Important note – this policy has been written in preparation for KJM Legal seeking authorisation from the Solicitors Regulation Authority to be a Recognised Body. We are not yet a Recognised Body and though we will generally act in accordance with this policy document, it cannot be fully in force until we become one. When we are, we will update this policy document to remove this additional wording.
Equality and Diversity Policy
We are specialists in disability and we practice what we preach. We are equally committed to operating in ways that promote the inclusion of (and prevent discrimination against) people with other protected characteristics or who are otherwise from a marginalised group. This applies across all that we do, in respect of employees, clients, barristers and expert witnesses we work with, other suppliers and anybody else we work with in the course of business.
We are committed to the principals of equality and diversity, to complying, at a minimum, with legislative requirements and to going beyond the legislative requirements wherever practicable.
The Equality Act 2010 sets out the following protected characteristics:
- Gender reassignment
- Marital and civil partnership status
- Pregnancy and maternity
- Race or racial group
- Religion or belief
- Sexual orientation
That Act prohibits less favourable treatment of someone because they have (or are perceived to have) one (or more) protected characteristics. It prohibits direct discrimination, indirect discrimination, victimisation, harassment and in the case of disability unfavourable treatment and a failure to make reasonable adjustments.
Separately to the protected characteristics within the Equality Act 2010 we specifically prohibit harassment, bullying and discrimination on the basis of:
1. Body size. It is not acceptable to discriminate against people on the basis of them being fat or thin. It is also not acceptable to discriminate against people on the basis of their height.
2. Gender identity in so far as this is not already a protected characteristic; we accept that people are the gender they tell us they are for all purposes. We use the names and pronouns people use for themselves, even when this feels awkward, in discussions with them. We discuss with individuals how they want us to handle issues of pronouns in correspondence.
3. Social class. It is not acceptable to discriminate against people for not having read particular books or for their family background.
4. Socio-economic status. It is not acceptable to discriminate against people on the basis of their perceived socio-economic status. As we offer privately funded legal services, we will not accept instructions where we have a reasonable belief that someone cannot afford to pay us and we will stop acting where someone has not paid our professional fees. This is not discrimination based on perceived socio-economic status, but on ability to pay.
5. Relationship status. We do not treat people differently because they are single/in a relationship/living with a partner/married/divorced/widowed. Nor do we discriminate against people on the basis of their chosen relationship structure; monogamous, polyamorous etc.
6. Parental status. We do not discriminate against people because they have or don’t have children.
It is a condition of any Director’s Service Contract and all Contracts of Employment, that all employees and directors are bound by the terms of this policy. No director or employee in their professional dealings may discriminate against, victimise or harass anybody on the basis of any of the protected characteristics or on the basis of the additional areas where we prohibit discrimination outlined above.
It is additionally a requirement that all directors and employees comply with the Outcomes set out at Chapter 2 of the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s Code of Conduct .
This policy is divided into sections covering:
We promote equality of opportunity and respect for diversity throughout our recruitment processes. We are committed to recruiting, employing and retaining disabled staff.
We advertise as widely as practicable for posts; precisely where we advertise will vary with the job role. We will always consider whether an advert should be placed in the disability press. We will make sure the version on our own website is compatible with screen reading and other assistive technology.
All job adverts will include a contact name, telephone number and email address, so that applicants can make contact if there is something inaccessible about the recruitment process.
All advertised jobs will have a job description that can be supplied to potential applicants, even if it’s not included in any printed adverts. We will make any application materials available in different formats on request. These materials will be available as Word documents by default.
We will accept job applications in as many formats as possible. If necessary, as a reasonable adjustment, we will arrange to take job applications by telephone. We will invite job applicants to tell us what, if any, adjustments they need us to make to allow them to participate in the interview (eg. extra time, documents formatted in a particular way)
We will treat all job applicants courteously, fairly and will not discriminate against them unjustifiably.
We will ensure our recruitment processes can be used by disabled applicants and will make reasonable adjustments where needed if part of our process isn’t accessible to an individual candidate.
We are always recruiting with the aim of appointing the best person for the job.
Anybody involved in recruitment will need to be aware of Disability Confident as well as the general requirements of the law.
We will offer interviews to all candidates disclosing a disability who meet the minimum criteria for the post. Where there are too many applicants for us to interview them all, we will interview those who best meet the minimum criteria for the job. We will allow more time when interview disabled candidates and flexibility over the timing of interviews. We will arrange interviews in a room that is accessible to the people using it, with appropriate lighting (and with glare being avoided), that is reasonably free from clutter and with seating that is comfortable. Where a candidate may wish to refer to documentation, we will make sure there is a table or other suitable surface for them to use.
Except where neat handwriting is a job requirement, we will arrange for any written test to be done on a computer. We will make any reasonable adjustments needed to enable disabled candidates to take the test on a computer.
Staff (employees, director(s))
The importance of equality of opportunity and the need for respect for diversity is incorporated into the staff handbook. There is induction training for all new members of staff that includes training in this policy and on issues of equality and diversity. This policy is supplied to all members of staff (including directors) on starting employment. Any updated copies will be circulated by email. We are currently very small, with plenty of room for people to grow in their job roles, which promotes equality of opportunity. We will arrange ongoing training on equality and diversity issues annually which will include training on disability. Staff are responsible for complying with this policy and for seeking support from Karen if they are unsure of how to proceed.
We make reasonable adjustments for disabled staff. We will also look at making adjustments of a similar nature where needed by someone with a temporary injury or who is pregnant or breastfeeding. We do not pass on the cost of making reasonable adjustments to staff.
Staff complaints about Equality and Diversity matters will be dealt with under the usual procedure for dealing with staff grievances.
Where a complaint is made about a member of staff having breached this policy, it will be investigated. Where appropriate, action will be taken against that person under the usual Disciplinary Procedure. It will not always be necessary or appropriate to do this, where the issue is a minor one that can be addressed by further training.
The staff handbook explains how we ensure equality in relation to the treatment of employees and directors. When we have enough staff to ensure responses can be truly anonymous we will introduce a staff feedback questionnaire to monitor the effectiveness of our current policy and procedures. In the interim, we welcome feedback by email and any more serious matters can be raised under the Grievance Procedure.
We monitor staff diversity data at least one every two years (and annually where required by the SRA or other regulatory requirements). We publish as much data as possible, but only in ways that will not infringe any individual’s privacy.
The steps we take to ensure equality of treatment for clients are set out in our client contract, which explains that a copy of this policy can be supplied on request. The training we give to staff and the application of this policy, which all staff are required to comply with is also part of how we ensure equality of treatment for clients.
We do not decline instructions from potential clients on the basis of any of the protected characteristics. We will generally decline instructions where:
1. The work is outside of our expertise and we cannot competently handle it.
2. The case involves children who have been sexually abused (these cases are really challenging and need to be handled by a team of lawyers with a breadth of expertise, rather than by one lawyer)
3. Cases that are in some other way just “too big” for us to handle them given the number of staff and our collective expertise. Cases that fall into this category will be wholly exceptional eg. There’s a lot of press coverage.
4. We have too much work to do already and we cannot properly accommodate work on another case at the time it needs to be done without compromising our obligations to existing clients.
5. Some other substantial reason.
We make reasonable adjustments for disabled clients. We will also look at making adjustments of a similar nature where needed by someone with a temporary injury or who is pregnant or breastfeeding. We do not pass on the cost of making reasonable adjustments to clients.
Complaints by clients about discrimination will be considered under our usual client complaint procedure.
When we have enough clients to make it possible for truly anonymous feedback to be given, we will seek feedback from clients on equality issues (as well as any other matters) as we close their files at the end of a matter. In the interim we will invite feedback on equalities issues from clients by email, letter or telephone.
Third parties e.g. Barristers, other external advocates, suppliers etc.
We make reasonable adjustments for disabled people. We will also look at making adjustments of a similar nature where needed by someone with a temporary injury or who is pregnant or breastfeeding. We do not pass on the cost of making reasonable adjustments to these third parties.
We recommend the most suitable barristers for a client’s case; factors that we take into account when considering this are:
- Matching the complexity (or expected future complexity) of the case to Counsel’s skill level in the relevant field
- Counsel’s availability for key dates eg. Any conferences, preparing any written legal argument, the expected hearing date
- Professional fees
- Counsel’s performance in previous cases in the context of our understanding why their performance might have been “below par”. Note that what we are referring to here has little to do with the ultimate outcome of a case and a lot to do with how easy they are to work with through a case. Are documents supplied when Counsel has said they’re going to be? Are explanations given without prompting when documents are late? Is Counsel reasonably available by telephone/email? Is Counsel unpleasant (particularly by telephone) to junior members of staff?
Where a client asks us to instruct or not instruct a particular barrister for a discriminatory reason, eg. race, disability, we will discuss the request with them to make sure we have understood it properly. If we have, we will explain that we are not able or willing to comply with it, because it is a breach of the law (and of this policy document) and that if they persist in it we will have to cease to act.
We recommend the most suitable expert witnesses for a client’s case; factors that we take into account when considering this are:
- Matching the individual’s needs with the expert’s particular expertise
- Matching the complexity (or expected future complexity) of the case to the expert’s seniority/skill level
- The expert’s availability for key dates eg. the timing of when they can offer an assessment, the timing of when they expect to supply a written report, the expected hearing date
- Professional fees
- The expert’s performance in previous cases in the context of our understanding why their performance might have been “below par”. Note that what we are referring to here has little to do with the ultimate outcome of a case and a lot to do with how easy they are to work with through a case. Is the assessment date kept/only moved for a good reason? Are reports produced in a reasonable period of time?
When we are looking at other services we will select suppliers based on:
- Their ability to provide the service we are seeking
- Their location, where relevant to the service they’re providing – we are going to try to buy local where we can, to reduce our carbon footprint and to ensure we act as a “good neighbour” towards other local businesses
- Their own commitment to equality and diversity (what we look for here from a small local business will be different to what we expect from a much larger organisation)
We will maintain records of which barristers and experts are instructed with a view to undertaking diversity monitoring of these groups in the future (again, at present the numbers are too small to allow for actually anonymous collection of diversity data).
Complaints about discrimination will be dealt with promptly, fairly, openly and effectively. They will be dealt with in a way that broadly matches the ACAS guidance on employee grievances, as being the most appropriate framework in which to consider such complaints.
We will always endeavour to act in ways that support those with protected characteristics and others from marginalised groups, so for example, we will:
- Always use microphones when asked to do so
- Challenge people at training and similar all day or half day conferences who want to work through or shorten breaks to allow for an earlier finish
- Not appear on “all male” or “all white” panels and carefully consider whether it is appropriate for us to appear on panels where nobody is disabled
This policy will be monitored on an ongoing basis and will be reviewed with a view to updating it every two years. Where issues are identified with this policy, a review will take place to address the identified issues at the time.
We will keep records of the number and outcome of complaints made by staff, clients and third parties.
We will additionally keep records of disciplinary action taken against staff for equality and diversity issues (i.e. the numbers of disciplinary cases falling into this category).