Supreme Court to try “boost diversity” after resignation leaves one woman and no BAME judges

Mason Boycott-Owen
·4-min read
Lady Black of Derwent will step down in the new year - UK Supreme Court/Kevin Leighto
Lady Black of Derwent will step down in the new year - UK Supreme Court/Kevin Leighto

The Supreme Court is seeking a minority justice to “boost diversity of decision makers” to find a replacement for Lady Black.

Her retirement means that the UK's highest court now only has one woman as well as no BAME representation.

The Court has urged the “widest range of applicants eligible to apply” as women and ethnic minorities continue to be underrepresented in the highest judicial roles.

Lady Black of Derwent, 66, will be retiring over the Christmas break, after 21 years as a judge, but could have remained a member of the UK’s highest court until 2024.

The Court said: “While the successful applicant will be selected on merit, ‘if the commission considers two persons to be of equal merit, it may prefer one of them over the other for the purpose of increasing diversity within the court.”

The application pack for applicants added that: “The selection commission welcomes applications from the widest range of applicants eligible to apply, and particularly encourages applications from those who would increase the diversity of the court, bearing in mind that Lady Black’s retirement will leave the court with only one female justice and without any from a black or Asian ethnic background.”

In 2017 Lady Justice Black became the second female judge of the Supreme Court after Lady Hale who served as president until her retirement in January this year.

Lady Black announced her retirement in October after which she will step down in January next year.

Her retirement will mean that Lady Arden will be the only woman left on the Supreme Court, the other ten are all white men.

A report on the diversity of the judiciary by the Ministry of Justice earlier this year found that although the proportion of female judges was increasing, women were still underrepresented in the courts, accounting only for 32 per cent of judges and 26 per cent of High Court roles or higher.

Court judges from BAME backgrounds only represent 8 per cent of court judges, rising only one per cent since last year.

Law Society president Simon Davis said the diverse pool of applicants was good news but it was “particularly disappointing then to see the present disparity of successful outcomes.”

The current salary for a Supreme Court justice is over £230,000, with applicants having to hold a high judicial office for at least two years, or have been a qualifying practitioner for at least 15 years

Though there is no age threshold for applicants, justices are required to retire at the age of 70.

Shortlisting for the role is due to take place next month.

Reacting to the news, legal professionals said that the announcement was disappointing, and that the judiciary was struggling to retain qualified women.

Dinah Rose QC, President of Magdalen College, Oxford, said: “Lady Black is retiring from the Supreme Court after only three years, aged 66. That leaves only one woman on the all-white Court. Very disappointing.

“The Court's genuine desire to improve its diversity remains hamstrung by its appointments system, in my view.”

Harini Iyengar, who sits on the retention panel for the Bar Council, said: “We have all known for years that the Bar has a problem retaining experienced, qualified, skilled women barristers in the profession.

“It’s tragic to discover the Supreme Court has a retention problem too, with Lady Black retiring early at 66.”

It comes as court officials were last month forced to apologise to a black barrister who was repeatedly mistaken for a defendant three times in one day.

Criminal and family lawyer Alexandra Wilson, 25, said that she was quite often mistaken for a defendant.

Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) apologised for the "totally unacceptable behaviour.”

 

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated that the Supreme Court will discriminate positively in its selection of a new Justice. Is it in fact the Selection Commission under the Lord Chancellor that recruits the new Justice. It is only when two candidates are of equal merit that the commission may prefer one over the other for the purpose of increasing diversity