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Research: BME lawyers far less likely to become judges than white lawyers

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Only 10% of BME applicants were shortlisted

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New research has revealed that aspiring judges from a black and ethnic minority (BME) background are “far less likely to succeed” in their applications to the bench than white lawyers.

Stats from the Judicial Appointments Commission show that, of the lawyers who applied to be recorders (low-level judges) last year, only 10% of BME candidates were ever shortlisted. This is compared to 20% of white candidates. Of those who made the shortlist, 29% of BME lawyers were recommended for appointment. This is 17 percentage points less than the corresponding figure for white lawyers (46%).

It should also be noted that, since 2012, not a single BME candidate has applied to or been appointed to the Court of Appeal.

The Bar Council is seriously concerned about these findings. Sam Mercer, who is head of equality and diversity at the Bar Council, described this “inequality” as “unacceptable”, and added:

Those appointed as recorders make up the pool from which the ranks of the senior judiciary are drawn. Lack of diversity at this level has huge implications for the ethnic make-up of our most influential and respected tier of public servants.

The legal profession’s stance on ethnic diversity has, unfortunately, been a cause for concern for some years.

Dame Linda Dobbs — Britain’s first black, female High Court judge — gave a shocking tell-all interview earlier this year when she revealed that she had experienced racism earlier in her career. Reflecting on her time as a pupil barrister, the Sierra Leone born judge recalled that she was booked to represent members from extreme-right wing party the National Front. The clerk who gave her the brief allegedly told her to “do an Al Jolson in reverse… get a bit of tennis white and do that to your face and they won’t know the difference.”

Recognition of this shocking behaviour shows that progress towards a more diverse, tolerant legal profession has been made in recent years.

And this progress extends to the judiciary. The new figures are actually very encouraging on the gender diversity front at least: 45% of those recommended for appointment to the judiciary last year were women, continuing an ongoing trend towards reducing the male domination of the bench.