A career judiciary could be one way to get more women, solicitors, ethnic minorities and those from poorer backgrounds to become judges, the president of the Supreme Court has suggested.
Lord Neuberger said a combination of recruitment from the bar, and a lack of strategy, has resulted in a judiciary that is ‘male, white, educated at public school, and from the upper middle and middle classes’.
‘It isn’t very diverse’, he said, and unless something is done to improve it, the rate of progress of will be ‘too slow’.
In an interview for the UK Supreme Court blog, he said a career judiciary with a potential fast-track could be an option to improve the situation.
At the age of 35, a lawyer, he suggested, could become a junior tribunal member or a district judge and then work their way up.
‘Now it’s a very difficult exercise because it’s important to make sure others coming from a more traditional career aren’t then overlooked. But the thing that the judiciary needs to do is go out and encourage more people generally to consider being a judge as an option for them,’ he said.
Neuberger said there is ‘scope for more solicitors to be judges’, but noted the age-old problem of the demands of working in firms reluctant to let solicitors take time off from fee-earning.
He recalled stories of solicitors who wanted to start sitting as judges and who were then ‘frozen out’ of various roles and opportunities at their firms.
Blaming the ‘curse of the hourly rate’, he said: ‘It’s a cut-throat world out there. Law firms are full of honeyed words about how they’re going to allow their solicitors to be deputies or recorders but it ain’t going to happen. I get the impression that City firms want their associates to be available 24/7, sometimes 36/7,’ said Neuberger.
Neuberger also warned that the cuts to legal aid, making litigants in person ‘increasingly prevalent’ in court, will make a judge’s life ‘less attractive’ and make it ‘more difficult’ to recruit good people.
With judges increasingly involved in cases with unrepresented parties, Neuberger said people will get ‘less good justice’.
‘However much judges try and help and however good they are, it’s much better under our system to have both parties represented,’ he said.
On the Human Rights Act, he said judges had initially behaved like ‘children with a new toy’.
‘I think we got very excited about the act and sometimes not about the common law.’ But he said the two things are not antithetical and should ‘march together’.
The courts, he said, should be ‘very aware’ of what Strasbourg’s position is and ‘think long and hard before departing from what they say’ in order to maintain consistency in Europe to set an example to other countries.
‘If we go too far from Strasbourg it will be used by more oppressive regimes to try and say “look – even the British aren’t according human rights proper respect”.’