Judicial appointments system failing ethnic minorities

Only 8% of all judges are from ethnic minorities
Kathy deWitt / Alamy Stock Photo

Eight judges are calling for a parliamentary investigation into “systemic” discrimination against ethnic minorities, claiming that bullying and biased governance structures prevent black and ethnic minority judges from reaching the top jobs.

The group of judges wrote a letter to the Justice Select Committee that was shared with the Sunday Times but asked to remain anonymous as the judges are not allowed to speak out against the legal system.

They called for an investigation into “structures of discrimination, bullying and governance within the judiciary and the system for appointing and promoting judges” and criticized the commission for appointing judicial officers for favoring candidates “from a wealthy traditional background” are well connected.

The group of judges also reported seeing racist behavior towards lawyers and defendants from ethnic minorities.

This included a white judge mimicking a witness of Chinese origin, using racist words and hands to distort eyes, and another judge making racist remarks and mimicking the accent of an Asian lawyer during private conversations.

Other examples have been immigration judges who boast of rejecting asylum applications and a prevailing system of “secret probes” in which judges discuss candidates for the bank. The group called this an “old boys network” and a “breeding ground for discrimination”.

The JAC itself was established in 2006 to avoid nepotism and lawsuits such as secret explorations where judges discuss applicants’ suitability behind closed doors and without public scrutiny. In this regard, the group said that “the JAC has completely failed to achieve its goals”.

The JAC launched a recruiting campaign in 2018 to recruit more than 50 new judges as there was a backlog in labor court cases.

Last year, 33% of white candidates who ran for all judicial posts were shortlisted, compared with 16% of ethnic minority candidates. This is evident from JAC data cited by the group of judges.

They said a quarter of applicants were from non-white backgrounds last year, but most were turned down early.

Figures show that ethnic minority judges make up only 3% of appeals court judges (there is only one), 4% of supreme court judges, 4% of circuit court judges, and 8% of all court judges. Ethnic minorities make up 14% of the population.

“A non-white candidate is 75% less likely to get the job of deputy Supreme Court judge than a white person, and the success rate for the recorder commissioner job – ultimately a deputy senior judge in the crown or county Court – is 59% lower than that of a white person, ”the group claimed.

They said a number of judges have been sick, ostracized, and even considered self-harm if they raised concerns about the lack of diversity while others felt the need to remain silent.

A Justice Bureau spokesman told The Times: “Every case of bullying discrimination or harassment is a serious problem, especially for the senior judiciary, who have said they will ensure they thoroughly investigate all allegations.”

The JAC responded that it was “heavily involved in recruiting talented candidates from various backgrounds as judges” and that it had launched a targeted contact program in the fall of 2020 to attract candidates from under-represented groups.

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