The lord chief justice managed to identify a few signs of progress in his speech last week bemoaning the continued dominance of privately educated white males in the higher ranks of the profession. While over the past century the pace towards a diverse profession has been ‘painfully and disappointingly’ slow, Lord Burnett of Maldon was able to find examples of how far the judiciary had travelled.

For example we are a long way from the days of Lord Halsbury, of the eponymous Statutes, who as lord chancellor was prone to picking the judiciary from friends and relations. Among his appointments was the home secretary’s brother ‘an accomplished scholar, having been a fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, but by common consent an absolutely terrible judge’. 

Fast-forwarding to the 1960s, Lord Burnett found a ‘kernel of truth’ in satirist Peter Cook’s creation E.L. Wisty lamenting the fact that ‘I could have been a judge but never had the Latin. I never had it, so I’d had it, as far as being a judge was concerned.’ 

‘I would much prefer to be a judge than a coal miner because of the absence of falling coal,’ Cook’s character concluded. And indeed the absence of falling coal is still a positive aspect of a career on the bench. 

Alas Obiter was unable to attend the speech, so does not know if, in reciting the quote, the lord chief attempted Cook’s distinctive E.L. Wisty accent. Can any reader help?