News

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

By on
17

Official figures show more than half of young judges are female

Lead

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.

Judges

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.

17 Comments

Not Amused

They just appointed 4 judges to the CoA: Keith, Nick, David and Peregrine.

So I’ll take John Thomas with a pinch of salt if you don’t mind.

(3)(0)

SodsLaw

I know the point has been made before by me and others, but it’s completely unsurprising that the proportion of women on the bench should get worse the higher up the judiciary you go. The people in the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court now are those who were starting their careers 30 or 40 years ago, when attempts to improve access for women (and ethnic minorities, etc) were non-existent. We have very different expectations now, so it stands to reason that as people work their ways through the system, there will more more and more women higher and higher up the ranks. More female DJs now means more female CJs in the future, and more female High Court judges after that, and so on. I suppose the acid test is just whether that pattern continues.

(7)(0)

Not Amused

I agreed with you 20 years ago. Unfortunately this argument has got progressively weaker as every year ticked by and is now simply offensively wrong.

(2)(2)

SodsLaw

I haven’t looked in any detail at all the statistics, so frankly I’m just guessing, but I’m not sure how it can be said that the argument has got weaker. If (and tell me if I’m wrong) the number of women at each stage of seniority within the judiciary is slowly increasing, doesn’t that just reflect the very basic point I was making?

(0)(0)

Not Amused

It’s got weaker because we now have far more brilliant female QCs. Far more brilliant High Court Judges. Far more brilliant female lawyers in their 50s and 60s who *could* be appointed to posts.

In that world 1 female SCJ is risible. No women CoA appointment from a group of 4 is to be condemned.

(5)(0)

Anonymous

Too much brilliance – ed.

SodsLaw

@Not Amused (the site won’t let me reply to your last comment)

We’re just talking past one another. “The number of senior female judges is increasing” and “the JAC is failing to select as many appropriate female candidates as it could” aren’t mutually exclusive propositions. I think the process of filtering more female judges up to the top of the profession is happening (unless someone shows me otherwise), but I also agree with you that it isn’t happening quickly enough. That’s all.

(0)(0)

Not Amused

As I said, I understand your argument. I think it no longer applies because we simply have too many outstanding female lawyers who could be appointed but who are not appointed.

It was a vaguely plausible argument 20 years ago – although with hindsight I can see 20 years of equally able women being over looked in favour of men.

Nobody sane would argue that we currently have a good or strong HoL. Gone are the Dennings, the Binghams and the Mustills of our world. Yet still, women lawyers are not allowed in this distinctly mediocre club.

Now conversely the CoA probably is strong to good in 2015. Yet they have a far larger pool of women to appoint from and against we see them not doing so.

Women are not ‘filtering up’ the system in any way proportionate to their numbers. Instead we see women being constantly held to a higher standard. The last decade has seen some disgraceful appointment and that has to stop.

Appointing 100% male to 4 jobs in the CoA in 2015 is unjustifiable. Trying to keep telling me that it just takes time is offensive. In the words of Nina Simone – “too slow”.

(4)(0)

Non-Oxbridge Pleb

Do you know how many applicants to the bench are women? I’m genuinely interested in whether it is a matter of selection bias or whether there is some reason that fewer women or applying. Of course, one might easily lead to the other in a vicious circle.

(0)(0)

Not Amused

Data not published to my knowledge and the entire issue is cluded by everyone being ‘officially’ pro-women judges. But 1 female SCJ is really looking dodgy by any international standard and 4 out of 4 male with 2 of those 4 having under 10 years experience? That seems something I can legitimately criticise …

(2)(0)

SodsLaw

Well, no – you seem to be determined to misunderstand my argument.

“we simply have too many outstanding female lawyers who could be appointed but who are not appointed.” Agreed. That was exactly the point I made in my last post.

“Women are not ‘filtering up’ the system in any way proportionate to their numbers.” Again, agreed. When I said that that the filtering process isn’t happening quickly enough, that’s exactly what I meant. I’m not sure how to put it any more clearly.

“Trying to keep telling me that it just takes time is offensive.” Who tried to tell you that?

(0)(0)

real law student

“Nobody sane would argue that we currently have a good or strong HoL. Gone are the Dennings, the Binghams and the Mustills of our world. Yet still, women lawyers are not allowed in this distinctly mediocre club.”

There are some exceptional judges in the UKSC at the moment. Who’s letting the side down?

(0)(0)

Anonymous

“Lady Justice Hale”

*sigh*

She is Lady Hale. Or Lady Hale SCJ. She has not been Lady Justice Hale since she was in the Court of Appeal.

(0)(0)

real law student

JSC*

(2)(0)

Not Amused

I note the BBC now uses Lady, so you are in respectable company, but I always prefer Baroness. I hope, in doing so, to make a clear distinction between those obtaining a title on merit and courtesy titles.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Using phrase “Girl Power” when discussing educated, adult women……. *sigh*

(3)(0)

Anonymous

Too much sighing – ed.

(0)(0)

Comments are closed.