Progress to improve diversity in the judiciary is too slow and there has been stagnation in the appointment of BAME judges, according to a damning report by an influential law reform group whose head warns that senior roles are still “dominated by white men”.
The report by Justice said that only a third of judges in courts are female and just 7% are BAME (black and minority ethnic) compared with 13% of the population in England and Wales, although it did note there had been modest improvements in the past three years.
The report finds there have been more efforts to bolster outreach to BAME communities but this has not resulted in appointments in judges. There is not a single BAME judge in the supreme court.
Meanwhile, data gathered by the group also found that higher socio-economic groups dominate, with three in four existing senior judges having attended Oxbridge and 60% having been privately educated despite only 7% of the country attending fee-paying schools.
The report, Increasing Judicial Diversity: An Update, was compiled by a working group following the organisation’s 2017 review exploring the structural barriers faced by underrepresented groups trying to make it in the legal world.
The report notes: “The working party is particularly troubled by the stagnation in the appointment of BAME judges since our last report.”
It acknowledges that some minor recommendations have been adopted by the Judicial Appointments Commission since its 2017 review, but adds “despite these changes, the senior judiciary remains predominantly made up of white, male, able-bodied and privately educated barristers”.
The report comes after Lady Hale, who was succeeded as president of the 12-seat supreme court earlier this month, last year called for greater diversity so that the public feel those on the bench are genuinely “our judges” rather than “beings from another planet”.
The report makes a series of recommendations including a continued call for the introduction of targets for minority appointments, rather than specific quotas, as well as the creation of a permanent “senior selection committee” for top judiciary posts.
It also urges the establishment of more structured judicial career paths to diversify judge appointees at top levels so that more come from tribunals, in-house and private practice solicitors, as opposed to the bar. Meanwhile, the group recommends tackling “affinity bias” so that there is a move away from appointing senior judges from similar backgrounds to themselves.
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 … 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.”
Since Justice’s 2017 report there have been some notable strides to improve diversity in the judiciary, including the appointment of two more female justices to the supreme court, as well as Sir Rabinder Singh to the court of appeal.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “We are working across government to ensure we have a judiciary that represents the communities it serves. A programme which supports candidates from underrepresented groups to become judges is ongoing and we are looking at other ways to increase representation across the criminal justice system.”