Race Matters

Is the judiciary getting less diverse?

Is Britain's judiciary getting less diverse? As we await the latest Ministry of Justice figures later this week it is worth noting that last year's data showed that the proportion of ethnic minority judges had increased very slightly from 5.1% in 2011 to 5.9% in 2015. A miniscule rise of just 0.2% each year.

By comparison, the population census showed an increase of non-white citizens by 5% in the ten years between 2001 and 2011, or an average increase of 0.5% per year.

If the increase in the Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) population was to remain constant - ignoring the probability that the rate of increase is actually accelerating - that means the BME population is rising at more than double the rate of the increase in BME court judges.

In other words, the extent to which the judiciary reflects society may well be declining year on year, with the benches becoming ever-less representative.

This is unacceptable not just because judges, who interpret the law, occupy a vital role in society, but also because the issue of the over-representation in custody and the disproportionately heavy sentencing of BME offenders needs addressing.

It remains to be seen whether the new figures this week will buck the trend. If they don't then it is an area that the new justice secretary Liz Truss should look at as a matter of priority.

Law is one of the most popular subjects for BME postgraduates. A survey by Chambers Student found that 36.3 percent of students studying for a law BA are from a BME background, so there is no shortage of diverse talent from which to pick the new generation of judges.

There is also a need look wider issues around the progression of BME qualified lawyers. Just 13.8% of trainees in London law firms were BME, which means they are over two and a half times less likely to secure a traineeship compared to their white counterparts.

Politicians have often condemned the lack of diversity among High Court judges - on race and gender - yet the Government's own figures show that on ethnicity the judiciary have been effectively flat-lining since 2011... and going backwards in relation to the growing BME population.

Unless the 2016 figures show a remarkable turnaround pressure will increase on the Judicial Appointments Commission to redouble their efforts on racial diversity by strengthening its’ objectives including the adoption of targets to reach by 2020.

Action is needed because, as High Court judge Justice Rabinder Singh QC told a Runnymede Trust conference, the perception society has of its judges is important to the health of democracy and the law.
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