Taking Judicial Diversity Seriously

Sadiq Khan’s call for action to tackle the under-representation in our judiciary of, well, everyone except privately educated white male Oxbridge graduates is to be welcomed. Tragically, the picture is far, far bleaker than even the abysmal statistics presented by the Judiciary Office suggest.

Those statistics show five BME High Court Judges – there are no BME judges at a senior appellate level – out of 108. But of those five, one is Asian or Asian British; one is “Mixed” and the other three are “any other background” – likely British Jews.

Staggeringly, a word rarely merited but it is here, of 1,450 full time salaried judges, only four report as “black or black British”. Four.

The historic under-representation of women in the judiciary continues. It hovers, if one aggregates the figures for all judicial posts, at just under a quarter. But the higher up the ladder you rise, the greater the under-representation gets. And if you exclude fee paid posts, the figure slips to a fifth.

No data is collected for sexual orientation or disability. None.

Are we getting better? Can we derive some comfort from a meaningful rate of positive change? Compared with five years ago these figures are materially unchanged.

Meanwhile, whilst many of my colleagues on the Bar Council’s Equality and Diversity Committee work tirelessly for improvement, valuable initiatives are blocked or thwarted by an institutional disinclination to adopt the bottom up measures that will over time make a difference. Meaningful support for part time workers and care givers, serious analysis of why fee paid judicial roles have not proven an effective staging post to salaried roles for under-represented groups, vastly improved data collection and much higher quality statistical analysis of that data, better and earlier targeted mentoring schemes, analysis of differences between the statistics at Tribunal and Judicial levels, and so on.

These measures, and many others, look like what a properly resourced and prioritised commitment to improvement would look like. Like taking judicial diversity seriously would look like.