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Lady Justice Hallett: We all have prejudice - June-21-12
Source: The Times - Law
Lady Justice Hallett is in charge of training the judiciary - and believes it is important for every level of judge
The days of the casting couch have gone, Lady Justice Hallett insists. “Of course there are pockets in the whole of society of sexism and racism.” But the overt behaviour of the 1970s is rare. Hallett, one of only four women judges in the Court of Appeal, should know.
She recently spoke of the “horrific” sexism she met as a young barrister: on one occasion, she was thrilled to have secured a particular position — only to be told by the judge who helped her how she could thank him. Then, it was blatant: now, it is about “making people conscious of unconscious attitudes”.
It is one reason why she feels “so strongly” about training those who appoint judges in equal treatment and confronting subconscious prejudices. “We all have them. It doesn’t matter who you are. Every single one of us, because of upbringing or parents or whatever, will have some kind of prejudice that probably ought to be confronted.”
She is well-placed to promote that message. Alongside her day job, Hallett chairs the Judicial College, the body in charge of training 37,000 judges, magistrates and other judicial postholders in England and Wales. Run chiefly by judges for judges, it came into being in April last year and Hallett is its first chairman. It has its own prospectus, offering 37 seminars or courses across civil, criminal, family and magisterial law, from case management to the Equality Act 2010, European law to sexual offences. And, of course, judgecraft. It had a predecessor — the Judicial Studies Board. But the college is not just about a new name and re-branding; it has a wider remit, overseeing the training of all judicial ranks.
A decade ago, training was somewhat derided. But judges now accept it. It is compulsory for all newcomers, including High Court judges, and then there is continuing training, although this is voluntary. Hallett is keen to promote training for all judges and is urging High Court and Court of Appeal colleagues to take part, whether as participants, speakers or observers. With the Lord Chief Justice’s backing, it’s something that she intends “to push”.
The content of training, too, is changing: the focus is not just “black letter law” but also judicial skills, judicial leadership and management, “something the Lord Chief Justice and Master of the Rolls think particularly important ... now that there are many more demands on judges”.
Training in social awareness and diversity has helped with insensitive judicial remarks. There is also a senior diversity judge to “make sure everything the senior judiciary does has an eye to diversity” and 60 judges acting as diversity and community relations judges, to forge local links, go into schools and talk about judicial careers.
Diversity in the judiciary itself is slow. There has been progress, especially in the lower ranks, but there has been a problem recruiting woman and black and ethnic minority lawyers into the areas from where High Court judges are drawn and retaining them. They tended to “get sidelined into areas not taken as seriously as they should, such as crime or family”.
Doing crime has not held Hallett back. She was praised for her sensitive handling of the inquests arising from the London 7/7 bombings: friendly, down-to-earth and firm, she is well suited as the modern face of the judiciary. The daughter of a policeman and a secretary, she went to a grammar school, winning a place at St Hugh’s College, Oxford. She is married to a barrister and has two sons.
Yet combining a career with a family remains hard. She tells of two women she recently tried to persuade to apply to be judges. One told her she must be joking. After years struggling to bring up children and cope with a busy practice, she was now a successful silk and had her life “on track”. The woman said: “Why should I put that control at risk?” It is why Hallett backs Government proposals going through Parliament for more flexible judicial working, including part-time work.
With budgets tight, plans for the College (budget £9.3 million for 2012-13) to have its own premises look unlikely for now. But there are other plans: Hallett favours performance appraisal, which already happens for deputy district judges and in the tribunal system; now a working party is looking to see if there is money to extend it to recorders, as tested a few years ago. “Personally I would like to see appraisals across the system and I would think most judges would welcome it.” And if not across the system at least at entry level.
What of the Court of Appeal, or even Supreme Court? For herself, she would welcome “the opportunity either to be recorded and then talk to a colleague about how I came across or have a colleague in court watching me”.
Most senior judges would agree, she says. It seems an optimistic view but that upbeat approach makes Hallett a popular judicial cheerleader. No surprise, then, that she is tipped as a future Lord Chief Justice. Not a topic on which Hallett, who has clearly done her media training, would ever comment.
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