Supreme Court president Baroness Hale has said the judiciary should be ‘diverse on all fronts’, not just through gender and ethnicity but also in the social and professional background of future appointees.
Hale, a keynote speaker at The Law Society’s Junior Lawyers’ Division (JLD) annual conference this weekend said although there had been moderate success in bringing more women to the bench – a fifth of High Court judges and two Supreme Court judges are now female - the same could not be said for solicitors' representation.
‘Something needs to be done about this,’ she said.
Hale, although a qualified barrister, was an academic at the University of Manchester before her career at the bench. She said: ‘The world is not always is at appears to be through the eyes of barristers.’
Four of the sitting Supreme Court justices started their careers in family law, the noted. ‘It [family] is often seen as the poor relation but perhaps this shows some of the qualities that you need, empathy and social awareness, to be a Supreme Court justice.’
Turning to the gender pay gap debate, which has been particularly under the spotlight following this month’s mandatory reporting deadline for employers, Hale said events in other areas of law, including cuts to legal aid, had disproportionately affected women. She said the gender pay gap is less than it was but is still an issue. ‘Go for it girls, don’t let the men overtake you,’ she added.
Law Society vice president Christina Blacklaws also spoke about the issue, particularly in relation to ensuring women reach senior positions. She noted that although 62% of all new entrants to the profession are now female, only 20% of those will make partnership.
During the afternoon the conference also heard about the JLD’s efforts to tackle stress in the profession and improve wellbeing.
Nick Bloy, a former employment lawyer and founder of Wellbeing Republic and Elizabeth Rimmer, chief executive of legal charity LawCare, which operates a confidential helpline for lawyers, were among the speakers. Rimmer noted that calls related to bullying had increased in the last year.
The JLD’s resilience and wellbeing survey, handed to delegates, reported that 39% of trainees had reported suffering from mental health problems, up from 19% last year. Among JLD members as a whole, 38% of respondents said they had experienced mental health problems in the past year, up from 26% in 2017.
This year’s survey was completed by 959 people, compared with 214 last year, the first year of the exercise.