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“Judicial Diversity: Accelerating Change”

Penelope Gibbs
19 Nov 2014

For quite a radical report “Judicial diversity: accelerating change” didn’t get much coverage.  It was commissioned by the Labour shadow justice team to look at judicial diversity and suggest reforms.  It was commissioned from Sir Geoffrey Bindman and Karen Monaghan, both QCs.  It is a searing criticism of the current system and of the sluggishness of improvement in the diversity of the Senior Judiciary.  The only criticism I have of it is the claim that “the statistics on diversity are much better amongst the non-legal judiciary”.  This is true but implies that better is OK.  Of course you would expect the diversity of lay magistrates to be better than the senior judiciary, but as representatives of the people, they should be truly diverse and are not.  And this is a major problem, capable of undermining trust in the system.

On the Senior Judiciary I think they are right to say that progress will continue to be glacial unless radical steps are taken.  Their most controversial suggestion is: “a quota system should be introduced so as to achieve as quickly as possible a balance between the proportion of women and men, and BAME and White judges, in the senior judiciary (including in the Supreme Court)”.  They argue that quotas are not illegal, and would ensure that change was accelerated.  They are not advocating that judges should be appointed regardless of suitability.  Merely that quotas would ensure that the jobs went to good candidates from under-represented groups.  They point out that, in other countries, quotas have been used to diversify the judiciary and no-one has ever claimed that the candidates appointed were not right for the job.  People hate quotas so I doubt that recommendation will ever be adopted, but their suggestion that judges should not be sent on circuit might be.   They point out that the circuit system no longer has a rationale, and is very expensive “For 2013-14, the budget for judges’ lodgings, excluding staff costs, was £2,920,000”.  I dread to think what it works out per judge per night including staff costs.  The main argument is not cost, but that a lot of women, and others with caring responsibilities, don’t want to spend their time staying far away from home for long periods.  They are right.  It’s an anachronism.