October 22, 2015

The Judiciary: a Man’s Game?

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Currently women make up only 1 out of 12 Supreme Court judges, none of the Heads of Division, only 21% of Court of Appeal Judges and a mere 19% of High Court Judges. Those are the statistics that fuel the growing sentiment that the Judiciary is a ‘men’s game’.

As a result there is an argument, gaining increasing weight of late, that the judicial appointments process should introduce quotas. A quota is a numerical requirement to hire or promote a certain amount of a specific demographic group; the group in this case being women.

Rosemary Martin, group general counsel for Vodafone, said the introduction of quotas is “deeply offensive” but “absolutely essential”.

The debate gained increasing media attention following the comments of Supreme Court Justice Lord Sumption. Sumption, during a London Evening Standard interview, argued a key reason for the lack of women in senior positions is that they are less “prepared to put up” with “poor working conditions” and demanding working hours.

Barrister Charlotte Proudman, in an article for the Guardian, sited “institutional sexism” as the key reason for the lack of women in high positions. She also stated that “[Sumption’s] comments exemplify what is wrong with the way women in the legal profession are viewed by those in the highest echelons of power.” She too pleaded for “the introduction of quotas”

Sir Brian Leveson, President of the Queen’s Bench Division, gave a lecture entitled ‘Justice in the 21st Century’ in the Isle of Man on the 9th of October 2015: in this lecture he argued the use of quotas were “‘antithesis of appointment on merit”. Leveson argued there has been “slow, steady improvement” in making the Judiciary diverse with continual improvements inevitable.

The opening statistics in this article were used as evidence of the current gender inequality within the Judiciary. However, we need not look to far back to find a much bleaker picture. In 2001 6.1% of the Court of Appeal Judges and 8.1% of High Court Judges were female compared to 21% and 19% respectively in 2015. That’s a positive change for equality that has occurred in just 14 years.

In the next 5 years (assuming all Judges continue working until the compulsory retirement age of 70) there will be: 9 Supreme Court vacancies, 4 Heads of Division vacancies and 12 Court of Appeal vacancies.

Even without a quota system; is it un-realistic to think that a more equal percentage of these vacancies will go to women?

In answer to the title question: yes, currently we have a male dominated Judiciary – ‘a man’s game’ if you will – but it seems improbable that ‘the game’ will continue to be played in the same way. If current trends continue, and there is no evidence as to why it should not, then the UK judiciary will continue its movement towards gender equality. A quota system would make said movement fast but would, arguably, diminish the achievements of appointees while simultaneously ignoring the key concept of merit.