Shadow justice secretary David Lammy MP has stressed the need for judicial diversity targets – and said quotas could be necessary if progress remains slow.
Speaking at the annual bar conference, Lammy, a barrister at Doughty Street Chambers, said he was ‘disappointed’ by the government’s rejection of judicial targets and said he planned to look closely at the operations of the Judicial Appointments Committee.
‘I was also disappointed that there was a lot of emphasis on the pipeline, as I didn't recognise that in the evidence… I don't think it's about applications, frankly. It's about the recruitment. It's about getting through the process. It's about how the Judicial Appointments Commission is really functioning and how seriously it is taking its mandate,’ Lammy said.
‘I will be looking quite closely at the Judicial Appointments Commission and whether it's actually working effectively, because sadly when I took evidence they could not explain the anomalies that I listed in my review as to why there were applications that were being made by black Asian and minority ethnic lawyers - many of them with sufficient seniority - but they weren't making it through.’
He added: 'I definitely believe in targets. That's what I said in my review I've not moved away from that.’
Asked why he favours targets over quotas, Lammy said: ‘It may well be if we don't see progress in this area over the next three or four years that we do get to a place where quotas are necessary. But I don't think I'm going to determine that here in 2020 when we're four years away from the next general election.’
Earlier this week, a study by the Black Barristers’ Network found that over half of barristers surveyed believed their experiences before judges, magistrates and panel members had been negatively affected by their race. Just 14% of respondents said they had not found this to be the case.
On access to justice, Lammy told the conference that the legal aid system is in ‘dire state’.
‘We've got massive advice deserts across the country; we've got morale on its knees amongst barristers and solicitors; we've got an ageing profile of practitioners; we've got law centres at a low ebb, people representing themselves and frankly the honourable tradition in Article 6 of access to justice and fairness is in peril for much of the population.’