Could 2018 be the Year to Improve Judicial Diversity?

UK Supreme Judges

Despite opportunities in 2017, there is still a lack of judicial diversity in the UK. Could 2018 then become the year where the profession focuses more on its BAME and females judges?

The UK Government has been called upon to make 2018 the year where improvements are made to judicial diversity. Despite the benefits of an inclusive workforce, the profession still lacks in supporting female and BAME judges.

Back in 2016, concerns were first raised over the issue by the then-supreme court President Lord Neuberger, who said: “The higher echelons of the judiciary in the UK suffer from a marked lack of diversity and … the supreme court does not score at all well.”

Many hoped this would serve as a wake-up call for the profession. Yet, during the course of 2017, very little progress has been made. The number of BAME or female judges have either remained the same figure or witnessed a slight increase.

By the end of 2017, 28% of the judiciary was female (equal to the previous year), while only 7% hailed from ethnic backgrounds. In addition, the supreme court is mainly dominated by non-ethnic, male figures.

However, there have been many attempts to improve diversity such as David Lammy’s recommendations. He suggested a series of diversity targets, which included increasing the number of judges from BAME backgrounds.

The Secretary of Justice refused these recommendations, claiming they were the “wrong way” to approach this issue.

Improvements in Courts and Tribunals

While there is an overall lack of diversity in the profession, one can still find some areas of progression. This mainly lies in court and tribunal judges. In terms of ethnic diversity, 10% of court judges and 14% of tribunal judges, under the age of 40, are from ethnic backgrounds.

In addition, women make up 45% of tribunal judges. Unfortunately, these kinds of improvements don’t continue in senior roles – namely the supreme court.

The situation did look hopeful when the supreme court appointed its first BAME judge, Justice Singh, in 2017. He transitioned from a lawyer to the judiciary in 2003, gradually rising in his career and becoming a High Court Judge in 2011.

While this was historic for the supreme court, he is the only member to come from an ethnic background. Meaning BAME representation in this group is at 2.56%. As of yet, no other positions have been filled in by other ethnic judges.

In terms of gender, Lady Hale replaced Lord Neuberger – meaning Lady Black also joined the supreme court. This slight improved its gender representation from 8.3% to 16.6% women.

This issue isn’t just specific to the UK – other European countries also struggle with judicial diversity. One 2016 study, however, found that Britain was the second worst country for showing gender balance within their high courts.

While this finding was reported 2 years ago, it highlights how the Government still needs to improve diversity. Ensuring it truly reflects our society.

2018 ~ The Year of Diversity?

The upcoming year looks set to hold many more opportunities – ones which will tackle this issue and help with improved representation.

For example, several judges such as Lords Mance, Hughes and Sumption will likely retire, giving possibly new openings. Admittedly, this may not mean much for the supreme court. However, the movement of appeal court judges means more positions will become available.

This could provide the potential for female or BAME judges to take up these roles, gradually increasing diversity.

In addition, the Secretary of Justice needs to place a bigger emphasis on merit and equal opportunities. This is particularly important for lawyers who are hoping to start their judicial careers. If they are all based on merit, not on ethnic or gender, we could see a greater representation.

With these possible opportunities, hopefully, 2018 could pave the way for diversity in this profession in the long-term.