Oxbridge still key to reaching bench

(First Edition)

PRIVATE school and Oxbridge-educated lawyers continue to dominate appointments to the senior judiciary, according to a survey carried out by the Labour MP, Stephen Byers.

His findings are certain to inspire calls for reform of the judicial selection process, which has been criticised as too secretive.

Mr Byers, MP for Wallsend, found that of the 12 people appointed to the High Court last year, 10 had been to either Oxford or Cambridge University.

One had been to school in Zimbabwe, and one refused to give details of his schooling. Of the remaining 10, 8 had been educated at a private school.

However, 2 of the 12 appointments were women, marking an improvement on previous years, according to Mr Byers. The average age of those made High Court judges was 52.

When the Court of Appeal and House of Lords were included in the figures, there were 22 appointments. Of these, 86 per cent were educated at either Oxford or Cambridge University and 83 per cent at a private school.

Mr Byers said: 'This is a depressing and disappointing set of findings. The senior members of the judiciary continue to be drawn from a very narrow social and educational background.'

He also criticised the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Taylor, for his refusal to back calls to reform the judicial appointments process. At present, judges are selected by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay, after private consultations with senior judges.

'These findings support the call now being made from a variety of sources for the establishment of an independent judicial appointments commission,' Mr Byers said. 'Judicial vacancies would be openly advertised, applications invited and the criteria for selection published.'

Such a commission has always been rejected by Lord Mackay, who believes it would be influenced by political pressures.

The Lord Chancellor's Department said: 'The Lord Chancellor is concerned to appoint the most suitable people on merit from the pool available.' However, officials at the department believe that the influence of Oxford and Cambridge is waning.