The UK’s most senior judge, Lord Neuberger, has announced he will retire next summer and signalled the launch of a judicial appointments process that could – through offering flexible working practices – improve diversity on the supreme court bench.
Confirming his departure, Neuberger, the president of the court, who is now 68, said that six new justices would be appointed over the next 18 months.
There are normally 12 members of the supreme court. Only one, Lady Hale, the deputy president, is a woman. All are white. Only two of the present justices were not privately educated.
Criticism of the composition of the judiciary has been mounting due to the fact that there are still relatively few senior female judges and only five high court judges from ethnic minority backgrounds. The justice secretary, Liz Truss, has pledged to introduce measures to improve diversity on the benches.
In a speech to the Bar Council on Monday evening, Neuberger confirmed that he and Lord Clarke, another supreme court justice, would step down next summer. Lord Toulson retired in July but has not yet been replaced. Lords Hughes, Mance and Sumption will leave in 2018.
In an attempt to improve diversity, Neuberger said there would be half-day “insight sessions” offered to prospective candidates where they would be given a tour of the court, allowed to spend time observing proceedings, and offered a private meeting with a current supreme court justice.
The appointments will be in two batches of three positions each, to improve the chances of recruiting from a wider background. Information on “flexible working” would be offered in the job information pack for the first time.
Neuberger said that he and Hale “wanted to have two composite recruitment competitions, one starting early next year to recruit three new justices, and the other starting in the first half of 2018 to recruit another three new justices”.
“This has the advantages of much better use of time,” he said, “and much less of a burden on candidates. Even more importantly, it improves the prospect of a more diverse and more coherent recruitment to the court.
“The higher echelons of the judiciary in the United Kingdom suffer from a marked lack of diversity and here I must admit the supreme court does not score at all well.
“We have one white woman and 10 white men, and, although two of the 11 were not privately educated, none of us come from disadvantaged backgrounds.”
Candidates are chosen on merit, but where there are two candidates of an equal standard there is provision for the one from a less represented background to be the one selected.
The post of lord chief justice, currently held by Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, is also likely to fall vacant next year. Judges have to retire at the age of 70 unless appointed before 1995.
Among the women whose names have been suggested as possible candidates for promotion is Lady Justice Hallett, an appeal court judge.
Welcoming Neuberger’s announcement, Truss said: “The supreme court makes an immense contribution to our constitution, hearing cases of the utmost importance that impact upon the entire population. It is right that such a crucial institution taps into all the talents of our country.
“That is why I wholeheartedly support the steps the court is taking to introduce a more flexible and open appointment process for supreme court judges. I urge people with the right qualities from all backgrounds to apply for these important positions.”
The chairman of the bar, Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC, said: “The Bar Council and the bar will continue to support and work with the judiciary to raise awareness of judicial career opportunities to a wide talent pool, building on the substantial commitment we have made to ensure that the bar and the judiciary reflect more broadly the society they serve.
“We already work closely with the Judicial Diversity Forum and the Judicial Appointments Commission. In addition, our existing Bar Mentoring Service is available to support those seeking judicial appointments from the bar. There is more to be done, and a collective effort from the bar, judiciary, lord chancellor and other parts of the legal sector will be essential to making a difference.”
Source: The Guardian – https://www.theguardian.com/law/2016/nov/21/lord-neuberger-uks-top-judge-unveils-supreme-court-diversity-plan-retirement
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