A senior member of the judiciary has branded quotas ‘corrosive’.

Supreme Court justice Lord Hodge (pictured) yesterday told a panel discussion on how men can help women progress that he ‘did not support’ positive discrimination or quotas.

‘I would be very much in favour of doing whatever one can to create opportunities and create genuine equality of opportunity for women and [people from minority ethnic groups] to rise in the profession. If you expand the pool of talent you get the best.’

The speed at which the profession and judiciary were changing was ‘remarkable’, he said. At present, Lady Hale is the only woman among the 12 Supreme Court justices.

‘Most of the bench will change in the next five years,’ Lord Hodge said. ‘I would be astonished if the complexion of the court in my final few years was not different from what it is now.’

‘I think we can deliver change without going down the route of quotas. I think quotas can be corrosive for the individuals appointed as well as those excluded.’

The discussion was part of a conference for the First 100 Years project, supported by the Law Society and Bar Council, charting the journey of women in law since 1919, when the Sex Disqualification (removal) Act enabled women to become lawyers.

Dan Fitz, group general counsel at BT, told the conference he was ‘all for setting targets. I’m not sure parliament should be doing it’.

‘If you accept that everyone is equal before the law, creating a law saying some are more equal than others rankles, even [if it’s] for a defined period of time.’

Malcolm Richardson, incoming chair of the Magistrates Association, said he was ‘not convinced the end, laudable though it is, would justify the means of quotas’.

Richardson said the association had achieved gender equality ‘before the term was coined’, pointing out that 52% of magistrates are women. 

The biggest discrimination the association was seeing, he said, was against employed people being able to take on voluntary part-time positions.

‘That discrimination is disproportionately affecting women,’ Richardson said. ‘[Women] already have to cope with the discrimination that comes with decisions to have children and career breaks, however short that might be.

‘To then go back to the workplace and ask “now consider allowing me to have a [couple of days] a month to go and do something of use to the community”.

‘I can well imagine what the response is going to be by any but the most enlightened employers.’

Gender would also be discussed at the association’s annual meeting on Saturday, Richardson said.

‘In the adult criminal court, it’s suggested best practice that you have at least one man and one woman [on the bench]. In the family court it should be strived for, and there have to be extenuating circumstances for not doing so. In the youth criminal court it’s even more restrictive,’ he explained.

‘There is no requirement to do with ethnicity, age or sexuality. Gender is the only thing.’

Richardson said the association will discuss whether gender should continue to be a ‘unique characteristic’ or should the magistracy have more classifications. ‘Or should we just say they are a good judge, they are not a good judge.’