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The president of the Supreme Court has set out plans for greater diversity at the top of the British legal system.
In a speech delivered at the Bar Council Law Reform Lecture this week, Lord Neuberger announced that he and fellow Supreme Court Justice Lord Clarke intended to retire by the end of next summer. He said three other Lord Justices will soon reach retirement age.
He said this represented a recruitment opportunity. He said: “The higher echelons of the judiciary in the United Kingdom suffer from a marked lack of diversity and here I must admit the Supreme Court does not score at all well. We have one white woman and 10 white men, and, although two of the 11 were not privately educated, none of us come from disadvantaged backgrounds.”
He said that although that reflected the pool of eligible people 20 or so years ago, there was no room for simply waiting for change to trickle up. The Supreme Court could instead provide leadership on diversity, he said. He stated: “We should do as much as we can in terms of encouraging excellent potential candidates to apply for Supreme Court appointments, in particular from outside the traditional pool – the senior national judiciaries.”
Lord Neuberger commissioned a report on recruitment in 2015 from which proposals for greater diversity have emerged, including offering a half day “insight session”. This would include a tour conducted by a senior member of Court staff, followed by an opportunity to sit in court, and a meeting with a Justice who is not one on the appointment panel. These sessions would be conducted on a one-to-one basis to avoid putting off those who may not want others to know they are thinking of applying and tailored to the applicant. Those interested in such a programme would need to meet the minimum statutory requirements for becoming a Justice, which Lord Neuberger said were not as restrictive as many might imagine, and those who came from an under-represented group would be particularly encouraged.
Further initiatives are likely to be announced once the selection panel has had its planning meeting next month.
Lord Neuberger said he would expect the panel to publish a new policy on implementing the new Equal Merit Provision, based on the work of the Judicial Appointments Commission for England & Wales. He added: “Given that the Supreme Court can now include Justices who want to work part time, I would also expect the Commission to set out guidance on flexible working options in the job information pack. And I would expect wide advertising in print and online when the vacancies become available, with a redesigned advert stressing the fact that the Commission encourages applications from the widest variety of those eligible.”