A Labour government would consider introducing quotas to achieve a more diverse judiciary, the Shadow Justice Secretary, Sadiq Khan, has said.
It has been a problem for many years. How do you achieve a more diverse judiciary? At present there is only one female sitting in the Supreme Court, Lady Justice Hale. There are currently no black or minority ethnic (BME) judges sitting in the Supreme Court at all.
Bearing in mind that the judiciary is supposed to be a reflection of our wider society, the current statistics make for depressing reading. A report submitted to the House of Lords in 2012 showed that only 22.3% of judges were women – the fourth lowest rate in Europe – while a tiny 5.1% had BME backgrounds.
Lady Hale has been vocal in the past about her belief in a quota system as a viable option in the quest to achieve equality among judges. She has also attracted newspaper headlines in recent years after her outspoken remarks about the male-dominated judiciary and its fondness for gentleman’s clubs which refuse to admit women.
The Lords rejected the idea of introducing quotas in 2012 after it was argued by the Association of Women Solicitors that quotas might send out the message that candidates had been chosen solely on the basis of gender or race. However, the House of Lords did call for non-mandatory targets after five years if little progress had been made towards achieving a more diverse judiciary.
Now, the Shadow justice secretary has raised concerns that positive changes towards diversifying the judiciary have slowed and that it is time to take action.
“If we just sit back and do nothing, it’ll take a century for our judges and magistrates to reflect wider society. I’m not prepared to sit by and let things move along at a snail’s pace.” He said.
“Too many judges are still drawn from too narrow a background. An overwhelming number are male, white and Oxbridge. People’s differing backgrounds and experiences bring different and rich perspectives that improve their decision-making as judges. If we achieve this it’s my view that we’ll see a dramatic impact on the public confidence in our justice system.”
Sadiq Khan has instructed some of the country’s most respected barristers, such as Sir Geoffrey Bindman QC and Karon Monaghan QC, to “think big” on how to achieve a balanced judiciary. “Nothing is off the table,” he said of the project.
Khan said: “This is such a big issue that I don’t want Geoffrey and Karon to be afraid to recommend anything.”
The government has been criticised for recent cuts to legal aid, which some have suggested will make it harder for females and BME’s to enter the legal profession and ultimately enter the judiciary.
Baroness Hale of Richmond
Baroness Hale is the most senior female judge in England and Wales. In February 2013 she was assessed as the 4th most powerful woman in the United Kingdom by Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio 4.
Born in Yorkshire on 31st January 1945, she was the daughter of two teachers and was educated at Richmond High School for Girls and later at Girton College, Cambridge, where she read law.
After gaining her law degree she was Called to the Bar at Gray’s Inn, and was appointed a Recorder (a part-time circuit judge) in 1989. In 1994 she became a judge in the Family Division of the High Court of Justice.
In 2004, she joined the House of Lords as a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary, the only woman ever to have been appointed to this position. She served as a Law Lord until 2009 when she, along with the other Law Lords, transferred to the new Supreme Court where she sits today.