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‘Great deal more to do’: senior judges report on diversity progress

By Monidipa Fouzder >>

(12 November 2021)

Senior judges have praised the progress made so far by a strategy to improve diversity on the bench since it was unveiled a year ago. However, the first annual update report stops short of guaranteeing higher numbers of judges from underrepresented groups next year, with the judiciary’s diversity chief acknowleding ‘there is a great deal more to do’.

Comprehensive figures published by the Ministry of Justice last year showed that the number of solicitor-judges has shrunk, while the proportion of black judges remains 1% – a figure that has not improved since 2014.

The Diversity and Inclusion Strategy, published last November, listed four core objectives to help increase personal and professional diversity over the subsequent five years.

Unveiling a progress report yesterday, Lord Burnett of Maldon, the lord chief justice, said he was ‘heartened’ by the progress made during the pandemic while Sir Keith Lindblom, senior president of tribunals, recognised ‘the good progress that has been made over the first year’ in achieving the strategy’s aims.

One of the four objectives is to achieve greater diversity in the pool of applicants for judicial roles and the report details several achievements so far.

For instance, 1,100 lawyers have signed up for judge-led application seminars. A judicial career portal, which provides an accessible contact point for legal professional and judges looking to join the judiciary, was introduced in September.

‘Conversation with a Judge’ was introduced last December as a substitute scheme for the judicial work shadowing scheme, which was suspended due to Covid, and 167 conversations have taken place so far. The judicial mentoring scheme has also reopened, and a dozen mentors have met mentees online to discuss issues inhibiting application to judicial office.

The report states that the pre-applicaiton judicial education programme has successfully adapted to the challenges of Covid and virtual discussion groups have taken place for candidates from under-represented groups.

Bespoke advice and support has been provided to under-represented groups aiming to apply for senior judicial roles. A pilot programme launched by the Judicial Appointments Commission last year to provide additional targeted support received 195 applications and matched over 50 candidates with senior judges.

The report includes a lengthy table detailing reporting against specific tasks. On working with the Judicial Appointments Commission to review and improve selection processes, the update states simply that ‘work is ongoing’.

However, in concluding remarks, Lady Justice Simler, chair of the Judicial Diversity Committee of the Judges’ Council, said: ‘I am not complacent and remain well aware that there is a great deal more to do. The strategy objectives were deliberately stretching and will take time to deliver, but we will continue to report the progress we have achieved towards these on an annual basis.’

(Couresy: The Law Society Gazette)