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Courts service accused of sex bias

Women and ethnic minorities are being denied top jobs in the magistrates court service, according to a survey which revealed that 93 per cent of senior positions are held by men.

Only seven per cent of the top grades of Justices' Chief Executives and Justices' Clerks - 16 out of 214 - are women, and none are black.

Rosie Eagleson, general secretary of the magistrates' union, the Association of Magisterial Officers, said: "It is pretty astonishing that this is happening in 1997. We are extremely disappointed and increasingly angry with the response of the Lord Chancellor's Department in the face of these latest, and apparently damning, statistics. Urgent and practical measures must be taken to establish equality of opportunity for all those working in the magistrates' courts service. This is an issue which cannot be swept under the carpet as it undermines the credibility of the local justice system."

The results were part of an ethnic and gender monitoring survey for 1996, carried out by the magistrates' courts group of the Lord Chancellor's Department. It showed that while 68 per cent of all staff employed in the service were female, 68 per cent of these were employed in low-paid, clerical and administrative jobs.