Law society hopes court will better ‘reflect society’, as all of current panel are white and majority are privately educated men.
The supreme court began its search for three new judges on Thursday, seeking members who will “improve the diversity of the court”.
Of the court’s 11 current members, 10 are men and all are white. Just two were not privately educated. On Thursday, the court’s president Lord Neuberger said he and his colleagues want that to change. “What we are looking for is to recruit on the basis that the court becomes more diverse,” he said.
Neuberger is retiring in September, along with fellow supreme court judge Lord Clarke. The court is also recruiting for a replacement for Lord Toulson, who retired last year. Next year two more judges will retire, suggesting that the court’s makeup could substantially change.
“We are a fantastically diverse society and it must be right that when society looks at the most senior members of the judiciary it sees that it reflects the society of which we’re part,” Robert Bourn, president of the Law Society, told the Guardian.
“There’s a real opportunity to make a change,” said Sam Mercer, head of equality and diversity at the Bar Council. “The judiciary has got to reflect the people it’s working for. To have any legitimacy we need to have more women and more ethnic minorities, particularly at the senior ranks.”
At the tribunal level, the courts are more diverse. Some 45% of judges are women and 10% are black or ethnic minority, compared to around 14% of England and Wales. But representation shrinks at the high court level, where slightly over one in five judges are women and one in 20 are black or ethnic minority. There are nine female court of appeal judges – 23% of the total. None of the 39 court of appeal judges is black or ethnic minority, according to the lord chief justice’s most recent diversity statistics.
“When you look at the top, it really does look horribly male and horribly white,” said Mercer.
Lord Sumption, who joined the supreme court in 2012, suggested in 2015 it would take 50 years to achieve gender equality at the top of the judiciary. He told the Evening Standard: “We have got to be very careful not to do things at a speed which will make male candidates feel that the cards are stacked against them.”
Possible candidates include Lady Justice Hallett, who chaired the inquest into those killed in the 7/7 attacks, her fellow court of appeal judge Lady Gloster, and high court judge Rubinder Singh. But those weighing up whether to apply for the supreme court bench will also be watching the lord chief justice, Lord Thomas, who is expected to announce his retirement.
In an effort to widen the pool of candidates, the supreme court has contacted groups such as the Black Solicitors Network, the Association of Women Barristers and legal academics’ groups to try and encourage people from beyond the top ranks of the judiciary to apply.
Written By: Alice Ross