The two countries have the lowest proportion of female judges in Europe. Why does the UK share this dubious distinction?

In 2012, two very disparate countries shared the dubious distinction of having the lowest proportion of female professional judges of any European state.

One of those countries outlawed sex discrimination in 1975. It had a woman prime minister between 1979 and 1990, has had a queen on the throne since 1952 and is universally held up as a paragon of equality and respect for human rights.

The second country, by contrast, has no discernible gender equality agenda. It turns a blind eye to men marrying second wives, has cultural objections to women running their own businesses and tolerates women, on average, earning just 57% of a man’s salary.

On the credit side, it came second in the 2013 Eurovision song contest.

The first of those two countries, of course, is the UK, and the second is Azerbaijan, an oil-rich nation plagued by corruption, political chicanery and a tendency to jail human rights activists.

So why doesn’t the UK outperform Azerbaijan in the women in the judiciary stakes? Is it because unlike continental civil justice countries we lack a separate career structure for professional judges? Is it an old-boys’-network thing? Is it a disproportionate respect for those among us who are pale, male and stale?

The startling statistic that we lag behind most of Europe in appointing women judges was contained in the latest report by the Council of Europe’s European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice (CEPEJ), published today.

The report’s authors surveyed 45 of the 47 member states of the Council of Europe, with - for the record - Liechtenstein and San Marino declining to participate in the survey.

The report records that the three UK judicial systems - that’s England & Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland - cut their public prosecution budgets between 2010-2012, whereas budgets Europe-wide increased on average by nearly 10%.

The three UK judicial systems came second only to Norway in how many euros per head of population they spent on legal aid in 2012. Northern Ireland spent 50.59 euros (£40), England and Wales 41.55 euros (£33) and Scotland 33.69 euros (£27). The average spend Europe-wide was less than nine euros.

Our Supreme Court judges trousered higher salaries than their European counterparts, too. In 2012, their gross annual salary was eight times the national average gross salary in Northern Ireland, 7.8 times in Scotland and 7.7 times in England and Wales. Their European colleagues, however, earned a paltry 4.2 times the national average of their fellow citizens.

Read the CEPEJ report.

Jonathan Rayner is Gazette staff writer