Equality rules

Master of the Rolls Lord Neuberger whipped up a maelstrom this week with his comments about the number of women and ethnic minorities at the top of the judiciary. Neuberger MR said he had no difficulty with using section 159 of the Equality Act to favour women and ethnic minorities over white males where two judicial candidates were otherwise equal.

The practice suggested by Neuberger MR is distinguishable from the illegal practice of positive discrimination – having to meet quotas and the like – but has had its share of critics. But then, equality has always been an emotive subject.

Coincidentally, the controversy erupted as the Black Solicitors Network released is sixth Diversity League Table analysing gender and ethnic diversity among law firms and chambers as well as the representation of disabled and lesbian, gay and bisexual employees.

Shoosmiths came out on top this year, bumping Linklaters off its equality high-rock and into position two while O’Melveny & Myers took the third spot (see story). Other strong performers in the survey include new entrant Withers, which has the highest proportion of female partners at 41.94 per cent. O’Melveny is the most ethnically diverse at partner level with 28.57 per cent of its membership non-white.

It’s an encouraging sign that even in straitened times firms are taking diversity seriously, but as Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg says in his introductory statement (shortly before boasting about his initiatives in the area): “In Britain today, too often birth is destiny, and that is a problem we must address.”

Of course – as Neuberger MR’s statements show – deciding how to address the problem has always been the problem.