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Judicial diversity: annual statistics expose painfully slow progress

By Monidipa Fouzder >>

(13 July 2023)

The number of solicitor judges edged up slightly in 2022-23, according to judicial diversity statistics published today – but the proportion of solicitors on the bench remains well below where it stood almost a decade ago. 

According to data released by the Ministry of Justice, there were 1,068 solicitor judges in the courts on 1 April 2023. Last year, there were 1,055.

The number of non-barrister judges in the courts is well below 2014 levels. Non-barristers (the vast majority solicitors) comprised 32% of court judges in April 2023, compared to 37% in 2014. Of the 3,483 court judges in post this year, 2,304 are barristers, two are legal executives, seven are categorised as ‘other’ and 102 did not declare their professional background.

More solicitors than barristers applied for judicial posts in 2022/23, but the former constituted a smaller percentage of recommendations (35% compared to 50%).

The proportion of ethnic minority judges in the courts has edged higher – from 9% last year to 10%. In April 2023 there were 156 Asian judges, 84 judges of mixed ethnicity, 28 judges from an ‘other’ ethnic group and 2,818 white judges. A further 358 judges did not declare their ethnicity.

The number of Asian judges has almost doubled since 2014. However, there has been no overall change in black representation over the last nine years.

In recruitment exercises between 2020 and 2023, the likelihood of success from eligible pool to recommendation was 20% lower for Asian candidates and 58% lower for black candidates than it was for white candidates.

Women represented 37% of all court judges, a slight increase on last year and 13 percentage points higher than in 2014. They represented 50% of recruitment applications in 2022/23, 50% of those shortlisted and 51% of recommendations.

Despite limited progress made over the past year, the Law Society continues to press for urgent reform of the judicial selection process. 

‘Women still only make up just over a third of judges,’ president Lubna Shuja said. ‘The proportion of the judiciary from a non-barrister background remains persistently low despite solicitors making up the majority of applicants.

She added: ‘The requirement to consult sitting judges on candidates’ suitability, known as “statutory consultation”, must be reviewed with serious consideration given to removing it altogether, as it is not working fairly or transparently at the moment.’

‘As recommended by the independent review which the Judicial Diversity Forum commissioned, all members should now set measurable impact targets, share underlying data to ensure activities are effective and have selection processes that appropriately recognise and weigh the experience and transferable skills of solicitors.’

(Courtesy: The Law Society Gazette)