One highlight of my time as Liverpool Law Society President was when we welcomed Baroness Hale of Richmond to deliver our Conkerton Memorial Lecture on the subject of the Independence of the Judiciary. Lady Hale is the most senior woman judge that we have ever had in England and Wales. She was recently named the fourth most powerful woman in the UK in a recent BBC poll –
During her time with us I found her to be both charming and down to earth as well as having an intellect the size on Mount Everest!
I mention her for two reasons; firstly because I am a shameless name dropper and secondly because she is the ideal person to speak on judicial diversity. We are rightly proud of our courts system but when it comes to diversity we are lagging well behind the rest. In a recent lecture Lady Hale has pointed out that, across Europe, the male/female split on the bench is close to 50/50. But in the UK the percentage of women is just 23% -
“England and Wales is fourth from the bottom, followed only by Azerbaijan, Scotland and Armenia".
Other groups are even less well represented – only 4.5% of High Court judges are from an ethnic minority background. Lady Hale herself is the only woman in the Supreme Court - indeed she is the only woman there has ever been in that Court or its predecessor The House of Lords! One third of the US Supreme Court Justices are women.
We do of course need to ensure that the best people become the top judges. But we also need a judiciary which represents all of those in society. I have mentioned before that we need judges from as wide a grouping as possible. The male, pale and stale image is outdated and frankly embarrassing in a multicultural world.
Lady Hale has brought the possibility of positive discrimination back on to the agenda to ensure a balanced representation. I would agree that the time for such measures has probably arrived. That is not to say that there should be any lowering of standards but amongst those who are qualified to serve on the bench we should do all we can to balance out the numbers and catch up with the rest of the modern world.