Quotas for ethnic minority and women judges could be part of new proposals aimed at improving "diversity" in the judiciary. Baroness Julia Neuberger, a government adviser, said she wanted to remove "blockages" faced by applicants for judicial posts and make judges more representative of society.
The Liberal Democrat peer will chair a panel of advisers selected by Jack Straw, the Lord Chancellor, to propose ways to speed up the appointment of judges who are not white men. By considering quotas, the panel will find itself at loggerheads with the most senior judge in England and Wales.
In a speech last month Sir Igor Judge, the Lord Chief Justice, rejected the idea, saying he wanted judges to be appointed on "merit" alone.
Baroness Neuberger today acknowledged proposed changes might be "uncomfortable" for existing judges and said her "first instinct" was not quotas. She said the panel would look at making judges' working conditions more flexible, consider part-time working and career breaks.
She said making the judiciary look more like society would not change individual decisions. But citing rape cases, she said the "texture" of decisions might change with a woman judge.
Of the 110 high court judges in England and Wales, 16 are women and three from an ethnic minority group.
Women make up less than a fifth and ethnic minorities less than 4 per cent of circuit and district judges.
In the legal profession overall, a third of barristers and more than 40 per cent of solicitors are women. In both professions 11 per cent are from ethnic minority groups.
Baroness Neuberger added: "There is also something about blockages at different levels of the judiciary. And those are things I would want to look at. Nothing is off the agenda and I am looking at practical things, but if you said to me would my first instinct be to go for quotas, I would say no. But that doesn't mean we won't look at it."
Sir Igor told a conference last month: "Appointment to the judiciary should be based on merit. I reject any idea of quotas for appointment, for a number of reasons, but not least because that would be unacceptably patronising. No judge should believe... he or she was chosen to fill a gap in a quota scheme."