‘Choose women, gay and disabled judges over white, middle-class men’
The Times reports: “Women, gays, ethnic minority and disabled applicants for jobs as judges should receive preferential treatment over white men in an attempt to make the judiciary reflect modern Britain, an official report recommended today. The proposals said the “positive action” should apply where two candidates for a judicial appointment are seen to have equal abilities. A report by an Advisory Panel on Judicial Diversity said that the judiciary has historically drawn its membership from well educated, middle-class, white, male barristers. It said that despite increasing numbers of women and ethnic minorities in the legal profession, this had been reflected only slowly in appointments to the judiciary.”
This hoary oldchestnut has been around for years. I recall reading Professor Griffith’s book The Politics of The Judiciary many years ago. As far as I recall, a central theme ofGriffiths’ book was the judges were ‘white middle class, middle aged and middle minded’. It is quite possible, after a lifetime of enjoying red wine while reading about law, that I may have added the ‘middle minded’ bit.
I am all for diversity. But… I am also all for getting the right people in the job and certainly would not wish to see the so-called ‘ethnic lesbian with one leg cliche’ being promoted to the judiciary ahead of better candidates simply to satisfy the needs of those who wish to mould and engineer society. The judicial appointment process has undergone significant change in recent years. Lawyers are coming from a wider cross-section of society. Solicitors are now being appointed to the bench. Lord Collins, an experienced law lord – now a Justice of the Supreme Court – is a solicitor. It takes time for changes to filter through. Women are far more numerous in the profession at the entry point than men. When I was at law school in the mid-1970s the ratio was 90:10 approximately in favour of men. Now it is 45:55 , possibly more, in favour of women. More students from ethnic minority families are coming into the law.
I am not in favour of any form of ‘positive discrimination’. It doesn’t work – it demeans the individual appointed, it demeans the process of fair appointments. It may well have been unfairly weighted in the past, but this does not mean we have to counter past unfairness with a different kind of unfairness going forward. Best person for the job…whatever their gender, orientation, race, religion? A wonderful ideal… but can we pull it off?
Some of the comments in The Times reflect public attitudes. I quote a couple as a taster….