City judicial diversity forum has not met in two years
A group of top lawyers set up to help overcome barriers to City solicitors applying for the judiciary has failed to meet for almost two years, the Gazette can reveal. The group, part of a drive to improve judicial diversity, was also asked to find ways of encouraging more women, and black and minority ethnic solicitors, to apply for the bench.
The group’s inactivity has led to these initiatives stalling too.
The Solicitors in Judicial Office Working Group was created by Lady Julia Neuberger (pictured), chair of the Advisory Panel on Judicial Diversity (APJD), which reported in February 2010. The group comprised senior lawyers from five of the City’s top firms: Linklaters, Clifford Chance, Allen & Overy, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Herbert Smith.
It was expected that the group would address real and perceived obstacles to solicitors in City firms applying for or achieving judicial appointment. These barriers include the fear that firms might view a candidate applying for such an appointment as lacking commitment. A candidate for office is also likely to be a key fee-earner and, given the uncertainties of practice, may struggle to fulfil even a part-time role.
A progress report on the panel’s findings, published in May 2011, said that a meeting was scheduled between the Law Society and the group that same month to ‘review existing initiatives and discuss innovative ways of encouraging firms to view judicial appointments in a positive light’.
The meeting never occurred, which suggests that the group has now been silent since the publication of the APJD’s report in February 2010 - almost two years ago.
The group’s failure to meet emerged at last week’s House of Lords constitution committee hearing, when Lord Hart of Chilton referred to a ‘group of City solicitors’ that had been formed to discuss why high-flying women were not joining the judiciary, ‘but had never met’.
Christopher Stephens, chair of the Judicial Appointments Commission, replied that Law Society president John Wotton had ‘mentioned the same point in a letter’ to him. The group had evidently not met, Stephens said, ‘but why not?’
Wotton told the Gazette: ‘The Law Society supported the objective of this group and we are disappointed it has so far come to nothing. We are more than willing to promote and support initiatives focused on City firms and practitioners, as part of our overall work in encouraging solicitors to apply for judicial appointments.’
A spokeswoman for Lady Neuberger said: ‘Baroness Neuberger was vice-chair of the group while the APJD was meeting, but is no longer. The group was going to take it further. The meetings while the APJD was meeting were very creative and helpful, but unfortunately not much has happened since.’
The Gazette contacted all five City firms, but at the time of going to press only Allen & Overy had responded. A&O said it still supports the initiative.