A new initiative has been launched by the appeal court judge Lady Justice Hallett aimed at giving lawyers and fellow legal professionals the opportunity to work on the High Court benches. It marks a definitive attempt to boost diversity among high court judges with support and mentoring provided to those from ‘non-traditional backgrounds’.
There has been a growing concern over recent years regarding the demographic of the judiciary. Currently, of the 108 high court judges in England and Wales, just 21 are women and only three are from ethnic minority backgrounds. Moreover, there is just one woman out of 12 justices on the Supreme Court. The stereotype of privately educated, white, males dominating the courts is therefore still a relevant one, and questions have been raised as to whether such an unrepresentative body of persons has any place in modern society.
The initiative will be available to anyone with the appropriate legal qualifications, although the preparatory mentoring programme will be restricted to those from ‘non-traditional backgrounds’. It is expected that up to 14 people will be appointed as deputy high court judges from this scheme and prior experience working in the high court will not be necessary. Instead, successful candidates will be given the opportunity to take part in work shadowing and mentoring programmes to prepare themselves for the expectations required by the high court.
Should the initiative prove successful, it would mark a significant development in the evolution of the courts. And whilst there is a clear emphasis on attracting a broader demographic of people, the programme stops short of positive discrimination. Lady Justice Hallett explains, ‘Taking part in the support programme will not guarantee appointment by the Judicial Appointments Commission as a Deputy High Court Judge or success in a subsequent High Court exercise. Appointment is on merit, and rightly so’.
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