Legal profession must do more to improve ethnic diversity, says Supreme Court president

But some progress had been made in addressing gender inequality, he says

Terri Judd
Tuesday 18 June 2013 18:34 BST

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The UK's top judge has acknowledged that the senior judiciary is monolithic and there are not enough members of ethnic minorities represented.

Lord Neuberger, President of the Supreme Court, speaking at the Institute of Government tonight said the legal profession needed to do more to improve diversity.

Some progress had been made in addressing gender inequality, he said, acknowledging the three recent female appointments to the Court of Appeal, meaning there are now seven women amongst the 38 Lord Justices of Appeal. Furthermore, 30 per cent of those being appointed to the High Court are now women.

But he added: "A lot more work needs to be done in other respects: the ethnic minority representation among the senior judiciary is very low, and the socio-economic background of the senior judiciary is almost monolithic."

The problem, Lord Neuberger added, was that the judiciary was drawn from senior members of a legal profession where just 11 per cent of the leading QCs and partners in top firms were women.

"The duty on the judiciary to improve diversity also applies to the legal profession. Lawyers occupy a special place in society, but that carries with it responsibilities as well as rights. The legal profession must do more to improve diversity. More broadly, if we really want to increase diversity, the problem has to be tackled throughout society, in our universities, schools and at home," he continued.

The senior judge was speaking about the many challenges facing the judicial system, including the pressure it was under to cut costs. The need to save money and make efficiencies could even, he said, lead to radical changes such as dispensing with disclosure of document and cross-examination in smaller civil cases.

“Better to have a judge's summary decision quickly at proportionate cost, than a disproportionately delayed decision at exorbitant cost, or no decision because it is too expensive to get to court,” said Lord Neuberger.

One of the challenges that continued to face the legal system, he continued, was improving diversity. Of the 12 Supreme Court justices, just one is a woman, while none are from ethnic minorities. The majority are white, public school and Oxbridge educated. The appointment of three new justices in March did nothing to change the balance.

All five of the senior appointments in England and Wales -- the Lord Chief Justice, Master of the Rolls, and heads of the three High Court divisions -- are white males.

While women now represent 18 per cent of judges in the Court of Appeal, there are no black or ethnic minority justices. In the High court women take up 15 per cent of the 110 judges while just five per cent are non-white.

Members of the judiciary point out that, as judges are selected from the most senior positions, they are more reflective of the legal profession thirty years ago.

The Judicial Appointment Commission (JAC) announced last week that five more female judges had been appointed to the High Court and that a third of recommendations were women.

While progress has been made in appointment of black and Asian judges at entry and mid-level, there has yet to be much growth in their numbers in senior appointments, whereas woman are beginning to break through the judicial glass ceiling.

Justice minister Helen Grant said: "The number of women achieving positions in the judiciary is encouraging and shows that our continued focus on the issue of diversity is having an effect.

"The work done by Government, the JAC and other partners is key to keeping up this momentum. Where more remains to be done, we will continue our push to promote diversity at all levels of the judiciary."

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