Judicial appointments process locks out diversity undermining public trust

There is virtually no chance of achieving a diverse judiciary that mirrors diverse Britain, because the very recruitment process that claims to deliver that goal has failed, warned the Law Society of England and Wales.

“The Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) spends a good deal of its time promoting the case for minimal change, but the need for reform is clear and so too is the need for them to engage with key stakeholders. Just 1% of England and Wales’s judiciary is Black* – and that hasn’t changed since 2014,” warned Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce.

“Part of the problem is the JAC is misinterpreting the statutory consultation rules, a practice some commentators refer to as ‘secret soundings’ over suitable candidates, rather than as a process of identifying what experience and abilities go to make up a good judge.

“Rather than trying to justify a failed process the JAC should engage with what it actually delivers: there is no doubt that applicants from under-represented backgrounds are much less likely to be successful in making it through judicial selection.”

The Law Society comments came as the JAC published its response to a review of ‘statutory consultation’ by the Work Psychology Group (WPG).

In the review, the WPG identified numerous ways in which, as currently operated, statutory consultation potentially has an unfair impact on some candidates.

In its response, the JAC claims “there is no direct evidence that the statutory consultation process impacts disproportionately on recommendations for appointment for any group”, based on protected characteristics or professional background.

“No evidence doesn’t prove a thing,” said I. Stephanie Boyce. “In fact, the WPG said it had not been provided with the data to enable it to reach a conclusion** about the impact of statutory consultation.

“We know a diverse pool of candidates is applying – not least from among the much more diverse solicitor profession. They’re just not making it through the process in the same numbers. It is time for the whole appointments system to be overhauled to deliver a more diverse judiciary.”

“And while it is positive the JAC is proposing statutory consultation should be waived for some judicial posts, it is clear from the serious problems identified by the WPG that it needs to be abolished for all exercises.”

Notes to editors

*Just 9% of England and Wales’s courts judiciary is from a Black, Asian or minority ethnic background; less than a third are non-barristers; and 34% are female. These groups are further underrepresented in our senior courts, where only 29% are women; 4% are Black, Asian or from ethnic minorities; and 5% are solicitors

**“It is not possible to determine how statutory consultation directly impacts individuals from different demographic groups with the data provided because statutory consultation is considered as part of the selection process, alongside other data to make a decision.” (See page 7, conclusion 8, WPG review)

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