JUSTICE renews calls for “targets with teeth” amid claims current approach to judicial diversity not working

The current approach to judicial diversity is not working and large scale structural and cultural change is required, law reform organisation Justice has claimed.

A report from a Justice working party, Increasing Judicial Diversity: An Update, has recommended:

  • Creating a system of proper accountability to ensure that the commitment to change is backed up by practical steps and, “importantly”, results. JUSTICE said it would continue to call for the introduction of ‘targets with teeth’ and the creation of a permanent ‘Senior Selections Committee’ for appointments to the Court of Appeal, Heads of Division and the Supreme Court.
  • Establishing a meaningful internal judicial career path where judges can begin their career in the more diverse Tribunals, or as District Judges. The Working Party found that the de facto career path into the senior judiciary remained via the fee-paid roles of Recorder and Deputy High Court Judge.
  • A cultural change led by the judicial leadership. “Any substantial and sustained improvement in the diversity of our judiciary will require those in leadership positions to prioritise and commit to a cultural change, whereby judicial diversity is seen as fundamental to the quality of judging, rather than tangential.”
  • Tackling affinity bias and ensuring merit is “not used as an unconscious proxy for the characteristics, qualities and experience of the current cohort of judges”. JUSTICE said it welcomed the Judicial Appointments Commission’s recent efforts to better understand and define merit, however it called for further efforts to be made to ensure that the appointments process tests for judicial potential and not prior advocacy experience.

The update builds on JUSTICE’s 2017 Increasing Judicial Diversity report.

The working party said that, analysing appointments data since 2017, it had found that “despite the clear case for increased judicial diversity, progress has remained slow”.

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There had been some welcome headline achievements, it said, including two more women Justices appointed to the Supreme Court, the appointment of four more solicitors to the High Court and the appointment of Sir Rabinder Singh to the Court of Appeal.

However, most appointments to the senior courts had continued “much as before”.

There had been some improvement in the percentages of women appointed to the Circuit and High Court bench, however the overall numbers remained low meaning that progress was fragile, JUSTICE said.

The data demonstrated that there had been negligible improvement in respect of other underrepresented groups, JUSTICE claimed.

Andrea Coomber, Director of JUSTICE, said: “Nearly three years since our last report there has been only modest progress towards a more diverse senior judiciary. Our senior judiciary continues to be dominated by white men from the independent Bar. We are continually assured that change is right around the corner and yet the homogeneity of appointments to the key feeder roles of Recorder and Deputy High Court judge give little reason for optimism.

“The judiciary play a critical role in our democracy and hold immense power in society. They can take away people’s liberty, their children, their rights and more. That such power is held by such an unrepresentative group of people – however meritorious – should be of concern to us all.”

In an update on judicial diversity published earlier this month the JAC highlighted:

  • equal merit provisions extended to the shortlisting stages of selection exercises
  • the extension of name-blind shortlisting, already used for online tests, to sifts of applications and independent assessments for smaller exercises
  • an alternative approach to live role play piloted at selection day
  • new approach to candidate feedback to better inform and support future applications
  • strengthened aims and membership of the Judicial Diversity Forum (JDF)
  • almost 200 lawyers from under-represented groups allocated places on the pre-application judicial education programme (PAJE)
  • expanded membership of the external JAC Advisory Group which reviews selection materials

The JAC update can be viewed here.


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