Judicial diversity is stalling
The steps taken to date to increase the number of female and BAME judges are having little effect. Is it time for more radical and forceful action, asks Sundeep Bhatia
Judicial diversity has stalled. For evidence one need look no further than the latest figures showing the composition of the judiciary as of 1 April 2017.
Even the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas, cannot hide his disappointment. ‘We remain concerned about the slow recruitment of BAME judges and the downward trend of new non-barrister (solicitors and legal executives) judges, despite the dedicated work undertaken by the Judicial Diversity committee,’ he said.
The picture that emerges, once one wades through the sea of figures, is that the judiciary remains a predominantly white, male profession where one section of the legal community, namely barristers, is still dominant. This is particularly the case in the upper echelons.The situation is the same whether one looks at the presence of those of BAME origin, women, or non-barristers among the judiciary.
The inertia in relation to the recruitment of those of BAME origin within the judiciary is particularly galling.
Figures show that, from 2014 to 2017, the percentage of judges from a BAME background has increased from 6 per cent to 7 per cent and, over the same period, the percentage of tribunal judges has increased from 9 per cent to 10 per cent. These are extremely modest gains.
The figures further demonstrate that the BAME glass ceiling is alive and well within the judiciary. Only 5 per cent of High Court judges and 4 per cent of circuit judges are from a BAME background.
Figures show zero BAME judges among heads of divisions, lord justices of appeal, deputy High Court judges, judge advocates, and deputy judge advocates. They also indicate zero presence among masters, registrars, costs judges, and district judges of the principal registry of the Family Division, as well as deputy masters, deputy registrars, deputy cost judges, and deputy district judges of the same division.
However, at a less senior level, the figures for recorders, district judges in county courts, and deputy district judges in the magistrates’ courts is 8 per cent, whereas the figures for district judges in the magistrates’ courts and deputy district judges in the county courts is 7 per cent.
The Lord Chief Justice also bemoans the decreasing presence of non-barristers within the judiciary. I share his concerns as a solicitor and as a council member of the Law Society. There are a large number of excellent and experienced solicitor advocates who would make excellent judges. It is surely not healthy for one section of the legal profession to be so dominant.
Women in the judiciary
Women are also under-represented in the judiciary. The figures show that 28 per cent of court judges and 45 per cent of tribunal judges are female. This is described as being ‘comparative’ to figures from 2016, which suggests stagnation or treading water.
Nine out of 38 Court of Appeal judges are female, up from eight out of 39 in 2016. Meanwhile, 21 out of 97 High Court judges are female, up from 22 out of 106. This is a marginal increase.
It seems clear that the steps taken to date to increase judicial diversity are having little or no effect. Is it time to take more radical and forceful action?
Perhaps we need to revisit the idea of judicial quotas or the selection of worthy candidates on the basis of their diversity in order to ensure that the judiciary is more representative of society at large. Now may be the time for a judicial revolution as opposed to mere evolution.
Sundeep Bhatia is a sole practitioner at Beaumonde Law Practice, a Law Society council member for the Ethnic Minorities Constituency, and chair of the Regulatory Affairs Board of the Law Society