The most senior judge in England and Wales has expressed concern about the slow recruitment of black, Asian and minority ethnic minority (BAME) judges in England and Wales.
As the new judicial diversity statistics were released on Thursday, Lord Thomas, the lord chief justice, said the proportion of BAME judges had risen by just 1 percentage point in the three years to April.
“In the period from April 1 2014 to April 1 2017 … the percentage of black, Asian and minority ethnic judges has increased from 6% to 7%,” Lord Thomas said. “We remain very concerned.”
The figures, released on the judiciary’s website, revealed a similar rise in the number of BAME judges sitting in tribunals rather than courts. In the past four years the percentage of BAME judges sitting in tribunals had risen from 9% to 10%.
The statistics showed that 11% of magistrates declared themselves as BAME. Ethnic minority representation was highest among judges under the age of 40, with 10% for courts and 14% for tribunals. The London and Midlands regions had the highest representations, with 9% for courts and 8% for tribunals. In Wales, just 1% of judges were from BAME backgrounds.
In October, a comparative study of judicial systems across Europe also revealed that the UK has one of the lowest proportions of female judges on its benches.
That report, by the Council of Europe, came days after the then justice secretary, Liz Truss, pledged at the Conservative party conference to improve diversity in the legal profession. “Only one in seven of QCs and one in three of partners in law firms are women,” Truss said at the time. “Fewer than one in 10 judges come from ethnic minorities. Only a quarter went to state school. This is modern Britain – we can do better than this.”
Just one of the 12 justices on the supreme court, Truss pointed out, is a woman and none is from a minority ethnic background. “This would be difficult to justify in any boardroom or around the cabinet table,” Truss said, but did not introduce any measures to rectify the problem.
On Thursday, Lord Thomas said the percentage of senior female judges had increased in the three years to April 2017 – from 18% to 24% in the court of appeal and from 18% to 22% in the high court.
He said a judicial diversity committee, chaired by a court of appeal judge, Lady Justice Hallett, had been formed in 2013. “The committee … has each year pursued more initiatives to explore what might be done to accelerate progress,” he said. “It has been strongly supported by judges from all backgrounds across the courts and tribunals in England and Wales.
“It has worked with the Judicial Appointments Commission, universities and professional bodies to host evening outreach events.
“The primary purpose of these events is to attract suitably qualified lawyers from groups currently under-represented in the judiciary and to enable them to explore the possibility of a future judicial career.
“The events provide a panel of varied speakers and an opportunity to meet serving judges. They may sow the seed of wanting to join the judiciary years ahead, when they are ready to apply.”
Since 2015, Lord Thomas added, “we have run increasingly popular application workshops aimed at under-represented groups. These form part of a positive action programme which is intended to help candidates make stronger applications; but once they have completed the programme, they are expected to compete on merit with the other applicants.”
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