More women and people from minority backgrounds will be encouraged to become judges under plans announced today by Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke.
Mr Clarke revealed that new laws would be put in place to remove obstacles which can limit diversity in the judiciary. They include changing the rules to extend part-time working patterns for senior judges, intended to help balance work and family lives, and enabling ‘positive action’ for appointments - meaning that if two candidates are completely equal in their abilities, a selection can be made on the basis of improving diversity.
The moves will not change the over-riding principle of appointments based on merit but are intended to enable clear career progression, encourage applications from a wider talent pool and continue to create a judiciary which reflects society.
The changes are the latest part of ongoing work to bring more diversity among judges, which is being carried out in partnership with the judiciary, the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) and the legal professions.
Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke:
‘We are lucky in this country that we have the finest judiciary in the world. We intend to build on that - we will continue to recruit the very best judges but at the same time we will do what we can encourage top applicants from a diverse range of backgrounds, so that the judiciary better reflects society.’
The proposed changes have been brought forward following positive responses to a 12 week public consultation launched last November. They have now been included in the Crime and Courts Bill, which was introduced into Parliament on Thursday 10 May 2012. The measures will not take effect until such time as the Bill has been considered and approved by Parliament.
They have been included in the Bill alongside several other proposals to modernise the process for judicial appointments, designed to make it more efficient. These include:
- Having an independent lay person as chair of the selection panels for both the Lord Chief Justice and President of the UK Supreme Court, rather than a judge
- Increasing JAC involvement in the selection and appointment of the judges who are authorised to sit as Deputy High Court Judges
- Providing the Lord Chancellor with an increased and more effective role in appointing the most senior judges - through the use of pre-selection consultation in appointments to the Court of Appeal and Heads of Division and sitting on the selection commission for the appointment of the Lord Chief Justice and President of the UK Supreme Court
- Reducing the role of the Lord Chancellor in the appointment of less senior judges, by transferring his powers for judicial appointments below the High Court and Court of Appeal to the Lord Chief Justice
- Introducing flexible deployment so judges can move between working in the courts and tribunals systems, to help judicial career development. This was seen as a key step in the report published by the Advisory Panel on Judicial Diversity.
The Crime and Courts Bill also includes a number of other measures which will drive the modernisation of the wider justice system. These include:
- Allowing broadcasting from courtrooms
- Increasing the efficiency of fines by providing incentives for compliance, so offenders bear the cost for delaying payment, not taxpayers
- Creating a Single County Court system and a Single Family Court for England and Wales to allow greater flexibility for the handling of cases
- Allowing data to be shared between the courts, tribunals service and other agencies so fee exemption applications can be checked electronically.
Notes for editors:
- Figures show that at present 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.
- The new plans are in addition to a range of schemes which have already been put in place following the Report of the Advisory Panel on Judicial Diversity to encourage young legal professionals to consider a judicial career and to offer support to those from less traditional backgrounds
- View the consultation Appointments and Diversity: A Judiciary for the 21st Century and response paper
Details of the Crime and Courts Bill
- For more information contact the Ministry of Justice press office on 0203 334 3536.