A progress report on efforts to improve the diversity of the judiciary has been criticized for failing to provide details on the effectiveness of the judge selection process.
Twelve months after the launch of the Diversity of Justice and Inclusion Strategy, the senior judiciary published the first annual update last week. The strategy lists four main goals that should help increase personal and professional diversity by 2025, including greater diversity in the pool of applicants for justice offices.
The update was released days after Sir Geoffrey Bindman QC, senior consultant at well-known human rights firm Bindmans, explained why in the Gazette Diversity on the bench remains a distant dream.
Bindman, who was once a member of a bar committee considering appointing judges, praised the work done by the strategy. “But when you look at the targets, what you really see is no test of the effectiveness of the selection process in selecting the right people and eliminating discrimination and bias,” he told the Gazette.
The progress report states that the cooperation with the Commission on Judicial Appointments to review and improve selection procedures is “ongoing”.
The commission was set up under the 2005 Constitutional Reform Act. Legislation states that selection must be made “solely on merit”. However, Bindman pointed out that merit is “highly subjective”.
“The JAC has tried to explain what merit means – intellectual capacity, legal knowledge, integrity, fairness, authority, communication skills and efficiency. There are good arguments for lifting the obligation to provide benefits. Instead, the selectors should look for potential. The most promising candidates should then receive the additional training they need for the job. ‘
Commenting on what he would like to see ahead of the second progress report, Bindman said, “I would want a selection approach that emphasizes potential rather than actual performance. I suspect that there are a number of people who would like to become a judge and who have the potential, but do not necessarily have the traditional qualifications that one is looking for in the selection process, such as many years of practical experience.
“I would like a two-stage process: check basic qualifications (legal training) plus potential and then train for a job.”