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Supreme Court president: I want a BAME justice within six years

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Lord Reed also discusses ‘appalling’ treatment of junior barrister mistaken for defendant, in new wide-ranging interview

Lord Reed

The president of the Supreme Court has spoken out about the lack of diversity on the UK’s top bench, warning the issue risks becoming “shameful if it persists”.

Lord Reed, who succeeded Lady Hale as president of the Supreme Court in January, said he hoped to see a justice of black, asian or minority ethnic background, before he takes mandatory retirement in six years time.

The Supreme Court is currently made up of ten men and two women, all of whom are white.

In a wide-ranging interview with the BBC, Reed also commented on the treatment of Alexandra Wilson, a mixed-race junior barrister who was repeatedly mistaken for a defendant in court last month.

“I thought that was appalling,” Reed said. “Alexandra Wilson is a very gifted young lawyer, an Oxford graduate who has won umpteen scholarships, and for her to be treated like that was extremely disappointing to say the least.”

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Wilson, a criminal and family law barrister at 5 St Andrew’s Hill, received an apology from HM Courts & Tribunals Service for the “totally unacceptable behaviour”.

The Supreme Court president also took aim at a short clip, posted by the Home Office in August, which accused “activist lawyers” of frustrating the return of migrants to their home countries. The tweet has since been taken down.

Lord Reed said:

“I think that was unfortunate and I understand that the government has acknowledged that. There is no question of people being activist simply because they are doing their job. It’s important that people are careful in the language that they use.”

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39 Comments

Anonymous

Can we just have the best appointed regardless of skin colour or genitals? The main problem at the Supreme Court level has been too many judges from the core group of elite public schools.

Anon

Given that those who have been to private schools are the cleverest and best educated in the country, it would be concerning if Supreme Court judges were not privately educated.

Anon

What’s concerning is how many went to schools of dubious quality , state or private.

Briggs (C’house), Hamblen (Westminster) and Leggatt (Eton) had a quality education.

As for the rest, there’s a few Scottish schools, famous mediocrity factories; a couple of local day schools I’ve frankly never heard, fine if you want to be CEO of the local fencing company but hardly SC material; RGS Guildford, chippy social climbing types; and worst of all Oundle, a school known for producing great officers but hardly an appropriate breeding ground for the UK’s highest court.

Anon

You fucking twat

Anonymous

I want a BAME justice now, not in 6 years.

Anon

I just want the best Justices for the job, and I don’t particularly care what race they are.

That’s just the attitude you have when you’re not racist.

Salem

The problem with wanting the ‘best Justices for the job’ and then the data consistently showing that privately educated, White men are disproportionately holding these roles shows that, by definition, we do not live in a meritocracy where the ‘best person for the job’ attitude can prevail. How can it be that such a narrow section of society can consistently be appointed to these roles, despite having no superior advantages in intelligence, work ethic or resilience?

This is not to say that privately educated, White men cannot be exceptional judges, but simply that they cannot objectively be the best people for the job so often, in context of the previous explicit (and current implicit) class, gender and racial barriers put in place to preserve the idea that ‘the best people always get the job’.

Anon

Yawn.

Men disproportionately apply for these roles over women because women are put off by the poor work-life balance they entail.

Supreme Court justices will (for obvious reasons) necessarily be aged around 50+. The issue is what percentage of the 50+ population are BAME. The answer is around 5%. 5% of 11 is 0.55. It’s thus not particularly surprising that we don’t have a single ethnic minority Supreme Court judge yet.

This is why we focus just on appointing the best for the judge, and why we don’t get hysterical over race and gender, like racist and sexist people.

Salem

Men being more likely to take on roles with poor-life balance does ring true (historically speaking), and I do agree with what you’ve said about proportion. No one is asking for an exact percentage representation of the bench compared to population demographics, just for there to be a concerted effort to redress an imbalance that has existed not because prospective BAME judges were not competent enough to hold such esteemed positions; but because of outdated cultural and social attitudes that labelled BAME lawyers as ‘not the right fit’ arbitrarily.

As of 2019, 65% of the most senior judges in England and Wales went to an independent school, despite only 7% of the population being privately educated. Should we say that this isn’t particularly surprising and simply accept this glaring injustice (given that there must be intelligent, competent legal minds amongst the 93%)?

We can actively try to make society fairer for the majority without being ‘hysterical’.

Anon

You’re right, but changing the discrimination culture is key. Not quotas. I’d argue quotas are harmful because they hide the issue. Teach people to trust people who look and sound different.

Anon

A quota appointee won’t fix the major problem the legal profession has with prejudice and racism. The problems are structural. Chambers and firms need to take a cold hard look at themselves and the discrimination they perpetuate. And, no, appointing a pretty blonde privileged woman married to rich banker is not how you improve diversity.

Jarrod

This is a step in the right direction, but there needs to be fundamental changes from the roots up. This will send out the right message.

I see people calling for “the best candidate regardless of race” to be appointed. That is what they are doing and that is why there is a call for somebody to be appointed within 6 years and not immediately. The best candidate, who is BAME, should be appointed within 6 years. That doesn’t seem farfetched or unreasonable to me. If a BAME candidate is not appointed within 6 years then to me that would suggest that there probably has been a ‘best candidate’ that is BAME that has been overlooked.

Rupert

Spot on Jarrod. Too many people get defensive about these things, get upset, and assume they are the victim. All that we should want is equality for BAME lawyers, and a BAME justice within 6 years would be indicative of equality having been achieved.

Anonymous

Just take out “who is BAME” and we are there. Why do you actively support discrimination on the basis of race? I find race based discrimination abhorrent.

Jamie

If you find race discrimination abhorrent, surely you can comprehend how historic discrimination (designed to keep women and ethnic minorities out of the legal profession) is abhorrent too and would want to redress that? Or is it a case of ‘tough mate, just try burst your way through the industry organically, despite us elites having had a 400 year head start where we cherry pick from the same elite schools/universities in one massive boys club’?

Don’t think it’s that big a deal when you could appoint an extremely talented BAME judge, the ilk of which have probably been consistently overlooked simply because they’re not called Tristan or didn’t go to Magdalen.

Anonymous

But if you are called Tristan and went to Magdalen, you will likely be far brighter and better educated than Hannah who went to Warwick.

Jamie

A cyclical delusion – Tristan genuinely believing that he is brighter and more entitled to be successful by virtue of going to Oxbridge is completely ignorant of the external circumstances that placed him there which are bestowed to only a few in our society (family connections, access to top tier schools, wealth etc).

To dismiss those going to other institutions as likely to be less bright and better educated (and convincing the population at large this is the case) is how elites keep themselves in power.

Jarrod

You misunderstood my post because you already had our mind made up before you read it. For clarity, replace “who is BAME”, for “who so happens to be BAME”. I.e. within the span of the next 6 years then it is likely that there will be a best candidate, purely on merit alone, who so happens to be BAME. The difficulty we have is that injustice and racism is so rife in this profession that the best candidate, who so happens to be BAME, is likely to be overlooked. That is discrimination against that BAME candidate, who as things stand is likely to miss out unfairly.

Rupert

The fact that you have been downvoted so much shows just how big of a problem this industry is facing.

There are 12 justices, all of whom are currently white. Out of 12, over the course of 6 years, there should definitely be a worthy candidate who so happens to be BAME. If there is not, that would be a very strong indication that there is ongoing discrimination against BAME candidates.

Ben

There is already enough positive discrimination in the Supreme Court through the automatic appointment of judges from Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Scottish and Northern Irish bench are by definition second rate – anyone with any talent from either jurisdiction is practising in England – and they would not get a sniff at the SC if they were in competition with their English counterparts.

John Bull

Don’t forget the often under the radar mandatory Welsh one too. The Jocks occupy 16% of the Court despite just being 8% of the population and the Northern Irish have 8% of the Court despite only having 3% of the population. It is a disgrace. The Scots and N Irish should only sit on appeals from their own jurisdictions.

Tim

Yet again people focus on race discrimination, which in itself is a way to oppress the disabled. When will people realise the blight to society that is anti disabled discrimination?

Anonymous

Damn, he took over 3 hours. Just lost on the Tim standard thread hijacking intervention sweep by 10 minutes.

Tim

Thanks. Your attempts to muzzle me only prove my point.

In the meantime I strongly call on LC to publish weekly articles investigating the rampant disability discrimination in the UK legal profession in order to mute these trolls with their “thread hijacking” falsehoods.

Anon

President of the Supreme Court looks at the likely career progression of the (exceptionally well qualified) Lord Justice Singh and sets himself an easily achievable target…

Anon

I am sure Sir Rabinder Singh will be delighted if he is appointed on the basis of positive discrimination. The trust the public has in the judiciary can also only be enhanced by knowing that the judge before whom they are appearing is not there on merit.

Old Guy

You obviously don’t understand the point made by the previous poster. The 7 people who upvoted you are clearly morons too. The point is LJ Singh is good enough to get there, and will likely get there in the next 6 years. Lord Reed has set himself a target that will be easily achieved because there is a really exceptional BAME candidate on the lower court. No positive discrimination is better. Also, if you honestly believe that politics plays no role in terms of who makes it to the Supreme Court then you are very naive. There are many exceptional judges that sit at the High Court or the Court of Appeal, and have no desire to make it to the top, have not sat on enough committees or have not done enough brown-nosing in their junior years to make it. Denning himself eschewed a seat at the top court, preferring to have great influence shaping the law in the Court of Appeal.

Anonymous

Except that Denning was a Law Lord before becoming Master of the Rolls. Get back to your exams.

Anon

Yes, because the rest of the Law Lords saw through his bollocks whereas he could swing more outcomes as Master of the Rolls.

Old Guy

Eschewed can mean ‘to give up’. Learn to read.

Anonymous

But as you well know, you didn’t meant eschewed in the sense of giving up. You meant it in the way it is almost invariably used, namely to avoid. You were called out on your nonsense. Get back to your exams.

Old Guy

What a surprise, in 2 hours in the evening 15 downvotes. The Legal Cheek vote spammer is out in force. Another reason I don’t bother coming here anymore.

A man with an opinion

I’m sure there is going to be a huge debate about public Vs state, race gender etc..

The whole conversation will be retrograde unless everyone acknowledges that it is a combination of factors that make a SC judge, the most important of which is that they demonstrate the capacity to uphold their constitutional duty of interpreting and protecting the laws of parliament.

The argument for greater diversity can devolve into a racialist one unless we remind ourselves that there are many candidates who are clearly capable of delivering this jurdial responsiblity in an exemplary manner who do not emerge from the well trodden path of quod to quid, so long as their abilities are ultimately the deciding factor.

Cheers

Barrister

Thankfully, for those of us working in the private sector, there are a reasonably good indicators for success and hardwork – money and repeat work.

Don’t bother getting involved in the Judiciary, politics and/or public sector. Our craven leadership has lost faith in a capitalist merits based system that has lifted millions out of poverty, won a few world wars, seen off the soviet union and designed & created almost every noteworthy invention in the last 250 years.

Best to get your head down in the private sector; if you are good, you will make money and provide for your family and loved ones. Depressing but no one in their right mind would want to get involved in this race to the bottom known as identity politics.

Anon

I wish that were true.

I’ve seen too many intakes at my Magic Circle firm where special status is afforded to those who ski, have similar backgrounds to the partners etc. I think other MC firms are different but I don’t know.

You’re right in that in this country you can generally hit a good salary in the private sector with hard work and perseverance, no matter your background.

But there are some places at the top where the bosses are more interested in where you came from than where you might be capable of going. That’s just based on what I have seen in my actual experience, rather than some kind of adherence to identity politics.

Realist

Read about ‘in groups’, ‘out groups’ and ‘homophily’ (Google is enough), then adapt to the dominant culture. Don’t hate the players, don’t even hate the game – just recognise it for what it is, and adapt accordingly.

I went to a state school in Merseyside, I was the first of my family to stay at school beyond 16, let alone go to university, but I trained at a magic circle firm and moved to a US firm on qualification. I learned to ski at university, and I took elocution lessons both at school, and ‘top ups’ shortly before qualifying, to remove any trace of a Northern accent. I would like to think that I am now superficially largely indistinguishable from those who grew up with greater advantages.

We can either:

1. Whinge that life isn’t fair, and engage the Sisyphean task of trying to ‘change the world’; or

2. Accept reality, adapt, conform and integrate ourselves in to the dominant culture.

Option 1 is for idealists and bitter losers; the former quickly morph into the latter. Option 2 is for those willing to engage with the world as it is, always has been, and always will be. Learn to ski (or play golf, or ride horses, or mutatis mutandis for your milieu), acquire a homogenous Home Counties accent, listen to Radio 4, etc. – i.e. do whatever necessary to succeed.

Good luck.

Anon

Lol, I think you missed the point – I agree with you that you have to adapt, hence why “I wish it were true”. I have adapted and succeeded.

It is more that I think the fact we had to adapt to the rather large extent that we did in the first place means firms like that are not necessarily retaining the best lawyers.

Where we disagree is that I don’t believe in simply accepting the status quo without criticising it at all. Otherwise we would never have achieved any progress at all.

Asquith

Ha ha ha…the Supreme Court judge says how disgraceful it is that a barrister was not recognised as such and questioned?

Judges, barristers and solicitors daily insult and are derogatory to everyone and I am sure Alexandra Wilson like every barrister bullies, sneers and lies and warps the truth every hour of every day. It’s what barristers and judges do

The idea that this princess would be ‘upset’ is a travesty and a joke.

The Supreme Court President and every senior judge should go spend a day in the lower courts and see daily reality that barristers are simply trained to be psychopaths and liars who by the age of 25 will do and say anything for money.

Psychiatric nurse

You ok, hun?

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