Headlines: July 1st, 2004

More flexible working for judges is one of the measures the government is considering in its efforts to increase diversity at the top of the legal profession. A consultation paper to be circulated in the autumn will call for views on this idea and a range of other proposals.The project is being led by Lord Filkin, Diversity Minister at the Department for Constitutional Affairs. He wants there to be a radical look at what is needed to make the pool from which judicial applicants are drawn as wide as possible. One aim is to build on existing initiatives to improve the diversity of the bench. They include the judicial work-shadowing scheme for would-be applicants, changes to age limits, involving independent lay members in sifting and interviewing for office and the publication of an annual judicial appointments report.

The DCA has been working closely with a range of interested organisations and a series of focus groups have taken place in the last few weeks to try to identify and overcome the barriers that deter people from pursuing a judicial office. A conference yesterday brought together around 50 of the people who had attended the focus groups to discuss priorities for the government and the legal profession.

Lord Filkin told them that judicial appointments had to be made on merit but the government was committed to improving diversity within the judiciary so that it reflected the diversity of the nation. “The Judicial Appointments Commission proposed in current legislation is, of course, an important step towards achieving this goal. But there is further important work that can and should be done now to ensure that people with a range of backgrounds and experience are available for consideration, ” he said.

Groups represented at the conference included the Law Society, the Bar Council, the Institute of Legal Executives, the Group for Solicitors with Disabilities, the Association of Women Barristers, the Society of Asian Lawyers, the UK Association of Women Judges and the Society of Black Lawyers.