The judiciary has announced support programmes for helping women and ethnic minorities onto the bench.

The Judicial Diversity Committee will make 30 places available on the course, limited to candidates from areas currently under-represented: women, black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) candidates and those from a less-advantaged background.

The aim is to have candidates better prepared for the High Court judge selection process starting in the new year. The Judicial Appointments Commission hopes to begin this process in January 2017 for vacancies in all three divisions (Queen’s Bench, Family and Chancery).

The programme for potential candidates will involve an intensive one-day workshop on the process itself and the chance to shadow a judge in the High Court.

A judiciary spokesman said: ‘The programme is intended to help candidates make a stronger application to the High Court selection exercise; but once they have completed the programme, they will have to compete on merit with the other applicants for High Court appointment.’

Applications close at midnight on 11 September and candidates will be notified within two weeks.

The lord chief justice has said he is committed to ensuring ‘principles of equality and fair treatment’ apply to all aspects of judicial life.

But the judiciary has come under greater pressure in recent months to make tangible progress in encouraging more diversity among the higher echelons of the profession.

Tottenham MP David Lammy, who is leading a government review of racial bias in the criminal justice system, has told the Gazette his study will focus on judicial diversity.

The percentage of court judges who identify as BAME has fallen in the last year, while the number of female Court of Appeal judges remains the same as last year, at eight out of 39. In the High Court, 22 of 106 judges are women, compared with 21 last year.

The JAC has stated it does not use positive discrimination but instead has a policy of selecting a candidate for the purposes of increasing diversity only where two or more candidates are of equal merit.