A group of serving judges has called on the justice select committee to conduct a “wholly independent audit” of discrimination in the judiciary.
Citing examples of discriminatory behaviour they had witnessed, the judges also claimed that the discredited system of ‘secret soundings’ when appointing judges has been reintroduced.
The eight judges wrote to The Sunday Times and their names have been withheld, but they said they worked in Crown and county courts, district courts and tribunals across the UK.
They pointed out how ethnic minority judges were under-represented in the judiciary and how White candidates were more likely to be successful when applying for judicial positions than minority candidates.
“We continue to see that the upper echelons of the judiciary are drawn from prosperous ‘traditional’ backgrounds coming from the high-earning parts of the legal sector, who are well connected and often appointed directly into senior posts from outside the judiciary, whilst having minimal judicial experience, yet women, ethnic minority and other ‘non-traditional’ candidates with real expertise in lower courts are passed over all too often, and do not progress,” the letter said.
The judges said the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) has “wholly failed in its aims” of ensuring judges were appointed solely on merit.
Rather, an inquiry would find that the old system of ‘secret soundings’ had been reintroduced.
The letter said: “Senior judges receive a document from the JAC, with examples of giving negative comments, in which the senior judges provide ‘guidance’ back to the JAC based on anecdotes about a particular judge.
“The anecdotal material is obtained by asking the presiding High Court judges of each circuit and judges lower down the judicial system, such as in local court centres, to comment upon a candidate.
“The process can be used to allege for example that a certain candidate is what may be called a ‘troublemaker’ or in effect ‘won’t fit in’. Such a hidden process, based on hearsay and rumour, is a classic breeding ground for discrimination.”
The group said some of them were aware of judges raising concerns about diversity or conditions at work being “undermined, belittled or accused of being mentally unstable, and not fit to be a judge”.
Equality in the judiciary was vital to foster the confidence of those in court, the letter went on.
“Some of us have personally witnessed judges performing an imitation of a witness of Chinese origin using racist words and gestures, another judge making disparaging remarks about an Asian advocate, and asylum seekers ridiculed for their accounts of persecution based on their race.
“The same judges boasted in private about how many such applications they had refused.
We, therefore, call upon Parliament to instigate an inquiry via the justice select committee, to involve the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and to conduct an independent audit of discrimination in all aspects of the judiciary.”