Warning over diversity among judges

 

Targets should be set for the recruitment of ethnic minority and female judges if the judiciary fails to make itself far more representative of society within five years, peers said today.

Only one in 20 judges is non-white and fewer than a quarter are women, undermining the public's confidence in the courts system, the select committee on the constitution suggested.

While progress had been made - those numbers have trebled and doubled respectively since 1998 - the profession is proving itself too slow at shaking up its upper echelons, the report said.

It called on the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice to be given a duty to encourage diversity in finding candidates and said equality laws should be applied to senior court appointments.

The peers said that while judges should be picked on merit - the ability to offer a different perspective on the world should be considered a quality that counted towards that.

"It is necessary for judges to understand the wide array of concerns and experiences of those appearing before them. A more diverse judiciary can bring different perspectives to bear on the development of the law and to the concept of justice itself," they concluded.

"Judges are independent of Parliament and the executive, but they should not stand apart from the society in which they adjudicate. The public must have confidence in the judges who make the decisions which affect their day-to-day lives."

That also meant a need to boost the numbers of gay and disabled judges, the report suggested,

As well as looking at barriers within the career structure of the profession, such as encouraging more non-barristers to become judges, the peers said, attention should also go on allowing more family-friendly working hours to encourage women to apply.

Setting targets would be inappropriate at this stage, the report concluded.

"However, we believe that this should be kept under review. If there has been no significant increase in the numbers of women and BAME (black and minority ethnic) judicial appointments in five years' time, the Government should consider setting non-mandatory targets for the JAC (Judicial Appointments Commission) to follow."

Committee chair Baroness Jay said: "It is vital that the public have confidence in our judiciary.

"One aspect of ensuring that confidence is a more diverse judiciary that more fully reflects the wider population.

"That even by 2011 only 5% of judges were from minority groups and only 22% were women suggest there is still work to be done in this area.

"It is important that judges are appointed on merit but the committee felt there are steps that could be taken to promote diversity without undermining that principle.

"Requiring the Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice to encourage diversity and supporting flexible working within the judiciary would be a good start.

"It is also important that solicitors, who are a more representative group of society than barristers, do not face any impediments to a career in the judiciary."

PA

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