UK Supreme Court should be ‘ashamed’ of itself if diversity not improved in next round of appointments says Lady Hale



Lady Hale

The UK Supreme Court’s only female judge has said it should be “ashamed” if it fails to improve diversity in the next round of appointments.

In the last ten years, all justices selected to sit on the court have been privately educated white males, Lady Hale told an audience at Birmingham University.

Her comments come in the wake of an ongoing debate about gender in the judiciary, with Lord Sumption courting controversy recently after he said any attempt to accelerate the process of achieving diversity could result in “appalling consequences” and that it could take 50 years to achieve equality at the highest level.

Speaking about the appointments made since her own in 2004, Lady Hale said: “One might have hoped that the opportunity would have been taken to achieve a more diverse collegium. It has not happened. All of those 13 appointments were men. All were white. All but two went to independent fee-paying schools.

“All but three went to boys’ boarding schools. All but two went to Oxford or Cambridge. All were successful QCs in private practice, although one was a solicitor rather than a barrister.”

Lady Hale acknowledged she shared “the experience of being white and having been to Cambridge” but “in every other of those respects I am different”.

She added: “I went to a state day school, my profession was university teacher and then law commissioner, my specialism was family and social welfare law. How is it that, despite their very different characters and outlooks, they remain such a homogenous group?”

Between September 2016 and December 2018, there will be six vacancies on the court because of retirements.

Regarding this, Lady Hale said: “If we do not manage to achieve a much more diverse court in the process of filling them, we ought to be ashamed of ourselves.”

Curiously, the Supreme Court Justice added that “Excellence is important, though I am embarrassed to claim it.”

She said it bothers her that women fail to apply “for fear of being thought to be appointed just because they are a woman.”

“We early women believed that we were as good as the men and would certainly not be put off in this way. I may well have been appointed because the powers that be realised the need for a woman.

“I am completely unembarrassed about that, because they were right, and I hope that I have justified their confidence in me. I don’t think that all the talk about the best women being deterred is a plot to put them off, but I am sure that they should not be deterred by talk such as this. We owe it to our sex, but also to the future of the law and the legal system, to step up to the plate,” she added.

Lady Hale suggested a search committee could be created to scout out talent and provice experience and encouragement.

She also called for stronger use of the Judicial Appointments Commission’s (JAC) equal merits provision under the Equality Act 2010 which lets selection panels favour a candidate from a less well represented background where there are two.