Senior figures at the Judicial Appointments Commission are expected to be grilled on Tuesday on allegations that experienced women and ethnic minority candidates are being passed over for senior posts in favour of inexperienced but well-connected 'traditional' candidates.
Eight anonymous serving judges wrote to the Commons justice select committee in April alleging that the JAC was failing in its statutory duty to ensure judges were being appointed solely on merit.
The letter said: ‘We continue to see that the upper echelons of the judiciary are drawn from prosperous “traditional” backgrounds coming from the high-earning parts of the legal sector, who are well connected and often appointed directly into senior posts from outside the judiciary, whilst having minimal judicial experience, yet women, ethnic minority and other "non-traditional" candidates with real expertise in lower courts are passed over all too often, and do not progress.'
The anonymous judges claimed the JAC 'wholly failed' in its aims to do away with so-called ‘secret soundings’ whereby judges were selected on the basis of whether they found favour with colleagues.
On Tuesday, the committee will question JAC chair Lord Kakkar, chief executive Richard Jarvis and solicitor Sarah Lee, a judicial appointments commissioner, on judicial diversity. The committee mentioned ‘recent claims of systemic discrimination and bullying at the highest levels of the judiciary causing BAME judges to miss out on senior roles’ in its announcement for tomorrow's session.
The JAC said in response to the letter that its selection process is subject to regular independent review, it is legally required to consult a ‘statutory consultee’ before making appointment recommendations and responses, which are one aspect of the selection process, must be objective and based on evidence.
The committee is also expected to ask the JAC what progress has been made to improve diversity. Statistics for 2020 show that 8% of court judges and 4% of judges for the High Court or above identify as black, Asian or minority ethnic, compared with around 13% of the population aged 25-69. Women account for just over half of the population aged 25-69, but 32% of court judges and 26% for the High Court or above.