Urgent action needed to challenge continuing lack of diversity in judiciary

Just 1% of England and Wales’s judiciary is Black – a figure that hasn’t shifted since 2014 despite an increasingly diverse pool of applicants, according to official figures released today.

Across all appointment rounds for legal judicial positions in 2018 to 2021, Black, Asian and minority ethnic candidates together constituted 23% of applications but only 12% of recommendations for appointment – a significantly lower rate compared to White candidates in this period.

Meanwhile diversity is even lower at the senior levels.

The revelation came in the release of the latest judicial diversity statistics, prompting the Law Society of England and Wales to urge a clear roadmap to swifter progress in judicial diversity.

Since 2014, the number of Asian judges has risen from 3 to 5%, for mixed ethnicity from 1 to 2%, but for Black judges remained the same at 1%.

Women now make up nearly half of all tribunal judges, but are under-represented in courts – and particularly in senior court roles – despite a small increase in 2021.

As of 1 April, 34% of judges in courts are women (24% in 2014), and they made up 29% of judges in senior roles (High Court and above).

Non-barristers make up only 32% of courts judges and 64% of tribunal judges – a decrease compared with 2014.

“Despite a minor increase in the proportion of solicitors in senior court roles we remain concerned about the overall stagnation and the proportion of solicitors leaving the judiciary,” said Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce.

The report also shows a significant disparity between solicitors and barristers in terms of success in the judicial appointments process.

A male solicitor applying for a judicial role was 45% less likely to be recommended than a male barrister.

For women solicitors it was 48% lower compared to female barrister applicants.

Female solicitors were the largest gender-profession group among applications to judicial appointments, but the smallest group among recommendations.

Meanwhile, Black, Asian and minority ethnic solicitors have lower appointment rates than all three other ethnicity-profession groups.

“As members of the Judicial Diversity Forum, we welcome the shared commitment that has been made to the creation of an action plan to tackle the clear problems with representation on the bench,” said I. Stephanie Boyce.

“This report has laid bare the need for urgent steps and we now need to determine as a matter of priority what those steps should be.

“The statistics clearly demonstrate a significant disparity in outcomes for Black, Asian and minority ethnic applicants and solicitors. When the intersection of gender, ethnicity and professional background is considered, these disparities are brought into sharper relief.

“While we are encouraged by the slight increase in the percentage of women in the judiciary, we remain very concerned as to lower success rates in the judicial applications process and the slower progression through the judiciary for Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups and for solicitors.

“We recognise our role in developing a diverse pool of applicants from the solicitor profession, and we will continue to work with our Judicial Diversity Forum colleagues to ensure that our efforts translate into diverse appointments.” 

Notes to editors

We believe that the drop in the proportion of solicitors applying for judicial roles, reflected in this year’s report, is mainly a result of the absence of three major fee-paid judicial exercises that are not included in this year’s report:

  • deputy district judge
  • fee-paid judge of the First-tier Tribunal
  • fee-paid judge of the Employment Tribunal

Recruitment for these exercises commenced in summer 2020 and had not concluded prior to the publication of this year’s report – therefore we think that the actual number of solicitors applying for legal roles this year was higher than reported.

We will continue to provide support and advice to our members who aspire to the bench, through various schemes and initiatives, including our Solicitor Judges Division.

For more information on the experience of Black, Asian and minority ethnic people in the solicitors profession, look at our race for inclusion: the experiences of Black, Asian and minority ethnic solicitors report.

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