Lord Neuberger, the UK’s most senior judge has stated that a fast-track promotion scheme may need to be implemented into the judiciary in order to deal with the lack of diversity on the bench. The president of the UK Supreme Court stated that often top city law firms prevent their talented solicitors from moving to a career in the judiciary by using “honeyed words” in an effort to keep them in their firms practice. Lord Neuberger further stated that without immediate and radical changes the shortage judges from ethnic minorities and women would simply take too long to correct.
In an interview with the Supreme Court blog the president of the court decided to address the issue of the funding system by stating that courts are currently underfunded and that there is an increasing amount of litigants in person which has amounted as a result of the recent legal aid cuts. Lord Neuberger argued that the legal aid cuts are resolving in longer delays as well as less good justice.
The comments made by the judge will provide more fuel to the fire in the ongoing debate on how exactly to make the UK’s senior bench better reflect the composition of the UK society. In total, 24.5% of court judges are women and about 5.8% are from ethnic backgrounds with only seven out of 38 judges in the court of appeal being women. The problem escalates when looking at the composition of the Supreme Court with only one of twelve justices being a woman, Lady Hale. Lord Sumption, a justice at the Supreme Court has said that under the current mechanism of appointing judges it will take some 50 years before a representative judiciary is achieved.
Lord Neuberger has suggested that one solution may be to offer “a career judiciary where there is a potential fast track could be an option: such an individual could enter it at, say, the age of 35 as a junior tribunal member or possibly a district judge and work their way up”.
He was quick to warn that he changes must not however, sway towards those from a minority or unreasonably favour them by stating “it’s important to make sure others coming from a more traditional career aren’t then overlooked. But the thing that the judiciary needs to do is go out and encourage more people generally to consider being a judge as an option for them.”