Lack of Diversity and Recruitment Barriers Put Judiciary at Risk

More work is needed to address judicial diversity and issues with recruitment that threaten the UK’s world-renowned legal system, the House of Lords Constitution Committee has warned.

The Committee has examined the progress made on judicial recruitment and diversity since its 2012 report on Judicial Appointments.

The Committee says that:

  • It is deeply concerned that the dispute between the Government and the judiciary on pensions changes has damaged the morale of the judiciary.
  • The working conditions of the judiciary are having a detrimental effect on retaining and recruiting judges. The dilapidated state of some courts, the administrative burdens on judges, under-resourcing of court staff and IT shortcomings all need to be addressed.
  • The judiciary must be free from abuse and personal attacks by the media and the Lord Chancellor has a constitutional duty to defend the independence of the judiciary. This does not impinge on the right of the press to criticise court judgments.
  • The fixed retirement age for judges should be reconsidered, particularly for the senior judiciary.

The Committee makes recommendations for improving diversity in the judiciary, including that:

  • The Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice should examine the obstacles faced by government lawyers in gaining the required experience for judicial office.
  • Chartered legal executives who have been appointed as district judges should not be prevented from promotion to higher courts.
  • The Government and the legal profession should work with law firms to encourage solicitors to apply for judicial positions.
  • The Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice, the Judicial Appointments Commission and the legal professions must monitor progress and look for new ways to encourage diversity.

The Committee recognises that it takes time for changes already made to make a difference, and welcomes the recommendations which have been implemented since its 2012 report, including:

  • An increased emphasis on diversity training for the judiciary.
  • Professional development opportunities for potential applicants.
  • Efforts being made by professional bodies to encourage applicants from a wider range of professional backgrounds for judicial roles.
  • The power to request reconsideration or reject nominations being transferred from the Lord Chancellor to the Lord Chief Justice in relation to appointments below the High Court.
  • Greater emphasis within the judiciary on judicial careers, making it easier to move between different courts and tribunals and to seek promotion.

Commenting on the report Baroness Taylor of Bolton, Chairman of the Committee, said: “The UK has one of the finest judicial systems in the world. However, we have found an alarming number of factors are currently affecting recruitment to the bench, and we are deeply concerned about the impact they are having on the retention of current judges and the attractiveness of the judiciary as a career for potential applicants. To maintain our gold standard legal system we need the best and brightest candidates coming forward for judicial appointment.

“One of the fundamental principles of our judiciary is its independence and it is the constitutional duty of the Lord Chancellor to uphold and defend that principle. Judges must be free to decide cases without fear of personal criticism from the media.

“The Committee is concerned about the lack of diversity on the bench. It is disappointing that progress on diversity has been limited since our last report, as it is important for both the health and the perception of our legal system that we have a judiciary that is representative of the society it serves. We urge the Lord Chancellor, Lord Chief Justice, the Judicial Appointments Commission and the legal profession to monitor progress, and look for new ways to improve and encourage diversity.”

(Source: The House of Lords)

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