Solicitors are significantly less likely to be appointed judges than barristers even though more solicitors than barristers are applying for posts, according to a landmark diversity report published today.

The Judicial Diversity Forum report, published on the Ministry of Justice website, states that statisticians are ‘confident a disparity of practical significance exists between solicitors and barristers’ across all legal exercises carried out in 2019/20. Candidates who have practised as solicitors were 50% less likely to be successful relative to those who had ever been barristers.

Solicitors were better represented than barristers across all recruitment exercises in 2019/20. Candidates who had ever been solicitors accounted for 58% of applicants. However only 41% were recommended for appointment, compared with 59% of those who had ever been barristers. For applicants who were currently solicitors, the equivalent figure was 33%, compared with 50% for barristers.

Specific analysis of the legal exercises carried out last year shows that the proportion of solicitor-applicants and recommendations is typically higher for the posts requiring five years’ legal experience. Solicitors fare much better in the tribunals, where they represent most of the 63% of tribunal judges from a non-barrister background. 

Statisticians say that although the proportion of women judges is increasing gradually, women remain underrepresented in judicial roles in 2020. In the courts, they represent 32% of all judges and 26% of High Court roles or above – compared with 47% of all tribunal judges.

Black, Asian and minority ethnic people represent 8% of court judges and 12% of tribunal judges - a slight improvement on last year's figures (7% and 11% respectively). In judicial recruitment exercises, 1,849 applicants identified as BAME but only 101 were recommended for appointment. However, statisticians say the association between age and ethnicity - with a lower proportion of BAME individuals at older ages, and more senior judges being older on average - should be borne in mind.

Law Society president Simon Davis said: 'Across all the legal selection exercises run by the Judicial Appointments Commission, women made up 50% of applicants, BAME people accounted for 25% and solicitors for 58%. So the good news is that the pool of applicants is increasingly diverse. It is however particularly disappointing then to see the present disparity of successful outcomes.

'We will work with colleagues from the Judicial Diversity Forum to understand better the reasons for those disparities and to help make sure that application processes are open and fair, while continuing to provide targeted support for solicitors aspiring to judicial office.'

Today’s report is the first of its kind – combining statistics on judicial diversity, the process by which judges are recruited and the diversity of the recruitment pool.

Lord Kakkar, chair of the Judicial Diversity Forum, said the report ‘is important, but not itself the end goal. The data provides the picture that can be used, along with assessments and evaluation, to take action that leads to positive change’.

A diversity update published by the Judicial Appointments Commission alongside today's report states that a separate unit - comprising a JAC staff member and three former commissioners - has been set up to provide advice and guidance to potential candidates from underrepresented groups for specific senior court and tribunal roles.