As Chair of the Judicial Diversity Committee of the Judges’ Council I am pleased to introduce the April 2018 – March 2019 annual progress report. The report also includes our Action Plan for the 12 months ahead.
This has been another busy year, with judges drawn from across the Courts and Tribunals working towards a more diverse judiciary, reflective of the public we serve. Our efforts include building on existing initiatives such as the judicial work shadowing and mentoring schemes (which have been reviewed and refined) as well as introducing new initiatives such as a major project to increase our engagement with schools, launched by the Lord Chief Justice in June 2018 in Suffolk.
More judges are now going into schools and more children are visiting the courts and tribunals to gain a deeper understanding of the justice system. We have been working closely with those involved in public legal education to engage effectively with schools and to deliver key messages about the judiciary and what it is to be a judge. We also wish to make young people aware of the wide range of careers that are available to them in the law.
Our cadre of Diversity and Community Relations Judges who work across England and Wales have continued to be active not just with schools but in assisting legal professionals from under-represented groups to prepare for judicial application, speaking to colleges and universities, offering marshalling opportunities to individuals, undertaking a wide range of community engagement in their respective areas and working with their peers on diversity issues.
Many other judges and magistrates are doing similar work, primarily in a voluntary capacity. This includes programmes such as the students’ pre-university court exposure programme (SPRUCE) in Bradford and the Judicial Awareness Course offered to students in Bristol and the South West. Judges have also contributed to the National Bar mock trials which culminated in a grand finale in Edinburgh this year.
We have also been heavily involved in the development of the Diversity Forum’s PAJE programme designed to provide lawyers from diverse backgrounds with support and guidance on how to apply to become a judge.
Appointment of a judge will always be on merit but we hope that initiatives such as these will provide possible applicants with the confidence and knowledge they need to make a successful application.
This year marks 100 years since the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, which made it possible for women to qualify as barristers or solicitors for the first time. I have been reflecting on my own legal career and the improvements that I have witnessed over the last fifty years. Great strides have been made and improved understanding, flexible working and technology will assist this further, but there remains much to be done. Although I retire later this year and this will be my last report as Chair of the Committee, I am entirely confident that the work will continue apace. I know that my successor will enjoy the full support that I have enjoyed from Judicial Office and from the hundreds of judges across the country fully committed to the promotion of diversity on the bench.
Lady Justice Heather Hallett
Chair of the Judicial Diversity Committee of the Judges’ Council