20 July 2017Print This Post

Senior judges “very concerned” at drop in proportion of non-barristers on bench

Sir Ernest Ryder (l) and Lord Thomas: dedicated work

The senior judiciary is “very concerned” about the slow recruitment of judges from a black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) background, and the downward trend of new judges who are not barristers, new figures have shown.

In his introduction to the judicial diversity figures for the courts and tribunals at 1 April 2017, Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas said: “Despite the leadership that has been demonstrated over the last year, progress is not as fast as we would wish.”

The report showed that in the three years to April 2017, the percentage of female judges increased from 18% to 24% (nine out of 38) in the Court of Appeal; 18% to 22% in the High Court (21 out of 97) and 24% to 28% in the courts judiciary.

The percentage of BAME judges increased from 6% to 7%, but for non-barristers, it has decreased from 37% to 34%.

Non-barristers made up nearly three-quarters of district judges, but hardly any higher court judges, except for posts like masters and registrars. As of 1 April 2017, there were no non-barrister High Court judges.

Non-barristers were in the majority in every category of tribunal judge except Upper Tribunal judge.

In the last four years the proportion of female judges in the tribunals has increased from 43% to 45%, and the percentage of BAME judges has increased from 9% to 10%.

The figures indicated, however, that the demographic changes in the legal profession were starting to have an effect on the make-up of the judiciary: 49% of court judges and 62% of tribunal judges aged under 40 were female.

Similarly, BAME representation was highest among those aged under 40, at 10% for courts and 14% for tribunal judges.

There were also regional variations – while 36% of court judges were women in the South East, it was just 21% in the South West.

Women were best represented in the lower courts, making up 38% of district judges in the county court.

Speaking also for Sir Ernest Ryder, Senior President of Tribunals, Lord Thomas wrote: “We remain very concerned about the slow recruitment of BAME judges and the downward trend of new non-barrister (solicitors and legal executives) judges, despite the dedicated work undertaken by the judicial diversity committee.

“The committee, formed in 2013 and chaired by Lady Justice Hallett, has each year pursued more initiatives to explore what might be done to accelerate progress. It has been strongly supported by judges from all backgrounds across the courts and tribunals in England and Wales.”

These include outreach events and application workshops; to attract more solicitors and legal academics to the senior judiciary, eligibility for the High Court application programme was extended this year to those without litigation experience.

There has been a continuing reduction in the number of magistrates, falling 36% from 25,104 to 16,129 over the five years to April 2017. Some 54% of magistrates were female, and 11% declared themselves as BAME.

By Neil Rose


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