Diversity of judges must be taken more seriously by government and professional bodies, lords warn

Not enough has been done to address recruitment and other problems which continue to be barriers to diverse judiciary which reflects the population, the House of Lords Constitution Committee has warned.

Peers said that poor working conditions including dilapidated courts, understaffing, administrative burdens and IT problems are all damaging efforts to retain and recruit judges. To create a wider pool of candidates for judicial positions, the lords urged the Ministry of Justice to re-examine the obstacles faced by government lawyers in gaining the required experience for judicial office and to allow chartered legal executives who have become district judges to apply for promotion to the higher courts. The committee also said that solicitors should be encouraged to apply to the judiciary.

The committee did recognise the efforts to improve diversity since its last report in 2012, since when professional bodies have done more to encourage applicants from a wider range of backgrounds to apply for judicial roles. However, more must be done to avoid issues with diversity and recruitment undermining the UK legal system’s international reputation for excellence.

Baroness Taylor of Bolton, chair of the committee, commented on its latest report: “The [United Kingdom] has one of the finest judicial systems in the world. However, we have found an alarming number of factors are currently affecting recruitment to the bench, and we are deeply concerned about the impact they are having on the retention of current judges and the attractiveness of the judiciary as a career for potential applicants. To maintain our gold standard legal system we need the best and brightest candidates coming forward for judicial appointment. One of the fundamental principles of our judiciary is its independence and it is the constitutional duty of the lord chancellor to uphold and defend that principle. Judges must be free to decide cases without fear of personal criticism from the media. The committee is concerned about the lack of diversity on the bench. It is disappointing that progress on diversity has been limited since our last report, as it is important for both the health and the perception of our legal system that we have a judiciary that is representative of the society it serves. We urge the lord chancellor, lord chief justice, the Judicial Appointments Commission and the legal profession to monitor progress, and look for new ways to improve and encourage diversity.”

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