Racial diversity in judiciary overestimated

Racial diversity in the senior judiciary has been overestimated, according to research from Queen Mary, University of London (QMUL).

Recent government figures have suggested a change to the historic racial homogeneity of judges in the High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court. But researchers from QMUL have now shown those figures to be innaccurate.

In 2003, every judge in the High Court or more senior courts was white but in 2012, four members of the judicary identified themselves as ‘black, Asian and minority ethnic’ (BAME), according to a House of Lords Select Committe on the Constitution report, figures which Lord McNally cited when answering a parliamentary question on judicial diversity.

Professor of labour law Lizzie Barmes and professor of law Kate Malleson, authors of the research, state: “On the surface, this shift indicates some 2.5 per cent of the senior judiciary is now from black or ethnic minority communities; reflecting the make-up of the population more closely than can be said of the present number of female judges.”

However, only Dame Linda Dobbs and Sir Rabinder Singh were from a “visible” BAME background.

Barmes and Malleson state: “On close inspection of the statistics, three other judges had identified themselves as being from ‘any other background’. This means they viewed their ethnicity as being distinct from the categories ‘White’, ‘Asian/Asian British’, ‘Black/Black British’, ‘Chinese’ or ‘Mixed’.

“To some extent this situation simply illustrates that ethnic monitoring is fraught with difficulty. People do not fall into neat categories, tick boxes and drop down menus. For some, even the idea of ethnicity itself is problematic.”

They stress: “Such concerns reinforce the case for ethnic monitoring figures to be presented with care and integrity. The Government, in particular, should ensure that it doesn’t imply that there has been more and swifter progress towards inclusiveness than in reality.”

Earlier this week it emerged that of the three newly appointed Supreme Court justices none were women, leaving Lady Hale as the only female in the UK’s highest court (26 February 2013).