The head of law reform and human rights organisation Justice has heavily criticised the lack of diversity in the top echelon of the judiciary.

‘We are shamed’ by the lack of women and ethnic minority judges in the Supreme Court, compared with the US and Canada, Roger Smith told a House of Lords constitution committee hearing on judicial appointments yesterday.

There is only one woman among the 10 UK Supreme Court justices, compared with four out of nine in Canada and four of 12 in the US, he pointed out.

While the quality of judges should not be compromised, Smith stressed, diversity must also be a key factor in the judicial appointments process.

Smith, a Gazette columnist, added: ‘Certainly people want a good judge and have a right to expect that. What you want is a system in which people have confidence. That comes from whether people have won or not; whether a decent job has been done; and [also] comes from the perception of justice.’

Smith’s call for greater diversity in judicial appointments was echoed by Law Society president John Wotton and Bar Council chairman Peter Lodder, who also gave evidence to the committee.

Wotton said the Society is actively encouraging more solicitors to join the judiciary amid concern about the ‘relatively low’ number of solicitors appointed.

He said: ‘I would like to see more good solicitors come through and will be looking at ways of having a dialogue with larger firms to think about how to overcome the loss more creatively; and if it’s possible to achieve flexibility.’

Lodder said the situation will improve in the coming years as advances in the profession as a whole filter through to the judiciary.

‘The professions, both solicitors and barristers, have made efforts to improve the diversity within their own number. It’s very important to recognise that is the basis for much of the judiciary for much of the next 10 to 15 years.’