A more diverse judiciary would improve public trust and confidence in the justice system, the House of Lords Constitution Committee has said.
A new report on Judicial Appointments shows that in 2011 only 5.1% of judges were Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) and just 22.3% were women.
The Committee stressed that diversity incorporates a number of other elements including disability, sexual orientation, legal profession and social background.
In the report, the Committee rejected any notion that those from under-represented groups are less worthy candidates or that a more diverse judiciary would undermine the quality of our judges.
The Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice should have a duty to encourage diversity amongst the judiciary as the Judicial Appointments Committee (JAC) does currently, the Committee recommended.
While appointment based on merit is vital and should continue, the Committee supported the application of section 159 of the Equalities Act 2010 to judicial appointments. This would allow the desire to encourage diversity to be a relevant factor where two candidates are found to be of equal merit.
The Committee also recommended that opportunities for flexible working and the taking of career breaks within the judiciary be made more widely available to encourage applications from women and others with caring responsibilities.
The Committee also called for a greater commitment on the part of the Government, the judiciary and the legal professions to encourage applications for the judiciary from lawyers other than barristers. Being a good barrister is not necessarily the same thing as being a good judge, the Committee said.
For now, the Committee does not support the introduction of targets for the number of BAME and women judges. It, however, said that this should be looked at again in five years if significant progress has not been made.
Commenting on the report, Baroness Jay, Chairman of the Committee, said: "It is vital that the public have confidence in our judiciary. One aspect of ensuring that confidence is a more diverse judiciary that more fully reflects the wider population. That even by 2011 only 5% of judges were from minority groups and only 22% were women suggest there is still work to be done in this area.”
While stressing the importance of appointing judges on merit, Baroness Jay said they felt some steps could be taken to promote diversity without undermining that principle. “Requiring the Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice to encourage diversity and supporting flexible working within the judiciary would be a good start. It is also important that solicitors, who are a more representative group of society than barristers, do not face any impediments to a career in the judiciary,” Baroness Jay said.