A former High Court judge has urged caution on introducing quotas to tackle the lack of gender diversity in the legal profession.

Dame Linda Dobbs DBE (pictured), the UK’s first non-white High Court judge, told an Association of Women Solicitors event last week that she did not believe in quotas.

‘Not at the moment’, she added. ‘I do not think enough has been done yet without going as far as quotas.

‘Quotas have potential problems but there may come a time when we say “we have got no alternative”… The figures have not changed that much.’

Dobbs said there was around a 50/50 gender split among new entrants to the professions. ‘Then about five to seven years later [there is a] huge attrition rate, and then it gets greater as you go on. What’s to be done about it?’

Noting that some firms had diversity targets, she told the association: ‘If your firm does not have them, you should be pushing for them. It means it’s on the agenda all the time. Someone has got responsibility to achieve those targets, so it’s a boardroom issue.’

Dobbs said leadership at the top was ‘absolutely key’, whether it was parliament, the lord chief justice or a firm’s senior partner.

She said the present lord chief justice of England and Wales, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, was ‘very keen’ on diversity in the judiciary. ‘Together with Lady Justice Hallett they’re really trying hard.’

Describing quotas as an ‘emotive’ issue, Dobbs said: ‘If you are going to go down that route, you have got to have a good system of support to make sure those people who carry out what it is you want them to carry out.’

Gender diversity was back on the government’s agenda this week. Yesterday HM Treasury unveiled a new charter to improve gender diversity in senior positions within the financial services sector.

Meanwhile Sir Philip Hampton, chair of GlaxoSmithKline and former chair of RBS and Sainsbury’s, is leading an ‘independent review’ to increase the number of women at executive level of FTSE 350 companies. 

The review continues on from the work of the Davies review, which was originally set up to increase the number of women on boards. The latter, led by Lord Davies of Abersoch, saw female representation on the FTSE 100 more than double to 26% in less than five years. 

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