Black and minority ethnic lawyers are nearly four times less likely to be appointed as judges than white candidates, according to the latest statistics from the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC), prompting calls for targets to be introduced.
Figures released last week showed of 198 white candidates who applied to be a Circuit Court judge between April and September this year, only 31 – 16 percent - were recommended for appointment, an effective guarantee of selection
While a press announcement led on the improvement in female representation, the JAC statistics also showed the proportion of BAME candidates selected for the Circuit Court has remained static in seven years – from three per cent in 2007, when the Commission was formed, to the same figure in 2014.
There are around 600 judges at the Circuit Court, a rank below the High Court but above the District Court. Until 2008 solicitors and barristers had to have at least 10 years' experience to apply for the judiciary, but calls for greater diversity were heeded and the qualification period reduced to seven years.
Cordella Bart-Stewart, chair of the Black Solicitors Network and a part-time tribunal judge, told The Independent on Sunday: "The news release is a bit disingenuous. [The JAC] has focused on success with women, which draws attention away from the fact that the position of BAMEs is poor and is fact getting worse. If you track their statistics to 2008 when they came into being you will see it has been worsening for BAMEs."
Most recent JAC statistics for all levels of the judiciary, released in June and covering October 2013 to March 2014, show the issue replicated in the High Court, where just one BAME candidate applied unsuccessfully, and among tribunal judges considered the 'entry level' of the judiciary.
Of the eligible pool of 345 BAME lawyers, 34 (ten percent), applied to become a salaried judge of the first-tier tribunal, covering issues such as child support, but just two were shortlisted with neither candidate recommended.
Ms Bart-Stewart said: "The JAC has been going out and telling people you can apply after 5 or 7 years of practice, so having gone out and told people that, raising expectations, to then say 'well you are applying too early', does not make sense. They really have to make up their minds."
The House of Lords constitutional committee said in a 2012 report that "a more diverse judiciary would increase public confidence in the justice system". Their findings showed that only one in 20 of judges at all levels were non-white.
Ms Bart-Stewart said: "Two years ago the Lords Constitutional committee report said if there was no improvement in five years there should be targets and quotas might have to come – that has to be the stick."
A spokesperson for the Law Society said: "Diversity in the judiciary is intrinsic to ensuring that the justice system is representative of the people it serves. The statistics show that there is still a significant amount of work to be done to increase judicial diversity.
A JAC spokesman said last night: "It is fair to say that the success of women in judicial selections has not been matched by BAME candidates. We have been very successful at generating applications from BAME candidates, but they have had greater success in tribunal appointments and for lower and middle level offices in the courts judiciary."
The JAC is pursuing two initiatives: a "candidate attraction" project so it can more effectively attract high quality candidates from under-represented groups; and second, an online self-assessment tool to help candidates better assess their readiness for application and provide pointers towards development opportunities.
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