18 Aug 2022

UK Supreme Court draws fire over diversity record after two men fill vacancies

Campaigners express disappointment as appointments reduce tally of women judges to just one

Lord Lloyd-Jones (left) and Sir David Richards

Leading proponents of diversity within the legal profession have expressed disappointment at the appointment of two white men to the UK’s Supreme Court.

Top public law barrister Dinah Rose QC and Dana Denis-Smith, founder of The First 100 Years, which campaigns for gender diversity, are among several senior figures who have questioned the appointments, which reduce the number of women on the court to just one out of 12 judges.

The appointment of Lord Lloyd-Jones and Sir David Richards was announced by the Prime Minister’s Office at 10 Downing Street yesterday.

In fact, Lloyd-Jones is returning to the court. He was forced to step down in January on reaching the then retirement age of 70, but can now be readmitted following the lifting of the retirement age to 75.

Richards is also returning to the bench having been forced to retire at 70, in his case as a Court of Appeal judge. He replaces Lady Arden on the Supreme Court, leaving Lady Rose as the only woman judge.

Responding to the news on Twitter, Dinah Rose noted that since the Supreme Court’s foundation in 2009, ‘28 men and four women have served on the court, all of them white’.

‘I strongly believe that all appointments should be made on merit,' she added. ‘I just find it hard to believe that merit always looks the same. These figures do not reflect the Bar, legal academia, or even the rest of the senior judiciary. The appointment process is completely opaque, and strongly influenced by current judges.’


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Denis-Smith, who is CEO of Obelisk Support alongside her role at First Hundred Years, told GLP: “I have no questions over the appointees’ abilities to carry out their roles, more a huge concern over what message it sends out about the profession.

“I shared the sense of pride and hope when Lady Hale was appointed as the first woman Justice of the Supreme Court just a few short years ago, closely followed by Lady Black and Lady Arden, yet we seem to have gone backwards.

“We need our Supreme Court to set the best possible example of an inclusive profession, by looking at a wider group of talented legal minds to select from and then appoint.”

James Lee, a law professor at King's College London, tweeted: ‘Today's appointments particularly matter because the raising of the retirement age also applies to the serving Justices, of whom the oldest is Lord Hodge, who turns 70 next year. This means that the next mandatory retirements will in fact be the new appointees – in 2026 and 2027.’

Meanwhile, the appointments have sparked a fierce debate in the comment section of the Law Society Gazette.

One anonymous comment reads: ‘The pool of suitable candidates is fairly small and consists of lawyers from an era when most of the people who got to the top of the profession were of a certain background. Things have changed a lot. In 10 years' time the pool's demographic will be more diverse and in 20 years it will be even more so. Chill out and give it time.’

For a detailed analysis of the appointments read commentator Joshua Rozenberg’s post on his blog A Lawyer Writes.
 

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