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Clarke backs flexible working for senior judges

21 November 2011

Justice secretary Ken Clarke has backed flexible working for High Court and Court of Appeal judges to encourage the appointment of more women to the most senior judicial roles.

The under-representation of women is particularly glaring in the Supreme Court, where the only female justice is Lady Hale, and the Court of Appeal, where there are only four female judges.

The option of part-time working was extended to all judicial roles below the level of High Court in 2005. The Senior Courts Act 1981, which limits the number of High Court judges to 108 and Court of Appeal judges to 38, would need to be amended to allow the change to take place.

In a further move, Clarke said sections 158 and 159 of the Equality Act could be used to allow the appointment of a woman or ethic minority candidates to judicial positions where there were two candidates of “genuinely equal ability”.

This was recommended last year by Baroness Neuberger, who chaired the previous Lord Chancellor’s advisory panel on judicial diversity (see, 2 March 2010).

In a consultation paper launched this morning, the MoJ also proposed that the selection panels for the appointment of Supreme Court judges and the Lord Chief Justice should be chaired by a lay person rather than a judge.

A spokeswoman for the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) said: “We want to see greater judicial diversity, particularly at more senior levels, and we are pleased to see the proposal to extend part time working opportunities to High Court judges and above.”

She said the JAC looked forward to hearing views about use of Sections 158 and 159 of the Equality Act and compatibility with the JAC’s statutory duty to select ‘solely on merit’.

“While we are pleased the consultation paper recognises the JAC has brought greater transparency and openness to the process, it will be important to ensure proposals do not have a detrimental effect on the independence of selections.”

In a separate development today, Lord Phillips has announced that advocates appearing before the Supreme Court will no longer have to wear wigs or robes.

Justices of the Supreme Court do not wear traditional court dress and advocates usually appear unrobed in family cases.

A spokeswoman for the court said that “while some advocates will not wish to take advantage of this dispensation, others may prefer to reduce their legal dress to a simple gown, or to appear without legal dress at all”.

She said that since the justices did not wear traditional dress themselves they had decided not to impose it on others.

“In future, provided that all the advocates in any particular case agree, they may communicate to the registrar their wish to dispense with part or all of court dress. The court will normally agree to such a request.”

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Courts & Judiciary