Procedure for Appointing Judges — [Mr Virendra Sharma in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:19 pm on 8th October 2019.

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Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice 3:19 pm, 8th October 2019

I concur with both comments. I would also like to thank Judge McKinnon, who is a constituent of mine as well as a former chair of the bench. I agree that my comments on age apply as much to the magistracy as to the judiciary more generally—the court judges. As I said, I think my hon. Friend can look forward to a consultation on the topic before too long.

Several hon. Members raised the matter of the gender balance and ethnic composition of the bench, and I entirely understand why those points were raised. The proportion of newly appointed court judges from BME backgrounds is 11%, which compares to slightly over 15% of the population as a whole. Currently 7% of court judges and 11% of tribunal judges are, as the hon. Member for Bolton South East said, from BME backgrounds.

As for gender balance, as the hon. Lady said, 27% of High Court judges are female, and that figure rises to 32% across the courts more generally and 46% in tribunals. Also 56% of the magistracy are female and about 50% of court judges under 50 are female; that is an encouraging sign. Qualifying those remarks, I would say that we rightly expect more senior court judges to have decades of experience at the Bar, so appointments today reflect the Bar 30 or 40 years ago, when diversity was not what we would like, and there is a measure of unavoidable time lag. That does not mean that we should not take proactive and active steps—we should. We should encourage the JAC and work generally to improve diversity in the magistracy and the courts. The figures are moving in the right direction and improving, but I am sure we can do more. As a newly appointed Minister I will certainly consider what active steps can be taken in that area.

I am grateful for the opportunity to respond to this debate, to the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East for securing it, and to other hon. Members for attending. Those include the now very famous hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West