Senior Appointments Commissioners are expected to be grilled tomorrow over allegations that seasoned women and ethnic minority candidates are being passed over to senior positions in favor of inexperienced but well-connected “traditional” candidates.
Eight anonymous acting judges wrote to the Commons’ Judiciary Special Committee in April alleging that the JAC had violated its legal obligation to ensure that judges are appointed solely on merit.
The letter states: “We continue to see that the upper echelons of the judiciary come from wealthy ‘traditional’ backgrounds, drawn from the high-income parts of the legal sector that are well-connected and often straight into senior positions outside the judiciary, while having minimal experience in the judiciary, women, ethnic minorities and other “non-traditional” candidates with real expertise are all too often passed over and made no headway in lower courts. ‘
The anonymous judges claimed that the JAC had “totally failed” in its goals of eliminating so-called “secret probes”, in which judges were selected on the basis of whether they were well received by colleagues.
Tomorrow the committee will interview JAC Chairman Lord Kakkar, Board Chairman Richard Jarvis, and Attorney Sarah Lee, a judicial officer nomination officer, on the diversity of the judiciary. In its announcement for tomorrow’s meeting, the committee mentioned “recent allegations of systemic discrimination and bullying at the highest levels of the judiciary, causing BAME judges to miss senior positions”.
In response to the letter, the JAC stated that its selection process is subject to periodic independent review, it is required by law to consult a “legal advisor” before making appointment recommendations and responses, which are an aspect of the selection process, must be objective and based based on evidence.
The committee is also expected to ask the JAC what progress has been made in improving diversity. Statistics for 2020 show that 8% of court judges and 4% of Supreme Court judges or higher describe themselves as Black, Asian, or ethnic minority, compared to around 13% of the population aged 25 to 69. Women make up just over half of the population aged 25-69, but 32% of court judges and 26% of the high court or above.