In the Media

Top judge slams QC ?bias?

PUBLISHED February 12, 2007

There has been a ?notable lack of progress for women? in appointment to the bench or to the rank of Queen?s Counsel at a time when there has been considerable pressure for diversity in the profession, a Court of Appeal judge has claimed.

Lady Justice Arden, one of only three female judges in the appeal court, told a meeting of the Chancery Bar Association that she was disappointed at the number of women who had been appointed to silk in the first round of the new system, and in the scarcity of women appointed to the High Court bench.

She said that to operate fairly, an appointments system needed to make adjustment for the differences between the majority of the profession and minority groups.

Dame Mary stressed that appointment should be based solely on merit, but that women brought new perspectives and different life skills to bear than men, and challenged the white male majority about their views and assumptions. This enriched the process of decision-making and the development of the law, she added.

Quoting from the Lord Chief Justice of Canada, she said the problem was not so much a ?glass ceiling? as a ?sticky floor? ? as women often did less court advocacy than men, their talents were often overlooked.

Echoing her comments, the Lord Chancellor told an audience of lawyers in Birmingham last week that increasing ethnic and gender diversity in the judiciary was vital for delivering effective justice.

A system that only selected judges from certain backgrounds missed out a whole pool of talented people, and the barriers that prevented people applying must be overcome if the gap between those doing the judging and those being judged was to be narrowed, Lord Falconer said. ?This is not diversity for the sake of targets, or quotas, or for diversity?s sake, it is essential if we are to have a judiciary and a justice system of continued quality and one that inspires public confidence.?

Lord Falconer said there had been positive trends with a rise in the total number of female judges from 14% to 18% in the last five years, and the percentage of judges from ethnic minority backgrounds had doubled since 2001 to nearly 4% by April last year.

Lord Falconer also said solicitors continue to be under-represented in the judiciary, adding that he wanted ?to dispel the myth that the bar is the only career route to judicial office?.

Dawn Dixon, chairwoman of the Association of Women Solicitors, said it would take time for change to be seen. ?You don?t just grow [women and ethnic minority silks and judges] in grow bags, but if there?s a real intention to change, then it will happen, but only if people really buy into the diversity issue,? she said.

Catherine Baksi