The House of Lords Constitution Committee has today published its report on Judicial Appointments and concluded that a more diverse judiciary would improve public trust and confidence in the justice system.
The Report includes statistics showing that in 2011 only 5.1% of judges were Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) and just 22.3% were women. The Committee stressed that diversity incorporates a number of other elements including disability, sexual orientation, legal profession and social background and rejected any notion that those from under-represented groups are less worthy candidates or that a more diverse judiciary would undermine the quality of our judges.
The Committee set out a number of recommendations to improve diversity. These include:
· The Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice should have a duty to encourage diversity amongst the judiciary as the Judicial Appointments Committee (JAC) does currently.
· While appointment based on merit is vital and should continue, the Committee supports the application of section 159 of the Equalities Act 2010 to judicial appointments. This would allow the desire to encourage diversity to be a relevant factor where two candidates are found to be of equal merit.
· Opportunities for flexible working and the taking of career breaks within the judiciary should be made more widely available to encourage applications from women and others with caring responsibilities.
· There needs to be a greater commitment on the part of the Government, the judiciary and the legal professions to encourage applications for the judiciary from lawyers other than barristers. Being a good barrister is not necessarily the same thing as being a good judge.
· While the Committee does not currently support the introduction of targets for the number of BAME and women judges, it says this should be looked at again in five years if significant progress has not been made.
The Committee also stresses the importance of the independence of the judiciary and believes that the Lord Chancellor’s role in individual appointments should be limited. It says that his power to reject nominations for posts below the High Court should be transferred to the Lord Chief Justice.
In order to ensure judges continue to have appropriate independence from Parliament, the Committee says that judicial candidates should not be subject to US-style pre or post-appointment parliamentary hearings. Political considerations would undoubtedly influence both the parliamentarians chosen to sit on the panels and the questions put to candidates.
The Committee suggests that a system of formal appraisals should be introduced for judges. They point out this is now common practice in business, the professions and the civil service and would be of benefit to judges, as well as helping to assure the public that the judiciary is of the highest possible quality.