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Diversity in the judiciary by Clive Coleman on BBC Radio 4 Today Programme

|Judicial diversity|Audio

On  Monday 27 July 2015 Clive Coleman from the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme spoke to judges about diversity in the judiciary. (Copyright BBC)

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John Humphrys, presenter: Judges are white, male and middle-class. Not all of them, it’s true, but far too many. Attempts are being made to make it a more diverse profession. A group of special judges have been appointed to engage with different communities, with the young, and try to increase understanding of what judges do and why it might be a good idea to try to become one. Our legal affairs correspondent, Clive Coleman, has been to a conference for the judges who are trying to tackle this problem.

Clive Coleman, legal affairs correspondent: Yeah, just get a load of that music. I’m in a stately home in the Midlands that was once owned by Danny La Rue. I’m here with a hundred different judges. Now, these are the community and community relations judges. They’re the judges that go out into the community and explain to people just what it is that judges do.

Well, I’ve met Lady Justice Hallett.

Lady Justice Hallett: I’m here because I’m the Lord Chief Justice’s lead on diversity and I’m trying very hard on two fronts. One is to improve the diversity of the bench and the other is to engage and communicate with the community.

JH: A lack of diversity has always been an issue for the judiciary. Overall, it’s just 25% female with less than 6% from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, and those figures are considerably worse at the upper echelons. I asked Lady Justice Hallett why.

LJH: We have an extremely diverse judiciary, if you look across the courts and tribunal system, so I think it’s a case of trying to make sure that we get our diverse judges up through the system through career progression. We are making progress. I think it is slow, certainly not as fast as I would like at the upper levels of judiciary, but we are getting there.

JH: There are more than a hundred of these special diversity and community relations judges across England and Wales. They volunteer for work informing people about what judges are and try to bust the myths and misconceptions about them.

Unnamed man #1, vox pop: I am a normal bloke from Slough, that is very important, because if it is that in certain courts they think they are all very posh, middle-class, old, white men, we’re not, are we?

CC: District judge, Tan Ikram, is the group’s deputy lead. Who does he speak to?

Tan Ikram, district judge: We decided that we wanted to talk to senior Muslim scholars and imams. We invited them to the Central Criminal Court, the Old Bailey, and one of the things that struck me is their comment that ‘nobody has spoken to us before’. And just that process of explaining what we do and why was actually a revelation to some of them, because they had no idea of the parameters in which judges work.

CC: Back in the conference hall, the judges are taking part in a role-play exercise in which they are having to communicate and connect with groups like teenagers and prisoners.

Unnamed woman #2, vox pop: We talked about language. One of the words I used earlier on was ‘inception’, which clearly was a misunderstood word.

CC: Perception, you didn’t like that?

Unnamed man #2, vox pop: I didn’t like that at all, no, I didn’t like perception. You know, what is perception?

Unnamed man #3, vox pop: I think many in prison would struggle to understand what perception means.

CC: But other than that, how is your judge doing?

UM3: Fantastic. I didn’t like that sentence.

Unnamed woman #2, vox pop: That is a day in court where we were told the truth.

Unnamed woman #3: Casey, can you please tell the court why you stole Ben’s mobile phone.

Casey: I didn’t steal it, not really. I went to see some old friends and they just dared me to do it.

CC: With help from the National Centre for Citizenship and the Law, a charity which runs educational programmes about the law, children from St Andrew’s Primary School in Barnsbury North London have come to the Royal Courts of Justice to learn and take part in a mock trial.

Unnamed man #4, vox pop: I think that he definitely did it.

Unnamed man #5, vox pop: I think that he definitely did it. In that case, for you, the verdict of guilty is the correct decision.

CC: And after the verdict, the person being cross-examined is Judge Tan Ikram.

C: Do you ever regret becoming a judge?

TI: I don’t think I do actually. I think it is a very, very different job than being a lawyer. Lawyers have more freedom. I sometimes miss my clients, actually, which is really weird, because one thing I found out even though I was representing people who were accused of some serious crimes, that there was often a really nice side to them. And whilst there was a side which had clearly crossed the line and society wouldn’t have that, you know, you can’t have people who break the rules, but it was just so nice meeting them and talking to them. I don’t have that anymore, because now I sit in the chair, I have to keep my distance. That is the bit I do miss. Would I go back? No, because this is the best job I have ever had.

Sarah Montague, presenter: Clive Coleman reporting there.


(Copyright BBC)