Labour has asked two leading QCs to advise on what more could be done to diversify the judiciary amid fears that progress has “stalled”.
Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan has tasked leading human rights solicitor Sir Geoffrey Bindman QC and Matrix Chambers’ Karon Monaghan QC – who specialises in equality and discrimination law – with advising on what a future Labour government could do to ensure judges and magistrates better reflect wider society.
It has been reported that Mr Khan has told the pair to be as radical as they want, meaning the idea of quotas is on the table.
Mr Khan said the UK is ranked fourth from bottom in Europe on gender balance of judges; 83% of High Court judges are male, and 95% of them are white.
The opposition accused the coalition of not making the issue the priority it had been when Labour was in government, meaning “momentum built up is being lost”.
Mr Khan said: “This is an important subject, but it’s just not on the radar of the current government. If we just sit back and do nothing, it’ll take a century for our judges and magistrates to reflect wider society. Labour isn’t prepared to sit by for 100 years and let things move along at a snail’s pace.
“What’s more, this government’s proposals on legal aid are making things worse, leading to women, BAME and poorer members of the legal profession giving up their legal career. If today’s lawyers are unrepresentative of our society, it makes it almost impossible that tomorrow’s judges will be any better. As Alan Milburn’s social mobility taskforce report noted, the law still remains a socially exclusive profession…
“Too many judges are still drawn from too narrow a background. We are missing out unless we do more to broaden the base of those who become judges. Having judges and magistrates who look and sound like the rest of us is crucial to the public having confidence in what they do.”
Sir Geoffrey said: “The law cannot command the respect it must have while those who administer it do not reflect the experience and needs of a changing population. That is why it is so important to speed up progress towards a more diverse judiciary.”
Ms Monaghan added: “The need to secure a diverse judiciary has become urgent. The under-representation of women and those from BAME communities, as well as other disadvantaged groups, in the judiciary undermines confidence in the justice system.
“This is particularly true in senior positions. It can result in legally binding decisions being made by those whose life experiences are far removed from those of the communities they serve.”