Press release

Clarke: Judiciary in need of modernisation and diversification

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Sweeping new proposals that will reform, modernise and improve the diversity of judicial appointments were announced by Ken Clarke today.

The principle of appointment on merit will remain the fundamental basis of policy. But the changes will provide better access to judicial careers, enable clear career progression and extend flexible working arrangements to encourage applications from previously untapped talent pools.

The wide ranging consultation seeks views on whether, when considering two candidates of genuinely equal ability, there should be a presumption in favour of selecting the person from an underrepresented group.

Announcing the consultation, Kenneth Clarke said:

‘An effective justice system is a cornerstone of a civilised society. The independent-mindedness, wisdom and sound good sense of our judiciary have made it a byword for integrity, independence and excellence the world over.

‘The calibre of our judges should never be compromised - their role is too important. Candidates should always be assessed on merit. But swathes of talent are going untapped.  Ability is not confined to certain narrow sections of society, in certain racial, social or other groups. The more widely we search, the more likely we are to find the best candidates. Becoming a judge must be, and must be seen to be, open to everyone with the right skills and qualities.

‘As senior judges themselves have recently said, the judiciary is an institution in need of modernisation- and diversification. This consultation looks at how we can begin to achieve these modernising reforms.

‘I am especially concerned to open up the judiciary to those with caring responsibilities. It should no longer be the case that an able woman who seeks a post in the senior judiciary is at a disadvantage because she chose to pause her career to have a family.’

Lack of diversity among judges can have a negative impact on the experience of people who use the courts, and limits the range of life experiences that judges can draw upon. Figures show that 13.7%, of senior judges are women and 3.1%  are from Black and Asian groups, compared to 51% and 12% of the wider population.

Today’s consultation comes in addition to a range of schemes that have already been put in place following the Neuberger Report to encourage young legal professionals to consider a judicial career and to offer support to those from less traditional backgrounds.

Other changes being consulted on will improve the clarity, transparency and openness of judicial appointments; and provide value for money to the taxpayer.

Key changes being considered include:

  • Extending salaried part-time judicial roles to the High Court and Court of Appeal
  • The selection panels for both the Lord Chief Justice and the President of the UK Supreme Court should not be chaired by a judge, but by an independent lay person instead.
  • The Lord Chancellor’s powers for judicial appointments below either the High Court or Court of Appeal should be transferred to the Lord Chief Justice.
  • Limiting fee paid judges to three five-year terms.
  • Reducing the number of Judicial Appointment Commissioners
  • Restricting the Judicial Appointment Commissions involvement in the selection of judicial office holders who do not require a legal qualification.
  • Allowing the Lord Chancellor, rather than the Prime Minister, to make recommendations on appointments directly to the Monarch.

Notes to editors:

  1. For more information, please contact the Ministry of Justice press office on 0203 334 3536.
  2. Read the consultation paper
  3. The consultation will close on 13 February 2012.
  4. The Written Ministerial Statement to Parliament read:

The judiciary play a critical role in the administration of justice. It is therefore vital that we select candidates for judicial office on merit, through fair and open competition, from the widest range of eligible candidates.We consider that there is a need to address issues with the current systems.  Those issues include: the length of time and amount of money it can cost to run a selection process; the degree of diversity in appointments; and the inflexibility of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, which means even minor process changes require primary legislation.

All of this supports the case for revisiting judicial appointments and today we have launched a consultation on legislative changes to achieve the proper balance between executive, judicial and independent responsibilities, improve clarity, transparency and openness in processes; create a more diverse judiciary that is reflective of society; and deliver speed and quality of service to applicants, the courts and tribunals and value for money to the taxpayer.

A number of our proposals give effect to recommendations arising from the Report of the Advisory Panel on Judicial Diversity. Others come from the judiciary and those with a close interest in the appointment process. I have formally submitted the consultation to the Chair of the House of Lords Constitution Committee as part of our contribution to their ongoing inquiry into judicial appointments and diversity. The government intends to consider the Committee’s findings alongside responses to this consultation. 5. Changes already in place following the Neuberger Report include: 6. * Diversity and Community Relations Judges (DCRJ): outreach work continues across England and Wales with Diversity and Community Relations Judges (DCRJ) engaging with schools and colleges, and particularly new universities, and the wider local community. Some DCRJ have recently started to mentor students from low income backgrounds as part of the Social Mobility Foundation programme. * Mentoring Schemes: A Bar Council initiative, running judicial diversity outreach and carrers events, particularly linked to JAC run competitions. * Judgecraft courses: University College London has set up a Judicial Institute and has established a course for practitioners to assist them in understanding the judicial role.