Britain needs more women and ethnic minority judges

Labour Party

The House of Lords is doing a good job waging a considered war of attrition against the Tory-led Coalition. Having just done sterling work on the NHS Bill, peers are turning their attention to equality, or lack of it, our legal system.

The House of Lords Constitution Committee has just produced a report saying targets may be needed to recruit more women and ethnic minority judges if the judiciary did not better reflect society within five years. The argument for ensuring a more diverse judiciary is, of course, the same as quotas for company boards and it is very heartening that a House of Lords Committee is recognising what needs to be done.

In fact, since only 22 per cent of judges are women and one in 20 are non-white, action is urgently required. And it is particularly necessary for judges. Those who make such important decisions about people’s lives should be properly representative of the society they are charged with judging.

The Lords’ Constitution Committee also wants to see more people with disabilities and LBGT people as judges.

Peers called on the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice to be given the duty to encourage diversity in finding judicial candidates. The Constitution Committee recommended looking at removing barriers within the career structure of the profession, such as allowing more family-friendly working hours to encourage women. It also wanted solicitors to be encouraged to become judges as they are more representative than barristers.

Taking a strong stand, the Committee also said that where two candidates were of equal merit, the need for diversity should tip the balance.

Baroness Margaret Jay, Chair of the Constitution Committee, showed her commitment to the report stating it is “vital that the public have confidence in our judiciary.” She added, “One aspect of ensuring that confidence is a more diverse judiciary that more fully reflects the wider population.”