Diversity dilemma: Supreme Court seeks applications from ‘widest range’ of candidates after Lady Black’s early retirement leaves one woman on top bench

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Still no BAME justice

The Supreme Court faces a further setback to diversity among its judicial ranks following the announcement that Lady Black will be retiring over the Christmas break.

Jill Black, 66, will retire after 21 years as a judge but little more than three years as a justice of the Supreme Court. Her early retirement means the country’s highest court now has only one woman, Lady Arden, on the 12-member bench. The remaining ten members are men, all of whom are white.

The Supreme Court now seeks applications “from the widest range of applicants” for Lady Black’s replacement. It particularly encourages applications from “those who would increase the diversity of the court”, according to an advert for the judicial vacancy.

It comes after president Lord Reed said last month he hopes to see a BAME (black, asian and minority ethnic) justice on the bench before he takes mandatory retirement in six years’ time.

The court added that, while the successful applicant will be selected on merit, “if the commission considers two persons to be of equal merit, it may prefer one of them over the other for the purpose of increasing diversity within the court”.

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Lawyers reacted to the news of Lady Black’s early retirement, with Dinah Rose QC describing it as “very disappointing”. The Blackstone Chambers silk and president of Magdalen College, Oxford, added, “the court’s genuine desire to improve its diversity remains hamstrung by its appointments system, in my view”.

Greg Callus, a barrister at 5RB, took issue with the lowering of the mandatory retirement age of judges appointed after 1995, from 75 to 70. Lady Black became a judge in 1999 meaning she could have served as a member of the Supreme Court until 2024.

“[It] has been a double-edged sword for recruitment of women into the judiciary,” he wrote. “It improved the ‘dead man’s shoes’ effect (insufficient vacancies to change), but it also stops those who start later or take time to have children reaching the very top.”

In 2017 Lady Black became the second female justice of the Supreme Court after Lady Hale who served as president until her retirement in January this year.

Lady Black is due to retire on 10 January 2021. Her replacement is expected to take up their role next spring.

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Martin Routh

That tweet by Greg Callus is precisely right. It is well worth noting that both Baroness Hale and Lady Arden were among the very small number of judges who still had a preserved retirement age of 75, having taken appointment prior to the mandatory age being lowered to 70. I think (I haven’t double-checked) that Baroness Hale was appointed President of the SC when over 70, and Lady Arden was appointed to the SC for the first time when over 70. Time to put the age back up to 75 to enable those who have taken career breaks (disproportionately women) to get to the top.

As for the replacement, it’s only a matter of time before Singh LJ is deservedly promoted again. For him to get it this time around would be fairly rapid progression, but note that he has only had slightly less time on the bench than had Lord Sales when he was promoted last year – – and very considerably more than Lord Sumption had.



The lowliest just appointed DDJ has more judicial experience than Lord Sumption. And, boy, does it show in his conduct on and off the Bench. As for Lsdy Black – stayed just long enough to get her full pension at the highest rate. She could easily have stayed another 4 years.


Martin Routh

Lord Sumption: not quite as little experience as that; prior to appointment he sat extensively in the Courts of Appeal in the Channel Islands and had sat as a deputy HCJ in England.



And then he produced a string of judgments straight out of the late 19th century preserving the interests of the privileged and rich, as one would expect from an entitled Old Etonian.



To which judgments are you referring?


Barton v Wright Hassall


Nov 3 2020 11:45am: Why was Lord Sumption’s judgment in Barton v Wright Hassall a judgment which “preser[ved] the interests of the privileged and rich”?
And you said there were a “string of judgments”. You have named only one which purports to support your position. Please name the others.


Prest. Great one for the rich to screw the poor. Rock v MWB is another. He approached almost everything from an attitude of basic black letter formalism straight out of the 19th century playbook.


Barton v Wright Hassall was about restricting the access of many people to the courts and promoting the use of solicitors Ed. Which of Sumptions judgements do you most disagree with and why?


Yes. Sumption was no great shakes as a judge and certainly no better than his colleagues in the SC. His appointment was a consequence of that silly non-sequitur that success as a QC means that you are suitable for appointment to the Bench. They are different jobs, calling for different skill sets.



There was no beauty in Sumption’s judgments, no imagination, no soul, no creativity, no growth. They were plodding and brutalist.



Should the Courts aim for such a result? Expecting the Supreme Court to perform acts of political ventriloquism produced the constitutional disaster of Miller II.


What about selecting PURELY on merit..


Martin Routh

They do. No one in the mainstream suggests they should do anything else. This is about the best way to identify the people with merit and making sure that there is a route for them regardless of background or other non-merit related factors.



Define mainstream


Be Good

Before you ask, it’s on the 19th of November…



Not a whisper of course on appointing a disabled judge. I really shouldn’t be surprised that this anti disabled feeling pervades even the highest court in the land. I say let’s strip them of all right to hear disability discrimination cases until such time as the court is more reflective of society.



Tim, like Swiss trains, is both predictable and dull.



I’m sorry that blatant discrimination is boring to you. Perhaps get lost to a Trump rally so that you can get your entertainment with other bigots.


Dirty Harold

No, “blatant discrimination” is not boring, you are the bore with your pathetic straw man follow ups in your repeated three stage efforts to hijack every diversity thread with a “what about the disabled” bleat. We had stage 1 “what about the disabled”, we’ve had stage 2 accuse anyone criticising you of discrimination, so do you feel lucky, punk, with stage 3?



Whatever you say, it’s so clear to all reading this that I’m trying to help people, you’re trying to take people down. I know on which side of history I’d rather be.


If that is how you read it Tim, your interjections start to make sense since you are clearly somewhere on a spectrum that means understanding how other people think and feel is challenging for you. In that regard I feel sorry for you and wish you well but you need to appreciate your interjections, far from “helping people” are counterproductive.


I don’t follow how my comments are counterproductive. We are discussing the issue. Additionally, my contention is that disability discrimination is criminally under recognised, in fact active efforts are under way to ignore it. You are all helping me prove my point in this regard by displaying your flagrant contempt for disability discrimination and repeated attempts to muzzle me. In that regard, thanks for your help.


Where is Lord Harley when you need him???


His Holiness Dr. the Rt. Rev. The Hon. Lord Harley of Counsel. LL.B (Cantab), Dip. Stik (Minsk), DPhil (Lagos), TwAT (Karachi), Order of the Incontinence Appliance

I am here, mere mortal.

What court-room wizardry do you ask of me?

I am the Mozart of the Courtroom, after all!

I also work for chips.



Just pick the best candidate. The post is too important for tokenism, especially since so many places are taken by the Scots and Northern Irish already.


Northern Irish Trainee

Who is northern Irish apart from Lord Kerr (who I thought was also retiring)


supreme situation

ben stephens


Let's not pretend

The “best” is not often defined by merit, but by those who’ve managed to get ahead at others’ expense with impunity. Men are really good at this.



Bit sexist


Northern Irish Trainee

It’s not tokenism, I guess the northern Irish are simply better. More of us should start applying, that way there would be no room for the rest of you! But we enjoy the food in Belfast more and we can get a good 4 bed house near the sea and city for the price of a studio apartment in London. I got a TC in a MC law firm over the rest of your pals and even with their ok academics I was far superior on paper and interview. The fact even the first year of law school you complete 4 modules – the N Irish study 6. Intellectually superior and a better sense of humour to accompany



All steps should be taken to ensure there is a wide and diverse range of individuals.



Aka no more white males for a while please


Wokey McWokeFace

Time to get Woke, bro!


Just Anonymous

“The Supreme Court faces a further setback to diversity among its judicial ranks following the announcement that Lady Black will be retiring over the Christmas break.”

Well that’s one way of looking at it. Another would be:

A woman makes a free and informed decision as to her career, as she is fully entitled to do. Isn’t it fantastic that, in 2020, women now rightly have such autonomy over their working lives.

And if women freely choose to exercise this autonomy in such a way that, when looked at on average for example, it causes such things as numerical gender disparities or gender pay gaps (for example), then I say, such is the price to be paid for freedom and personal choice.



Can I shadow you for a day?


Alan Robertshaw

Imagine you’re a football manager with enough money to buy one player. You’ve narrowed your search down to two candidates. They are both equally brilliant. The only difference between them is one is right footed and the other is left footed.

Your current squad consists entirely of right footed players.

So who do you pick?



The one that went to Eton?



Congratulations on picking up the 2020 Worst Analogy Award!


Football Manager

I pick the right footer. The right footer strategy seems to be working so far, as I’m still in the job.


To Madeira

The one who will help you score 45 goals for Grimsby Town on the way t Champions League glory of course.



I suppose if a credible case could be made for the advantages of adding a right or left footer could be made then they would not be equal candidates in the context of the team. If there was not a measurable benefit based on footedness, picking a left footer because they were a left footer would be perverse and discriminatory. Still, mate, crap analogy.


Archibald Pomp O'City

The difference in America is startling. Even the federal judiciary has no upper limit on service, with many judges in their 80s and some in their 90s, and yet some more over 100 years old have heard trials. There is no safety mechanism if they develop into doddering, senile old wrecks.


Woke Bloke

Which explains why America still has things like the electric chair (most recently used in Tennessee in February 2020) and had laws banning homosexuality in some Southern States as late as 2004.


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