Judicial appointments diversity failure prompts calls for more solicitor input

Judicial appointments diversity failure prompts calls for more solicitor inputThe Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) has reinforced its call for more women and black minority ethnic (BME) ­people to apply to become judges after five places in the latest competition were allocated to women but no BME person was given a seat.

In total 22 people have been made up to the High Court bench, with almost half the 11 women who applied being given a post. Among these are Sonia Proudman QC of Radcliffe Chambers and Elizabeth Slade QC of 11KBW.
Of the 118 men who applied, 14 per cent were successful.

Despite the disparity between the number of men and women being promoted, the JAC said the latest ­figures show that women can be more successful than men when it comes to winning judicial appointments.

Baroness Prashar, the chairman of the JAC, said: “We expect that the composition of senior judges will gradually come to reflect society more closely.”

With the addition of five female judges there will be 17 women among the total number of 110 High Court judges. Six months ago there were 11 women and five years ago just five.

While the picture for women in the judiciary is improving, the situation for BMEs is very different. In the past four years just one High Court judge, Mrs ­Justice Dobbs, has come from an ethnic background.

The judiciary figures show that, at the last audit, the number had risen to three, although that figure includes two judges who reclassified themselves as ‘other’ as opposed to white.

In the latest round there were only two eligible BME applicants. Neither were selected and did not even make it onto the shortlist.

A JAC spokesman said all applications are “independent equality proofed” to ensure that no one has an advantage.

“We can only make appointments on merit, as is required when applying the procedures laid out for the competitions,” said the spokesman. “We believe that diversity will be reflected in the judiciary as more BMEs and ;women ;progress through the legal profession, but it’s down to the eligibility pool we can draw from.”

The current pool, which is provided to the JAC by the Bar Council and Law Society, shows that 21 per cent of women and 5 per cent of BMEs are currently eligible to become High Court judges. According to the JAC, this reflects the proportions entering the legal professions three decades ago.

One City law firm partner said the only real way to get more BMEs into the High Court is to tap in to the diversity found in solicitors’ firms.

“The bar, although it’s ­trying to change, is still too white and male-dominated and that causes problems,” said the partner. “All but one of the 22 that have been given appointments to the bench were barristers, which simply means there’s less chance of someone from an ethnic background ­getting in.

“There needs to be more done to allow solicitors to go straight from practice
to the High Court like ­barristers do. At the moment it feels that there are barriers for solicitors, and so diversity suffers.”

That said, JAC commissioner Edward Nally, who chaired the High Court competition, pointed out at the start of the last round (The Lawyer, 11 February) that if the commission does not receive solicitor ­applicants then it has no opportunity to select them.

The judiciary is also trying to address the diversity issue, which resulted in it requesting Professor Dame Hazel Genn, a lay JAC commissioner, to investigate the issues surrounding diversity in the High Court. The report is expected to be published before the end of the year.