David Lammy: Government patronises BAME lawyers by insisting that lack of judicial diversity is “pipeline issue”

Tottenham MP David Lammy has criticised members of the government for wrongly insisting that a lack of diversity among judges is due to a shortage of suitable black and minority ethnic (BAME) candidates.

The government commissioned Lammy to conduct a review into the treatment and outcomes of BAME people in the criminal justice system. When it reported last September, the review found evidence of widespread racial bias across the system. One of the problems he identified was a lack of trust in the criminal justice system, exacerbated by the fact that judges and senior barristers are overwhelmingly white, privileged men.

The former justice secretary, David Lidington, responded that while more needed to be done make the judiciary more representative, the lack of BAME judges was largely due to a “pipeline issue” – essentially explaining the lack of BAME representation as a result of there simply not being enough talented BAME lawyers to take up roles in the judiciary.

At a Westminster Legal Policy Forum in London yesterday, Lammy adamantly rejected Lidington’s explanation. He said: “We have to stop patronising ethnic minority people by saying it's a pipeline issue. I have been qualified as a barrister for 23 years. I know lots of senior ethnic minority lawyers who qualified before I did. There are plenty of people who are senior enough to be senior judges. Many of them apply, they just do not get through.” He also said that when he has asked the Judicial Appointments Commission why this was, it had failed to provide an explanation. Meanwhile, Lammy observed that too many BAME lawyers had given up on applying for judicial roles because of how professionally embarrassing it is to keep being rejected.

The government has rejected the Lammy Review’s call for the introduction of targets for more diverse judicial appointments.

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