Judges inhabit `narrow world'

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The Independent Online
Four out of five of the latest appointments of High Court judges have attended Oxford or Cambridge University, an analysis by the Labour Party shows.

Stephen Byers, chairman of the party's Home Affairs Committee, analysed the social background of the 26 judges appointed during 1993 and 1994, and said the results show the need to open the appointment procedure to greater public scrutiny.

The analysis shows all the judges attended private fee-paying schools, only three were women, and the average age was 53. There had been no improvement since he last carried out the analysis on 1990-92 figures, and he believed they would not improve while appointments were made in secret, from soundings among existing judges and senior lawyers. Labour Party policy is to set up a judicial appointments commission, with some lay members, to make the appointments.

"There is a natural tendency in any walk of life to look at people the same as ourselves and think they would be the best for any job," Mr Byers said. "These findings confirm that our senior judges contine to come from a narrow social and educational background. Given their limited experience of the world, it is hardly surprising that all too often our judges appear out of touch with everyday life. "

He said although the Lord Chancellor was taking steps to lift the secrecy surrounding lower level judicial appointments by advertising posts and formally interviewing applicants, the analysis of the High Court appointments showed that "more radical measures will need to be implemented if we are to move to a more representative and broadly-based judiciary."

He said: "Such action would play an important part in restoring the public's faith in our courts and system of justice."

A spokesman for the Lord Chancellor's Department said judges were never appointed until they were in their forties, so their backgrounds refected the composition of entry to the profession 20 or more years ago. Since then it had widened, and this would gradually feed through to the appointment of judges.

The Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay, had ruled out positive discrimination to alter the social composition of judges, the spokesman said.

Lord Mackay was aware of the social composition, and was anxious to change it if possible, paticularly the shortage of women. Last year he asked more women to apply to be judges.

He said the circuit judges more accurately reflected the composition of the profession as a whole.

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