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25 April 2019

Boosting judicial diversity to better reflect society

Lawyers in England & Wales from underrepresented groups to get improved support to become judges with new online programme.

By Dr David Cowan

Lord Chanceller David Gauke

The Pre-Application Judicial Education (PAJE) programme will help lawyers develop their understanding of the role and skills required of a judge, before they apply. Developed using government funding, the programme is the first joint initiative from the Judicial Diversity Forum (JDF), which aims to encourage diversity within the judiciary.

Exploring barriers

JDF brings together the Judiciary, Ministry of Justice, Judicial Appointments Commission, The Bar Council, The Law Society and the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives. The programme will provide advice to applicants on how to prepare for the next step in their career as well covering a range of topics necessary to being a judge including judgecraft, ethics and resilience. It will deliver a mixture of online resources and discussion groups led by judges, allowing participants to explore perceptions of the barriers to a judicial career. Targeted participants from underrepresented groups will have access to judges who will share their insight into the realities of being a judge and the ways in which participants can try to overcome perceived barriers. Lord Chancellor, David Gauke, said “Encouraging diversity is important in fostering a legal system that better reflects and represents the range of voices in our society.” The PAJE programme is seen as a positive step forward to support lawyers from all backgrounds, including those from underrepresented groups as they aspire towards a judicial career. We are strengthening our world-renowned justice system by drawing on a greater diverse range of knowledge and expertise. Chair of the Bar Council, Richard Atkins QC, said "PAJE is an important initiative for the judiciary and is based on a concept which the Bar Council and its Equality & Diversity and Social Mobility Committee has been keen to progress. It forms part of a wider offering from the Bar aimed specifically at supporting barristers seeking a career as a judge. To see PAJE come to fruition in conjunction with the judiciary and other branches of the legal profession is a positive step towards a more diverse judiciary which reflects the society it serves.

Mutually reinforcing

The Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, Lord Burnett, said “Promoting diversity and appointing on the basis of merit are mutually reinforcing because the wider the pool the greater the availability of talent, the greater the competition for places and the greater the quality of appointments.” Lord Kakkar, Chairman of the Judicial Appointments Commission and the Judicial Diversity Forum, said “Taking the first step towards a judicial role can feel like a big decision. This initiative, which gives priority to those from currently under-represented groups, will help potential candidates understand what is required and be better prepared for judicial appointment.” Law Society president Christina Blacklaws said judicial appointments “should draw on a wide range of backgrounds and experience to send a clear message to everyone from the diverse communities that make up England and Wales that our courts reflect society. This, in turn, helps underpin the perception that the justice system is impartial, balanced and fair.” Chair of the Bar Council's Equality & Diversity and Social Mobility Committee, Robin Allen QC, said the programme will help participants “to know how to develop resilience, and how to take a proper approach to diversity. These are all key skills for judges and every lawyer seeking judicial appointment needs to start acquiring them."

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