On the 15th May, the Faculty of Business, Environment and Society (BES) of Coventry University was especially privileged to welcome the UK’s doyen of cross-cultural education, equality and human rights, Professor Gus John, as the distinguished speaker for the final MSc GDIL lecture, coordinated by Course Director Terry Brathwaite, in conjunction with the Deputy Vice-Chancellor’s Office, Professor Stuart Weinstein and the Law School, as well as the Warwickshire Law Society.
Effectively chaired by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Student Experience) Professor Ian Dunn, the GDIL Lecture entitled “Promoting Equity of Access to Justice – the Challenge” provided an exclusive platform for approximately 177 registered attendees to be the first audience that Prof John spoke to about his ground-breaking research – an Independent Comparative Case Review – commissioned by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) in 2012.
The regulator of 100,000 or so solicitors in England and Wales, the SRA was keen for Prof Gus John to determine if there is any disparity in its regulatory decision-making between black and minority ethnic (BME) and white solicitors. Prof John had previously carried out a similar exercise for the Crown Prosecution Service, in addition to chairing the equality, diversity and social mobility advisory group for the Legal Education and Training Review commissioned by the SRA, with the Bar Standards Board and ILEX Professional Standards.
During his riveting delivery, Prof John presented a persuasive and well-articulated account of his review on disparate treatment, which the SRA published in March, 2014. His findings were captured in the following statement by the SRA Chief Executive Paul Phillip:
“I am grateful to Gus John for taking such a thorough approach, and for his analysis and insight. Disproportionality of outcomes for BME lawyers is, unfortunately, not confined to regulatory outcomes. The report identifies that there is not a simple, single, cause of this disproportionality and, similarly, there is not a single, simple, solution. Therefore, addressing the issue will need the help and engagement of a wide range of individuals and organisations.”
A Global Development Consultant and Fellow of the London Centre for Leadership in Learning at the Institute of Education, University of London, Professor John was for 10 years Visiting Faculty Professor of Education at the University of Strathclyde, where among other things he taught a cross-faculty module on Social Justice in Professional Roles.
Thus, it was no surprise that his oration at the Goldstein Auditorium further raised a number of background issues which the Deputy Vice-Chancellor felt strongly about, as they were not only deemed tangential to regulation, but also had direct implications for legal education and training at Coventry Law School, and for the work of the Law Society. When approached by Professor Dunn for his thoughts on the contextual role of HEI’s in the legal ‘souk’, Professor Gus John poignantly noted:
“Sadly, the Legal Education and Training Review imply skirted around some of those issues and not least the question of how long the HE sector, in increasingly fierce, free and open competition, could continue training lawyers without regard to the capacity of the legal services market to absorb them, especially given the likely future configuration of that marked (what with changes to criminal legal aid, alternative business structures and the rest).
Given the structural disadvantages suffered by students whose ‘A’ level grades fail to win them places in Oxbridge and Russell Group institutions, and given the prevailing attitudes of law firms and other providers of legal services towards graduates from those post-1992 institutions, what are the implications for the Legal Services Act (LSA’s) objective to ‘encourage an independent, strong, diverse and effective legal profession’? For those reasons, I feel that Professor Ian Dunn’s question to kickstart the Q&A was absolutely spot on.”
After fielding a number of related questions from members of the audience, including Coventry Law School graduates, students from the Sidney Stringer Academy, representatives from the Legal Fraternity and the Faculty Deanery, leading practitioners and representatives of the Law Commission, as well as a strong showing from our Law School staff members and BES employment and placements team, the evening closed with a gift of appreciation being presented to Prof John by Alan East on behalf of the Warwickshire Law Society.
The lecture was followed by a well-prepared buffet dinner during which Prof John and his wife Joy were able to relax with the students, staff and visitors in a more intimate atmosphere, Prof John was particularly pleased to use that time to engage with our law students who were keen to get his advice on career planning and how to cope with the challenges they face in the legal services market.
This article was originally published by BES Departmental News