We must help to give solicitors a ‘line of sight’ to a judicial appointment from the start of their career.
England and Wales are fortunate to have a judiciary of the highest calibre, respected around the world for their ability, independence and integrity. However, as the nature of our society changes, it is essential that the judiciary reflects the changing society it serves.
This ensures that it not only draws upon the wide range of backgrounds and experience available to it, but equally sends an important message to everyone from the diverse communities that make up England and Wales that the judiciary reflects society as a whole.
The Law Society of England and Wales is united with the lord chief justice and others in our desire to see a more diverse judiciary. The latest judicial diversity statistics show some slow but encouraging progress, such as an increasing number of women and younger black, Asian and minority ethnic lawyers being appointed. Despite this progress, the under-representation of key demographics continues. In particular we are concerned that there continues to be a significant lack of solicitors being appointed to senior positions in the judiciary. With 175,000 enrolled solicitors from a diverse range of backgrounds, we are here to ensure this improves, and in doing so help improve judicial diversity as a whole.
The recent announcement from the judicial diversity committee of a new support programme to help boost representation is a great example of a practical step that can be taken to support aspiring judges from under-represented groups, and we applaud the lord chief justice for it. By providing these candidates with intensive support on the process they will face, and the opportunity to learn more by shadowing a High Court judge, they will then approach the merit-based selection process better equipped, better prepared and better able to show the value they can bring to the Bench.
At the Law Society we will work in concert with this move, but starting even earlier in the process. We must help to give solicitors a 'line of sight' to a judicial appointment as a potential for the future from the start of their career. We know that for many new solicitors — of any background — a judicial appointment is far from their minds at the start of their career. It is not seen as a natural step, especially for those from under-represented groups who see too few people like themselves in judicial roles. Too often this puts them at a disadvantage later, as they have missed, or not been presented with, opportunities to develop the skills and experiences that might help them be appointed.
So this must be about more than just telling young solicitors that it can be done. We need to demonstrate that no matter what their background, we can support them in taking steps that are realistic and achievable, that address the individual challenges they might face, equip them with the skills and opportunities they need as they develop their career towards a judicial appointment, and that ensure that they reach the appointment process ready, willing and able. For example, we should encourage them to gather judicial experience in those bodies where it may be available, such as disciplinary bodies.
With 175,000 enrolled solicitors across England and Wales, we should be spoilt for choice for talented solicitors ready to take to the bench. The Law Society already works to support our members in considering and seeking judicial appointments. Our Solicitor Judges Division offers support across the profession, while our corporate responsibility, equality and diversity team undertake more targeted activities to support candidates from different groups we know are under-represented in the judiciary.
This support is already delivering results, such as five BME candidates who attended our workshops who have successfully secured judicial appointments, and we are currently reviewing our support to see what more we can do for aspiring solicitor judges.
When the ranks of our aspiring judges truly reflect the breadth of experience we have in our profession, and in our communities, the reputation of our already world-renowned judiciary can only be further enhanced.
Robert Bourns is the president of the Law Society