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Poor judicial diversity a constitutional issue, JUSTICE report claims

26 April 2017

Judicial diversity is a vital constitutional issue, and systemic changes are needed to increase accountability, improve recruitment processes, and achieve more inclusive routes to the senior bench, according to a report by the human rights group JUSTICE.

The report, prepared by a working party chaired by public law silk Nathalie Lieven QC, draws attention to a current "recruitment crisis" for judicial positions in England & Wales, but states that its conclusions will be relevant to other parts of the UK. 

The working party believes that there is a significant pool of talent from which to draw a more diverse senior judiciary, but active steps need to be taken to recruit from beyond the independent bar. A wider pool as well as an upward career path for judges already serving in lower courts would result in a stronger, more inclusive bench.

A series of recommendations to encourage underrepresented groups to embark on a judicial career, and give them a fair chance of appointment to the bench, include:

  • Introducing targets “with teeth”, i.e. targets for selection bodies, with the “teeth” being obligations to comply and/or explain, reporting on progress to the Justice Select Committee.
  • Creating a permanent “Senior Selections Committee” dedicated to appointments to the Court of Appeal, Heads of Division and UK Supreme Court. This committee would, alongside the Judicial Appointments Commission, set targets for diversity for each level of the judiciary, reporting on its progress to a parliamentary committee.
  • Increasing accountability for diversity, through a general responsibility on selectors and the judiciary to encourage a much more diverse field of people to apply for senior judicial office.
  • Introducing “appointable pools”, i.e. talent pools of suitable judges for each court. This requires a rolling, proactive programme of recruitment consisting of two stages: the first focused on the qualities of the individuals applying, the second focused on the needs – including diversity – of the court in question.
  • An external review of selection processes.
  • Creating an upward judicial career path, where junior lawyers can take up an “entry-level” position in the tribunal system or on the district bench and stand a meaningful chance of promotion to the senior judiciary.
  • A “talent management programme” to enable talented judges to progress their career.
  • Ensuring more attractive, inclusive career paths and working conditions, including making flexible working the default.

Ms Lieven commented: "“We have been impressed by the high level of recognition of and commitment to a more diverse judiciary among key decision-makers. However, simply leaving change to organic processes is taking far too long and, on current projections, will never deliver sufficient diversity to the bench. We need systemic, structural changes to both appointments and human resources management. Our report calls for reformed selection processes, and a proactive approach to recruitment and promotion.”

Click here to access the report. 

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