4 broad areas as it affects the Black and Brown community of lawyers at the Bar

  1. To establish the factors that hinder access (who gets in), retention (who stays in) , progression (who gets on and grows into leadership roles) of Black barristers;
  2. To look at the Bar’s culture;
  3. To identify interventions to address the barriers faced by Black practitioners; and
  4. To identify the role, if any, that the Bar Council and Bar based organisations can play in challenging systemic disadvantage faced by the Black community more widely.

On the 5th November 2021, the RWG launched its report “Race at the Bar: A Snapshot Report”. Its key findings are as follows

The report has six key findings are:-

  1. There is incontrovertible evidence, in quantitative and qualitative terms, that barristers from ethnic minority backgrounds and Black and Asian women, face systemic obstacles in building and progressing a sustainable and rewarding career at the Bar.
  2. Candidates from ethnic minority backgrounds are less likely to obtain pupillage than candidates from White backgrounds, even when controlling for educational attainment with reference to evidence such as university ranking[1], BPTC grade ad degree class.
  3. Black and Asian women at the Bar are 4 times more likely to experience bullying and harassment at work than White men[2].
  4. Even when factoring in practice area, work volume, region, seniority, women earn on average less than men; Black men earn less than White men; and Black and Asian women earn less than Black and Asian men, and Black women earn the least. The income differentials vary between practice area but are significant[3].
  5. Black and Asian barrister are under-represented in taking Silk. There are just 5 Black/Black British female QCs and 17 male Black/Black British QCs in England and Wales. There are 16 male and 9 female Silks of Mixed ethnicity. There are 17 Asian/Asian British female QCs and 60 male Asian/Asian British QCs. This compares to 1300 White men and 286 White women[4]; and
  6. Black, Asian, and other ethnic minority candidates are less successful in achieving judicial appointment; rates of recommendation from eligible pool of applicants are an estimated 36%. 73% and 44% lower respectively when compared with White candidates[5].

The report has been well received by the profession and many of the stakeholders have already begun to use the report’s recommendations to implement targets for change. Leading this group and advocating for diversity within the legal system is a big responsibility and I hope the RWG can oversee changes that pave the way for our brown and black colleagues at all levels and at all stages.

Q&A

  1. What 3 words best describe you? Compassionate, loyal and tenacious
  2. If you could offer your younger self one piece of advice, what would that be? Relax – its going to be just fine!
  3. What do you consider to be your greatest achievement? My daughter.
  4. Which person (dead or alive) would you most like to invite to dinner? Maya Angelou
  5. How has age strengthened your advantage? I have a greater sense of self.
  6. What inspired you to join Circle Square? I was drawn to this community of inspiring people who have achieved great or good things and believe in paying it forward.

[1] BSB Diversity Data 2020

[2] Barristers Working Lives 2021

[3] BMIF, Criminal Legal Aid Review Report, BSB Income at the Bar report November 2020

[4] QCA; Bar Council’s CRM data (October 2021)

[5] Judicial Diversity Statistics 2021

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