Solicitors will be encouraged to take advantage of a government-funded education programme designed to encourage greater diversity within the judiciary.

The government has joined forces with the judiciary and the profession's representative bodies - the Law Society, Bar Council and Chartered Institute of Legal Executives - to create the Pre-Application Judicial Education (PJE) programme, unveiled today.

The judiciary has acknowledged that more needs to be done to ensure judges are recruited from the broadest pool of talent.

The education programme will help lawyers to develop their understanding of what is required to be a judge, before they apply. Applicants will be advised on how to prepare for the next step in their career and cover topics such as judgecraft, ethics and resilience. Through online resources and judge-led discussion groups, participants will be able to explore perceived barriers to becoming a judge.

Priority to take part in the discussion groups will be given to lawyers from under-represented groups: women, those with a black, asian or minority ethnic background, those with disabilities, and solicitors and chartered legal executives with a non-litigation background.

Gauke said: 'Encouraging diversity is important in fostering a legal system that better reflects and represents the range of voices in our society. The programme is a positive step forward to support lawyers from all backgrounds, including those from under-represented groups as they aspire towards a judicial career. We are strengthening our world-renowned justice system by drawing on a greater diverse range of knowledge and expertise.'

The Ministry of Justice has committed £152,000 over three years to fund the programme's start-up costs. Forum members will contribute towards further runnning costs.

Law Society president Christina Blacklaws said solicitors 'bring to the bench intellectual rigour and sophisticated interpersonal skills, which will be increasingly valuable as the number of litigants in person in our courts grows'.

Judicial appointments 'should draw on a wide range of backgrounds and experience to send a clear message to everyone from the diverse communities that make up England and Wales that our courts reflect society. This, in turn, helps underpin the perception that the justice system is impartial, balanced and fair', she added.

Earlier this year Labour MP David Lammy, who carried out a high profile review of race and the criminal justice system, told the House of Commons justice select committee that the government should introduce judicial diversity targets, telling MPs that progress since his review was published in 2017 has been 'snail like'.

The lord chief justice has said his scepticism about targets extends to principled opposition to quotas, which he believes are incompatible with appointment on merit or sustaining public confidence in the judiciary.