FOR THE last 10 years there have been annual reports from the Judicial Appointments Commission and the Ministry of Justice on the composition of the judiciary and magistrates looking at factors including gender, ethnicity and professional background.
Before these statistics we were told that the reason for few Black judges was because we did not apply or too early in their career.
A lot of work was put into highlighting and promoting the opportunities, including roadshows.
The result is that, year on year, statistics now show that the number of Black applicants is very high while the recommendations for appointment are disproportionately low.
Today, Black solicitors and barristers are least likely to be recommended for judicial appointment regardless of seniority, yet the age profile of other appointees has reduced.
There continues to be unexplained barriers to appointment, little assurance that judicial appointment is only based on merit and the ethnicity of the judiciary has not shown any marked improvement over the last 10 years. This is despite an Appointments Commission which is supposed to promote diversity.
The most recent published statistics by the Solicitors Regulation Authority for 2018 show that the proportion of Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) lawyers working in law firms is 21 per cent.
Black lawyers make up three per cent, lawyers from multiple/mixed ethnicity two per cent and other ethnic groups one per cent. It is reasonable to expect to see these figures reflected in current judicial statistics. They are not.
When the reports come out there is focus on the increased number of women appointed, but little said about the lack of ethnic diversity.
There are few Black and Asian district judges (magistrates) and lay magistrates, yet it is now proposed to increase the retirement age.
The consultation posed questions that assume the current retirement age has an impact on the attraction of a judicial career, retention of those re-
cruited and confidence in the judiciary.
But who is being put off? Not Black applicants.
As important should be that our judges reflect and include the diversity of the population, including race and class.
When the annual reports come out there is usually focus on the increased number of women appointed, but little said about the marked lack of ethnic diversity.
Little attention is paid to lay magistrate appointments, the local advisory panels and the distinct lack of ethnic and social diversity in these very important roles that can change the life course and chances of those they judge.
There seems little understanding of so-called non-traditional backgrounds and skills which are in fact necessary in a modern judiciary and the appointment system seems unable to recognise potential and talent.
Judges can already continue until the age of 72. The proposal is to increase to 75 though the government’s own figures show a large number of potential judges are being turned away. The exercise is really about the High Court and above, but an unintended consequence that the majority of judges below that level continue not to reflective of modern society.
People will say the colour or gender of a judge does not matter. In a perfect world, it would not – however, it is not perfect.
Humans have preferences and biases, conscious or otherwise. Diversity of thinking matters. There is a wide body of evidence that diverse boards and organisations make better decisions and improve business performance.
There is no reason why this would be different for judges. It is why Marcus Rashford, is so passionate about providing free school meals for children in need during the school holidays.
He has a lived experience that he brings to the conversation. It also explains why, during Black History Month and despite so many organisations starting to understand and speak out about the effects of colonialism, structural racism and social inequality, constant microaggression on mental health, we saw two Black women standing up in the House of Parliament one defending and the other opposing teaching Black history as an integral part of the National Curriculum.
Changes to the national curriculum would show that Black history did not start with World War One and Windrush and that it is offensive to some “Chinese” people to suggest that they do not experience or feel oppression.
There are many and little advertised opportunities to be involved in public life and make a difference where it matters even while carrying on a different day job. There are roles for non-legal members in many tribunals, such as employment, mental health, property, tax and social entitlement. Some require a professional background, some just the University of life and community experience. Ministry of Justice figures show there are around three magistrates (14,348) in England and Wales for every judge and tribunal legal member.
They are drawn from the local area and play a vital role in the administration of justice as all criminal cases begin in a Magistrates Court. They have the power to detain and imprison and also deal with family and childcare. Issues that daily affect millions of people.
The roles in the tribunal are paid. Magistrates receive expenses.
All these jobs are part time, and you can choose to work as is convenient to you, usually a minimum of 15 days a year. In some cases your employer has to give you time off.
Forthcoming vacancies for tribunals are advertised by the Judicial Appointments Commission. You can register on its website to be notified of upcoming competitions.
There is a shortage of magistrates. Appointments are dealt with by the advisory committee of your local court made up of existing magistrates and lay magistrates. The minimum age for magistrates is 18.
Before applying you should try to visit your local court if possible. See me. Be me.
Cordella Bart-Stewart is a solicitor, director and co-founder of Black Solicitors Network and Council Member of the Law Society of England and Wales.