People from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds are less likely to be successful when applying to become a judge, and only 9% are senior barristers, official figures show.
A Ministry of Justice (MoJ) report said BAME people are “over-represented in applications for judicial appointment” but are “less likely to be successful”.
Women also remain under-represented in the judiciary, particularly in courts, according to the findings.
It comes as industry leaders say the legal profession must diversify to better represent the public and prompted the Government to announce plans to encourage more women, disabled and BAME people to become judges by offering flexible working hours and reviewing eligibility criteria.
The figures published on Thursday were based on data for 16,946 barristers, including 1,904 of the most senior, known as Queen’s Counsel (QCs), 148,284 solicitors, 8,109 chartered legal executives, 3,174 court judges and 1,826 tribunal judges in post as of April 1 2020.
It also looked at information from 37 selection exercises run by the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) in 2019-20, which had 8,258 applicants and 959 recommendations for roles.
The figures showed candidates for judicial appointment identifying as BAME accounted for 25% of applicants, 14% of those shortlisted and 12% of those recommended for appointment.
The report, which the MoJ said was the first of its kind providing the most complete picture ever of diversity in the legal system, said: “Overall, compared to the pool of eligible candidates, success rates for BAME candidates were an estimated 17% lower than for white candidates.”
But it added that this was not deemed “statistically significant”.
Although the proportion of BAME people in the judiciary has increased, it still remains lower in senior court roles, the report said.
Just 8% of court judges (214) and 12% of tribunal judges (197) identified as BAME.
The report found that of those with more than 15 years of legal experience, 14% of barristers (1,181), 12% of solicitors (7,631) and 3% of chartered legal executives (79) identified as BAME.
Only 9% of QCs (166) were from BAME backgrounds and, overall, BAME people continued to be under-represented across more experienced roles in the legal profession.
According to the report, some 32% of court judges (1,027) and 47% of tribunal judges (850) were women.
Of lawyers with more than 15 years legal experience, 32% of all barristers (2,991) including 17% of QCs (321), 43% of solicitors (29,585) and 69% of chartered legal executives (2,353) were women.
The MoJ said there was “no evidence” of disparity for women in judicial selection, with figures showing success rates for women were an estimated 4% lower than for men.
Out of 1,904 senior barristers, known as QCs, 166 were from BAME backgrounds and 321 were women
Out of 3,174 court judges, 214 were from BAME backgrounds and 1,027 were women,
Amanda Pinto QC, chairman of the Bar Council, said the industry must “have a far better reflection of society” so members of the public can be confident in the legal representation they receive.
She told the PA news agency: “I feel extremely strongly that the Bar must diversify.
“We must reflect the society that we serve.
“We aren’t a niche, out-of-touch profession, we’ve got to be a profession that is open to anybody that is good enough and has the desire, and frankly the staying power, to make a career.
“If as a member of the public you can’t work out what it is that they (the Bar) do for you, or lawyers more generally, and you just can’t relate to them at all and you’re in a very difficult position, how on earth are you going to have any kind of confidence that they will be able to represent you?”
Without diversifying, the industry is missing out on a “huge amount of talent”, she warned, adding: “I absolutely believe that we’ve got to change the types of people that come in, that’s not just privileged people, they’ve got to be people from all sorts of walks of life with all sorts of backgrounds.
A new report by the Judicial Diversity Forum sheds light on diversity in the judiciary & the legal professions. It will help better identify challenges & increase the pace of progress.
— Legal Services Board (@LSB_EngandWal) September 17, 2020
“But you’ve got to be given, first of all, the opportunity to get in and then to thrive while you’re here.”
Diversifying the Bar is important as it is the main “feeder” for those who go on to senior roles in the judiciary, she added.
Dr Helen Phillips, chairman of watchdog the Legal Services Board, said the profession needed to better understand the “barriers to entry and progression” and review its approach.
Law Society of England and Wales president Simon Davis said while it was good news the pool of applicants was increasingly diverse, it was “particularly disappointing then to see the present disparity of successful outcomes”.
He pledged to work with the Judicial Diversity Forum – of which the Justice Secretary Robert Buckland and other industry leaders are members – to make sure application processes were “open and fair”.
Mr Buckland said: “Encouraging diversity is vital if we are to have a legal system that truly reflects and represents the range of voices in our society.”