The judiciary would be more diverse today if judges were selected with the 'old tap on the shoulder' system, Labour's David Lammy has told MPs, expressing frustration at the lack of progress that has been made since his landmark race review was published.
Lammy was commissioned by former prime minister David Cameron to lead an independent review of the treatment and outcomes for black, asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people in the criminal justice system. His final report, published in September 2017, made 35 recommendations.
In his report Lammy decided not to recommend diversity quotas, but he told the House of Commons justice select committee that he recommended a 'pretty tame' target, which he said was subsequently rejected by the government and the Judicial Appointments Commission. 'I think that's a mistake and we will make very, very slow progress on diversity,' he said.
Asked whether the government should introduce diversity targets, Lammy replied 'absolutely', telling the committee that progress since his review was published 'has been snail like'.
He said: 'The Judicial Appointments Commission and judges will say "we have to appoint on merit". I wish they would not keep repeating that. None of us think we should not be appointing on merit. But I think we push back quite hard that we do not believe...merit is not found amongst women, amongst ethnic minorities.'
When conducting his review, Lammy found a 'disproportionate drop off' between BAME and white applicants at every stage of a judicial appointments exercise. When he asked the Judicial Appointments Commission to explain this, he said he 'detected a degree of complacency in the system'.
He said: 'Had we stuck with the old tap on the shoulder we would have more diversity today than...the situation we have set up... that still weeds out ethnic minority candidates'.
Concerned how remote magistrates' courts are from communities, Lammy asked why, for instance, Highbury Magistrates' Court in north London could not sit for one day a month, three miles away, at the community centre in the Broadwater Farm Estate. 'How is that expensive?' he asked. When the committee's chair, Bob Neill, raised the issue of security, Lammy responded: 'If MPs can do their surgeries in these estates, with the security issues there are for members of parliament, I think magistrates can do the same.'
Asked how technology can help, Lammy questioned why judges' sentencing remarks cannot be recorded in the same way that Hansard records MPs' comments in parliament.