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  • Writer's pictureSundeep Bhatia

Why Diversity is my Middle name and why I fight for it in all that I do by Sundeep Bhatia

I was born in Chatham in Kent on 2nd January 1966.I am the son of two Indian doctors who travelled from the subcontinent in order to work for the then fledgeling National Health Service.

I have always been raised to believe that I am the equal of others and that I should be judged on my merit as opposed to any prejudices relating to my ancestral origins.

That has been a driving force throughout my life and, certainly, throughout my legal career.

I long to see a legal profession where everyone has a chance of achieving greatness whatever their caste, creed, colour,gender,sexuality, maternal status or disability.

I stand against anything which threatens that diversity .

In fact it is that which politically motivated me and drove me to use what skills I have to stand up for diversity both within and without of the Solicitors profession.

What is more important than the legal profession is my belief that the public we serve should always have access to legal professionals who understand and empathise with their cultural backgrounds.

That is why, in 2005, I, via the Society of Asian lawyers, became politically active in order to stand up against the threat to diversity posed when the Labour government of the day attempted, for the first time,to introduce price competitive tendering.

Any attempt to push through price competitive tendering is inherently contrary to diversity within the legal profession. This is because Law Society figures show that over half black and Minority ethnic solicitors are to be found in firms of five partners or less.

Price competitive tendering is all about piling legal services high and selling them cheap as if they were cans of baked beans. The idea is to create supermarket legal services for the masses at the lowest possible cost and with the highest disregard for quality.

The firms which will crumble ,as a result of such legal vandalism ,are the smaller firms in which many Black and Asian solicitors work.It is these firms who frequently serve the needs of BAME communities .

As a result of the demise of such firms communities, which those firms serve, are likely to suffer, and to feel disenfranchised, because they will be less able to access solicitors who understand their background or cultural circumstances.

The net result is that members of those communities are less likely to see themselves reflected in the solicitors, and barristers, representing them as well as the judiciary who determine their fates.

Such a legal system is not one that I would wish to see in this country. It would mean that significant communities in this country would not be able to obtain access to Justice.

My inherent belief that price competitive Tendring is wrong, has resulted in my playing my part in fighting against its introduction several times over the last decade.

I played my part, as the vice chairman of the Society of Asian lawyers, in opposing Lord Carter’s reforms proposed reforms of legal aid ,during 2006 and 2007,which were also based around price competitive tendering.

I drafted written representations, which were published, for the Parliamentary select committee.

It was in 2007, when the Society of Asian lawyers and Black Solicitors Network, challenged Lord Carter’s reforms, by way of judicial review,that I first became involved with the Law Society.

It was at this point in time that I got to know the workings of the Law Society and to interact with its officials.

The Law Society, in 2007, through its support,made it possible for the Society of Asian lawyers and Black Solicitors Network, to judicially review Lord Carter’s reforms.

The Judicial review was unsuccessful but the Legal Services Commission,as a result, did not proceed with the worst aspects of Lord Carter’s proposed reforms.

As a result many hundreds of Black and Asian minority ethnic firms lived to fight another day.

I also debated against Lord Carter in the library of 113 Chancery Lane.

I have continued to oppose price competitive tendering ever since. This included attempts to launch it in Bristol, in 2010 as well as during 2013 and 2014.

I thus ,earlier this year,via the LCCSA, organised a letter ,signed by several black and asian Minority groups,which was published in the Evening Standard,berating the Lord Chancellor, for his decimation of diversity within the Legal Professions.

I have also,over the Last year,expressed my concerns to the Lord Chancellors face as well as by letter.

In 2008 I became chairman of the Society of Asian lawyers and, during my two year tenure as Chairman,became more involved, than ever, in issues involving threats,and investigations into threats to diversity within the profession.

I was one of the members of the working party supporting Lord Herman Ouseley who investigated why the Solicitors Regulation Authority appeared to be disproportionately taking regulatory action against Black and Asian Minority Ethnic firms.

Once that was complete the working party became the External Implimentation Group of the Solicitors Regulation Authority and, for a period of four years, between 2010 and 2014, I was involved in discussions with the SRA regarding how the recommendations of Lord Herman Ouseley, in his report, should be implemented.

By 2010 I was more aware about what the Law Society did and, when I learned that one of the seats for minority lawyers , had become vacant,on the Law Society Council,I put my name forward.

As a result I began my career as a council member which gave me even more opportunities to deal with issues affecting diversity within, and without, the profession.

I am a member of the Equality ,Diversity and Inclusion committee of the Law Society.

The Committee deals with issues concerning all the different strands of diversity within the legal profession

I co-chaired the Minority Lawyers Conference in 2011 and had the pleasure of introducing the Attorney General.

I frequently make representations to the Law Society Council regarding matters relating to diversity within the profession and access to Justice.

I have co-founded a pressure group called Asian Lawyers GB to highlight issues affecting diversity within the profession.

I carry forward the same devotion to fairness ,and diversity,in my day job in the same way as I do when I am representing my profession.

I despise discrimination in all its forms and use the same driving zeal to seek justice for my clients.

I am extremely proud to be a Member of the Employment Law Committee of the Law Society which keeps me abreast of all the latest developments in the field of employment law.

I am also a Member of the Law Society’s Regulatory Affairs Board which also allows me to input feedback into matters affecting all Law firms regardless of size.

My experience as a Law Society Council member,and Chairman of the Society of Asian Lawyers has definitely made me a better Solicitor .

I relish confronting the challenges facing the profession in the months and years to come.

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