Forcing change on a reluctant judiciary
In March 2018 David Lammy MP told the Gazette: ‘Find me an ethnic minority judge and I’ll buy you a beer.’ That came after the justice secretary David Lidington rejected Lammy’s recommendation (made in an independent review commissioned by David Cameron) that by 2025, the number of judges should be proportionate to the size of the UK’s BAME population, estimated at 14%.
Between 2014 and 2019, government statistics show, the proportion of black, Asian and minority ethnic court judges was 7%, with just 1.1% made up of judges with black Caribbean or African heritage.
In 2019 Leigh Day took the bold step of advertising for six students of Afro-Caribbean and African heritage to begin a five-and-a-half-year programme in 2020. Managing partner Francis Swaine said the firm decided it needed to take positive action to tackle the under-representation of black lawyers within the firm. ‘We have far fewer Afro-Caribbean and African-qualified staff than we ought to have,’ she said.
On 29 January Justice launched its latest working party report Increasing Judicial Diversity: An Update. This builds on Justice’s 2017 report Increasing Judicial Diversity, which explored the structural barriers faced by women, BAME communities, solicitors and those from lower socio-economic backgrounds in reaching the bench. It assesses the progress that has been made since 2017, outlines areas that remain of critical concern and makes further recommendations for improving judicial diversity. Justice director Andrea Coomber said: ‘The judiciary play a critical role in our democracy and hold immense power in society. That such power is held by such an unrepresentative group of people, however meritorious, should be of concern to us all.’
I have watched with interest the impending clash between government and lord chief justice over the constitutional role of the judiciary. The newly appointed attorney general Suella Braverman has stated that parliament’s legitimacy is unrivalled. For her that is the reason why the government must take back control not just from the EU, but from the judiciary.
The lord chief justice said he looks forward to working with Braverman to uphold the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary.
The Criminal Bar Association said it ‘looks forward to working positively with the new attorney general’ but stressed the ‘fundamental role judicial review has to play in our open, democratic, vibrant society’.
Like no doubt many in the profession, I am extremely nervous about moves to curb judicial review and reform the Human Rights Act. But as a black female lawyer I am also conflicted by a judiciary which on the one hand is hell-bent on defending the rule of law, yet on the other remains inert in relation to diversity.
One could argue that the chicken has now come home to roost for a judiciary reluctant to change which now finds itself under attack from a government striking at the heart of judicial independence. One can only wonder how far Braverman is prepared to go. Will these reforms be limited to the constitution, or will the make-up of the judiciary itself be in jeopardy? And if steps are taken, will those steps finally lead to a judiciary which reflects the society in which we live?
Pauline Campbell, Senior lawyer, Waltham Forest Council
Cheapening our industry
I read with interest in the 2 March Gazette about Jo Rayner, a commercial lawyer in Stroud who has set up as a freelance solicitor. The piece talks about the low overheads and flexible approach that freelancers can offer. I am a sole practitioner, in the truest sense of those words, based just down the road from Jo in Gloucester. I also offer clients commercial legal advice.
I struggle to see what freelancers like Jo offer clients that I cannot. The only significant difference appears to me to be the right to rely on much less-reliable insurance. Is that really something to be held out as good?
I make no criticism of Jo. She is doing what the Solicitors Regulation Authority is encouraging her to do. My criticism is of the SRA for that encouragement. Other than the inevitable race to the bottom, how is allowing some solicitors to practise without the same rigorous enforcement of minimum insurance terms (which few, if any, solicitors, let alone clients, will ever understand) in the interests of providing a professional service to clients? To my mind, this is doing nothing more than cheapening our industry instead of making it more cost-effective.
Alexander May, BladeLaw, Gloucester
Stand up to drink
Alcohol need not make you feel like crap. Yes, if it does you have a problem. But many lawyers, in line with the general population, enjoy a drink. If you are looking for a future as a lawyer and find yourself being intimidated by your legal peers and superiors into drinking more than you want to on a regular basis, then you should question whether the law is really for you.
Not that I say this in defence of such Neanderthal practices. But lawyers have to stand up for their clients. If they cannot stand up for themselves, then they are not doing themselves or the client any favours.
Nigel George, Garner & Hancock, Old Isleworth, Middlesex
Pride in the profession
The article highlighting increasing diversity in the legal profession (3 February) was timely and drew attention to the advances made in recent years. It also, somewhat unexpectedly, used a picture of me marching in full court dress, including wig, in the London Pride March 2017.
I would like to highlight the joint efforts which the Law Society, Chartered Institute of Legal Executives and the Bar Council have made over many years, including at Pride marches, which have supported the hard-won successes celebrated in the article. It has taken all of us a long time, much hard work and determination to move the profession to where it is now. We are at our best when we work together.
In case you need a picture for any future article, please find attached one from Pride 2016 of me and Lady Justice Madge – my Jack Russell. All rights reserved!
Simon Robinson, Barrister, 5 Paper Buildings, London EC4