Govt puts diversity drive into gear

The government last week announced a new consultation designed to increase diversity within the judiciary.

Launched by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer and the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, the consultation has been welcomed by the Law Society and the Bar Council.

Proposals include reforming the appointments process for judges to encourage diversity and allowing members of the judiciary to return to professional practice.

Flexible working arrangements have also been mooted as a way of increasing diversity. However, Lord Woolf stressed that circuit and High Court judges would not be able to sit part time.

The paper highlights a number of diversity issues within the judiciary and the legal profession.

In the last decade, the number of women who hold practising certificates has increased by more than 10 per cent. The number of women called to the bar has risen by 8 per cent.

Meanwhile, the number of female High Court judges has risen by just three to nine women, despite the overall number of High Court benchers increasing from 89 to 98 between 1994 and 2004.

Just over 15 per cent of the judiciary, including recorders and magistrates, are now women.

Statistics for ethnic minorities are worse. In 2003, 7.9 per cent
of practising certificate-holders described themselves as belonging to an ethnic minority, compared with 10.7 per cent of
those called to the bar.

Only 2.6 per cent of the judiciary were known to be from ethnic minority backgrounds in 2003, which is less than 100 judges.
Information on applications and interviews is also revealing. In 2002-03, 20.6 per cent of those applying to become district judges were women.

Of the applicants interviewed, 18.5 per cent were female. Just one woman was appointed out of the total of 15 judges, all of whom were white. Only one person from an ethnic minority background received an interview for the role of district judge, although five applied.

In launching the consultation, which ends in January, Lord Falconer emphasised that merit would continue to be the principal criteria for judicial appointments. But he also expressed concern that the judiciary does not reflect the community it serves. Many hope that this paper will go some way towards remedying the discrepancies.

Female representation in the judiciary
Year Per cent of female solicitors with practising certificate Per cent of female calls to the bar Per cent of female High Court judges Per cent of female total judges
1994 28.9 43 6.3 8.7
1995 30.1 43 7.3 9.4
1996 31.4 39 7.3 9.4
1997 32.7 43 8.3 9.5
1998 33.9 48 7.1 10.9
1999 35.1 45 8.1 11.9
2000 36.3 46 7.7 13.6
2001 37.4 50 7.6 13.7
2002 38.6 49 5.7 14.4
2003 39.7 51 5.6 15.6


 
Source: Department of Constitutional Affairs, the Law Society and the Bar Council

Ethnic minority representation in the judiciary
Year Per cent of ethnic minority solicitors with practising certificate Per cent of ethnic minority calls to the bar Per cent of of ethnic minority judges
1994 3.4 n/a 0.7
1995 3.8 n/a 1.4
1996 4.0 n/a 1.6
1997 4.5 6.6 1.7
1998 4.9 n/a 1.6
1999 5.5 n/a 1.7
2000 6.1 n/a 2.1
2001 6.6 n/a 2.1
2002 7.0 n/a 2.3
2003 7.9 10.7 2.6


 
Source: Department of Constitutional Affairs, the Law Society and the Bar Council