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Judicial diversity: Lords call for positive discrimination and targets

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The Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice should be under an obligation to encourage diversity in Britain’s judicial appointments – and targets for women and ethnic minority appointments should be set if diversity is not improved within five years, according to a House of Lords Committee.

Minorities should be given priority when the choice of appointee is between equally qualified candidates, says the report by the Lords Constitution Committee. Dubbed the “tipping point” procedure by the Lord Chancellor, Kenneth Clarke, it would utilise Section 159 of the Equality Act 2010 which allows an element of positive discrimination where candidates are equally qualified. It cannot be used for judicial appointments, some argue, since judges must be appointed “solely on merit”, according to s.63 (2) of the 2005 Constitutional Reform Act (as explained here).

‘We do not consider that the concept of merit should be narrowly focused on intellectual rigour … a more diverse judiciary can bring different perspectives to bear on the development of the law and to the concept of justice itself’ Lords Constitution Committee

The committee’s report wants changes in the career structure for the judiciary as well as in work conditions – allowing more part time working and careers breaks as well as encouraging non-barristers to apply for higher judicial posts. The committee, in a series of hearings (all reported on Alrich’s Weblog), has heard calls for a more structured career option for judges, drawing on the skills of lower tier tribunal judges and chairs as well as advocates and also putting in place formal appraisal procedures and career development. Retirement age for Court of Appeal and UK Supreme Court judges should rise to 75 in part to give opportunities later in life to those who haven’t followed a conventional career.

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Kenneth Clarke: there should be a positive duty to appoint women and ethnic minority judges

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Kenneth Clarke, the Justice Secretary, has announced a plan for “positive action” in judicial appointments to favour women and members of ethnic minorities and promote diversity. He wants to put an obligation into the appointments procedure to choose a person from an under-represented group when there are candidates of equal merit and increase posts for part-time judges.

Clarke told Woman’s Hour: “One of the more straightforward things I’m suggesting is that we enshrine in law for the resolution of doubt that other things being equal when you have two candidates of equal merit, you should prefer the under-represented group . There’s nothing wrong in that.”

The announcement suggests he will go further than Labour’s Equality Act of 2010, which allows employers, if they want, to choose a candidate from an underrepresented group in “tie-break” situations (see guidance note below). He envisages a change in the law for a “tie-break provision” making positive action in such cases obligatory for judicial appointments. Read the rest of this entry

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