Number of non-barrister judges hits new low

Courts: Bench diversity falling

The proportion of court judges who are not barristers has sunk to 31%, falling from 37% in 2014, the latest statistics from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) have revealed.

Solicitors accounted for almost a half (45%) of applications for judicial roles from April 2021 to the end of March 2022, but only 27% of recommendations.

The decline in non-barrister judges was not restricted to the courts; in the tribunals, where solicitors are in the majority, their number fell from 67% in 2015 to 63% this year.

MoJ statisticians said: “The decreasing proportion of non-barristers in post among court and tribunal judges can be associated with the finding that a higher proportion of leavers, compared to new entrants, were non-barristers.”

The proportion of non-barristers leaving the judiciary in 2021-22 was much higher, at 36%, than for those entering (25%). For tribunal judges “the pattern was the same”, making up 69% of leavers and 55% of joiners.

Ethnic minority candidates accounted for 23% of applications for judicial roles and 11% of recommendations in 2021-2022.

Asian candidates accounted for 16% of applications and 4% of recommendations, Black candidates 4% and 1%, candidates from mixed backgrounds 3% and 4%.

The MoJ said that as of 1 April 2022, 5% of judges were from Asian backgrounds, 1% from Black backgrounds, 2% from mixed backgrounds and 1% from other ethnic minority backgrounds.

The MoJ said Asian candidates made up 11% of the eligible pool of future candidates, but their shortlisting rate (15%) was only half that of White candidates (29%).

Meanwhile, Black candidates made up 3% of the pool, but their recommendation rate was 75% less than for White candidates. At the shortlisting stage, the success rate for Black candidates was 7%, compared to 29% for White candidates.

The picture on gender was more positive, with women accounting for 49% of applications across all judicial legal appointments and 48% of recommendations.

More than a third (35%) of court judges and half of tribunal judges were women in April 2022, although the proportion was lower for senior court roles (30% for the High Court and above).

I Stephanie Boyce, president of the Law Society, said it remained concerned about “the continuous significant disparity in outcomes between ethnic minority and White candidates and for solicitor candidates compared with barristers, across judicial exercises”.

She went on: “We believe the Judicial Diversity Forum should now explore reasons for leaving the judiciary, in light of the worrying number of solicitors leaving the bench. This could have a knock-on effect on the overall diversity of our judiciary.

“Within the senior court judiciary, White former barristers occupied almost all posts (95%), with non-barristers and ethnic minority judges significantly underrepresented in the senior courts ranks.”

Professor Chris Bones, chair of CILEX, commented: “Evidence and understanding must underpin any action taken to improve judicial diversity. This report adds to that data, but it also shows little movement.

“It begs more questions than it answers, and, from CILEX’s perspective, this includes understanding why CILEX members, who comprise the most diverse part of the legal profession, only account for 1% of the applicants for judicial roles.

“Opening up all judicial posts to CILEX members would be part of the solution and we look forward to supporting other positive steps to encourage and develop the broadest range of applicants successfully joining the judiciary.”

Bar Council chair Mark Fenhalls QC added: “This report again confirms the worrying pattern that while candidates with Black and Asian backgrounds are disproportionately more likely to apply for judicial appointment, they are consistently less successful than their White counterparts.

“Until we understand why this is happening – whether there is a problem in the appointment process or whether the issue is experience of applicants, or both – we are going to struggle to address this significant problem.”

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