Government report reveals slow progress on judicial diversity

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Government report reveals slow progress on judicial diversity

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New statistics from the UK's Ministry of Justice show that progress for women and ethnic minority candidates has been disappointing

The government published its findings on judicial diversity in England and Wales on 13 July. The report covers the current judiciary, judicial appointments and legal professions.

A Law Society press release highlights the following findings:

  • Women now make up 37% of judges in courts, compared to 54% of tribunal judges.
  • While there has been a slight increase in the proportion of ethnic minority judges overall, there has been negligible progress in improving the representation of Black judges. There are just 67 Black judges across courts and tribunals, making up 1.27% of the judiciary (up 0.01% on 2022).
  • There is a slight increase in the proportion of solicitor judges (32% compared to 31% in 2022), but this is still down compared to 2014 when they made up 37% in the courts.
  • There is disparity for solicitors in legal judicial selection exercises compared to barristers – solicitors (48%) made up more of the applications than barristers (35%) – but constituted a smaller percentage of the recommendations for appointment (35% compared to 50% of barristers).

Law Society of England and Wales president Lubna Shuja said: “There has been some progress in improving judicial diversity in the courts but more needs to be done.

“Women still only make up just over a third of judges. The proportion of the judiciary from a non-barrister background remains persistently low despite solicitors making up the majority of applicants.

“The selection process needs to be urgently reformed. The requirement to consult sitting judges on candidates’ suitability, known as ‘statutory consultation’, must be reviewed with serious consideration given to removing it altogether, as it is not working fairly or transparently at the moment.

“As recommended by the independent review which the Judicial Diversity Forum commissioned, all members should now set measurable impact targets, share underlying data to ensure activities are effective and have selection processes that appropriately recognise and weigh the experience and transferable skills of solicitors.

“A career path from the tribunals to the courts also needs to be developed.”

Matthew Hill, chief executive of the Legal Services Board, also responded to the report: “The LSB is committed to maximising the role of regulation in improving the diversity of the legal services profession – the pool from which the judiciary is drawn.

“This report gives a rich picture of the progress being made to improve judicial diversity, and it must be used to evaluate what is and isn’t working so that, as a sector, we continue to achieve meaningful change. The legal services regulators must consider what further data or research might be required about the professions they regulate to inform diversity initiatives. This will help improve the diversity of the lawyers who progress towards a career in the judiciary.

“We will continue to work collectively with JDF partners and others to create a judiciary that reflects the diverse society that it serves.”

A spokesperson for CILEX, the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives, provided its response to the findings: “CILEX welcomes the publication of the 2023 Diversity of the Judiciary Report. It is particularly noteworthy that references to CILEX lawyers are often minimal compared to those of barristers and solicitors because the number of actual judicial appointments made from this group is too small to register in statisticians’ analysis. CILEX therefore looks forward to the recent legislative change opening up more judicial roles to CILEX members, ensuring these statistics improve over time, with all appointments being open to this diverse part of the legal profession in due course.”