Judicial girl power a long way off, but women make gains on bench

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By Jonathan Ames on

Official figures show more than half of young judges are female


Women are still struggling to reach the upper echelons of the English judiciary — but there are faint signs that the glass ceiling could be cracking.

Diversity figures released this morning from the Judicial Office of England and Wales showed that 38% of the country’s 8,893 judges — including those sitting on tribunals — are women.

However, percentages dropped significantly farther up the judicial pecking order. Some 23% of circuit judges are women, an increase of 2 points over last year.

Women formed just 19% of the High Court bench, with no change on last year’s figure, while the picture looked marginally brighter at the Court of Appeal, where 21% of the judges boldly boast the double X chromosome badge.

The Appeal Court percentage increased over last year by 3 points, but that translated to just one more woman judge, meaning that eight out of 38 judges on that bench are now women.

Supreme Court figures were not included in the report issued today. However, Lady Justice Hale is the only woman on the highest bench in the land, where she sits with 11 chaps.

While the senior bench remains a long way from gender parity, there are signs that those coming into the lower reaches of the judiciary are mostly women.

The figures show that of those judges that are younger than 40 — 89 in total — 53% are women.

Ultimately, said the report:

The overall percentage of female judges has increased in both the courts and tribunals from April 2014 to April 2015 from 24.5% to 25.2% in the courts and 43% to 43.8% in the tribunals.


The picture regarding ethnic diversity on the bench remained relatively unchanged year on year, standing at 7%, or slightly more than half the percentage in the wider UK population.

The report showed that 12 per cent of judges younger than 50 across courts and tribunals are from ethnic minority backgrounds.

Also, 36% of court judges were not barristers, a drop of 1 point on the previous year. In tribunals that figure is 67%, also down 1 point.

Launching the report, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas, said:

The figures show a steady improvement in the diversity of the courts and tribunals judiciary. It is encouraging that the numbers of female judges in the High Court and the Court of Appeal are at their highest levels ever.

He went on to say:

Clearly there is more to be done. The Judicial Appointments Commission selects candidates for judicial roles on merit irrespective of background, but there is a real need to ensure that there is a level playing field and everyone has a genuine opportunity when applying for judicial appointment.

The Lord Chief also stirred up intra-profession rivalry by saying:

I would like to see a greater number of solicitor, government legal service, CILEx and academic candidates applying.