Ethnic minority and women applicants to the bench could be chosen ahead of white men of equal merit under a scheme given a final go-ahead by the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) today.

The ‘equal merit provision’ will mean that, in exercises to recruit judges from 1 July, where two or more candidates are of equal merit, a candidate from an under-represented group may be selected on the basis of race or gender.

Under-representation will be determined by reference to national census data and data published by the Judicial Office showing the self-declared diversity of the courts and tribunals judiciary.

The change was enabled by the Crime and Courts Act 2013, which amends the Constitutional Reform Act 2005.

In the JAC’s public consultation last year, 69% of the 49 substantive responses supported the application of the provision and 29% said the commission should not apply it at all.

JAC chairman Christopher Stephens (pictured) said today: ‘The provision gives the JAC another tool to use in continuing to improve the diversity of the judiciary.’

He said: ‘It will not solve the issue of increasing diversity on its own. However, it could make a positive contribution alongside the other efforts of the JAC, the legal profession, government and the judiciary.’

The JAC will take a ‘careful approach’ to implementing the provision, he said, stressing it will continue to select candidates on merit.

From June 2015 the JAC will report in its six-monthly official statistics the number of instances where an individual has been selected following application of the provision.

Justice minister Shailesh Vara welcomed the policy, saying: ‘I am delighted with the hard work the Judicial Appointments Commission has done to devise a process to ensure the application of the equal merit provision. I welcome this start.’

He added: ‘I am also pleased that in the interests of greater diversity as more data becomes available on other protected characteristics, such as disability and sexual orientation, the JAC will consider extending the application of the equal merit provision.’

Law Society president Nicholas Fluck said: ‘The Society works hard to encourage solicitors to consider judicial appointment as a career and we are committed to improving the diversity of the judiciary and therefore supported the inclusion of this provision in the Crime and Courts Act 2013.’

He said: ‘The Society hopes that, into the future, the JAC will be able to extend the diversity characteristics which can be considered, to include, for example, disability and sexual orientation. This is one step in a long-term campaign to achieve a more representative judiciary.'