The judiciary has long been criticised for being made up of white upper class men, however how accurate is this picture of the modern bar? It appears that in the area of diversity little has changed or at least not enough.
In the recent Report published by the Lords Select Committee, the statistics show that in 2011 only 5.1% of judges were Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (this is officially referred to as ‘BAME’) and only 22.3% were women. While the Committee stressed that the ‘diversity factors’ incorporate a number of other elements including disability, sexual orientation and social background, I have always found it odd to be asked to disclose highly personal information such as sexual orientation on an application form to the Inns of Court. That however is an entirely different matter.
The Committee stated that while judicial appointments should be based on merit it is vital and should continue, it appears that this has not resulted in a judicial system which is representative of society. It welcomes the idea of greater diversity and has agreed that the application of section 159 of the Equalities Act 2010 to judicial appointments would be beneficial in encouraging a change in the makeup of the legal system.
However why are these groups under represented? One of the most puzzling factors here is the lack of female appointments. There are such a large number of women studying law that the measly figure of 22.3% seems completely unrealistic. Not only because women obviously account for half the population, but also because there are so many top female law students and lawyers.
When you walk into a lecture at City Law school, at least half of the lecture theatre will be filled with women. Where are these faces in the judiciary? How and where do they get lost on the way to the top appointments. Lady Justice Hallett highlighted this issue by indicating that her appointment was rather an anomaly than a symbol of modernisation. Maybe most of these law graduates choose to become solicitors rather than barristers/judges, where there is greater diversity.
The bar is by definition quite an exclusive and closed profession. The tuition for the BPTC now costs between 14,000 and 17,000 pounds, which many aspiring barristers embark on with no, or very little funding. Who can afford such a high price, especially at a time where the chances of securing a pupillage are so slim. These constraints prevent many law graduates from gaining access to the bar, unless of course they have an alternative income or support from their family. This however still does not explain the lack of female judges.
Women and candidates from minority backgrounds should be encouraged to apply for these positions by creating more compatible working conditions. The Committee has recognised that there should be wider opportunities available for flexible working hours and career breaks, in order to encourage applications from women and others with caring responsibilities. (not that it should only be women caring for children – this may also attract a different sort of man who may be more adapted to home life)
The Committee has not actually set out any targets for the number of BAME and women judges it seeks to appoint, however it says this issue should be reviewed in five years if no significant progress has been made. I won’t hold my breath on the next set of statistics, but I hope that those making judicial appointments will be more open to embracing change.
Video Clip of Baroness Jay discussing judicial appointments