Black judges will be under-represented in judiciary until 2149, says Law Society

Findings based on current rate of improvement in proportion of judges from under-represented groups

It will take more than 125 years before Black people are properly represented within the England and Wales judiciary at the current rate of progress, the Law Society has found.

Analysis by the professional body for solicitors found that with Black judges making up just 1.09% of the judiciary, compared with 1.02% in 2014, it would take until 2149 for their representation to match current estimates for the general population (3.5%).

With people of Asian ethnicity constituting 4.79% of the judiciary, up from 2.53% in 2014, it is estimated that they would achieve representation akin to that in the general population (8%) in 2033.

The picture for women, who make up 35.34% of judges, compared with 24.48% in 2014, is better but it is still expected to be another decade before they account for half of the judiciary, reflecting their prevalence in society.

Lubna Shuja, who recently became the first British Asian Law Society president, as well as the first Muslim to hold the post, said the estimated projections were unacceptable.

“We need a judiciary that truly reflects our diverse society,” she said. “We must take action and make real, lasting change so our judges can represent the people who come before them in court.

“We urge the UK government to address the structural barriers that are holding back talented candidates.”

The research, published on Thursday to coincide with Black History Month, came just over a week after reports were released that showed, respectively, more than half of legal professionals surveyed claimed to have witnessed a judge acting in a racially biased way and only 90 of more than 13,000 partners at major solicitors’ firms in England and Wales were Black.

The first of those two studies criticised the five-year strategy to boost judicial diversity for failing to mention racial bias or racism and concluded that the judiciary was “institutionally racist”.

In the last three years Black, ethnically Asian, and mixed-race individuals were overrepresented in applications for judicial appointment but all minority ethnic groups had lower recommendation rates than white candidates. The proportion of women and minority ethnic judges was even lower in senior judicial roles (high court and above).

There are no Black judges sitting in the court of appeal, and there has never been a supreme court justice of colour. Only one of the 12 present supreme court justices is a woman.

The legal reform organisation Justice has recommended prioritising diversity among the judicial leadership, increasing senior appointments from the “more diverse” tribunals or district judges and tackling affinity bias.

The Law Society has been calling for the abolition of statutory consultation, the process whereby existing judges’ opinions are sought on the suitability of an applicant for the job. The society has said the process, which has been described as “secret soundings” lacks transparency and is potentially disadvantageous to judicial applicants from less traditional backgrounds, including people from minority ethnic backgrounds, who are less known to the judges.

Shuja said: “We know that progress does not happen overnight, however, we cannot wait over 120 years for women, Asian and Black judges to be fully representative on our court benches. We owe it to the public – who often use the judicial system at times of great stress – to at least have judges who represent and can relate to them.”

The government says it has invested more than £1m in the recruitment of 4,000 new and diverse magistrates over the next few years. It says actions to increase judicial diversity include funding outreach, support and information programmes for potential candidates from under-represented groups, identifying and reviewing any barriers, publishing data on diversity among the judiciary and promoting part-time working.


Haroon Siddique Legal affairs correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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