19:03, December 13 68 0 theguardian.com

2017-12-13 19:03:04
Supreme court vacancies lead to hopes for greater diversity

The supreme court has advertised for several more justices in a recruitment process that could boost diversity on the UK’s highest court.

Of the 12 judges currently on the bench, only two are women, Lady Hale and Lady Black, and none are from minority ethnic backgrounds.

The formal information pack for appointing two or three new justices, declares: “Applications are sought from the widest range of candidates eligible to apply and particularly those who will increase the diversity of the court.”

Hale, who is president of the court, is a keen supporter of improving the gender balance among the senior judiciary and in the past has suggested that positive discrimination may be needed if changes do not occur.

There has been sustained criticism that the senior judicial benches are predominantly filled with white, privately educated men. Most senior judges are in their fifties and sixties. The latest judicial figures show that the profession is gradually becoming more diverse as younger age groups progress.

Lord Mance, the deputy president of the court, will retire in June 2018. Two other vacancies will be created by the forthcoming retirements of Lord Hughes and Lord Sumption. They are due to stand down in August and December 2018 respectively.

If one of the serving justices is appointed deputy president, a third new justice will be recommended from this round of applications. The current salary for a supreme court justice is £225,091 a year.

In a video message posted on the supreme court’s website, Hale said: “The cases dealt with by the supreme court involve difficult points of law of general public importance and demand a deep level of legal knowledge and understanding, combined with high intellectual capacity and an appreciation of the social context in which these issues arise and the communities which the law is there to serve.

“Candidates will need also to demonstrate an understanding of the constitutional role of the supreme court and its relationship with the other branches of government as well as with the governments and legislatures of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

“The selection commission is looking for people who can demonstrate those qualities, and who can make a contribution to the collective wisdom of the court, as well as working efficiently and effectively both in and out of the court room.”

Applicants are required to have held “high judicial office” for at least two years, to satisfy judicial appointment eligibility conditions over a 15-year period or to have been a practising solicitor or barrister for at least 15 years.

The selection process is based on merit. The selection panel comprises: Hale, Lord Burnett of Maldon, the lord chief justice of England and Wales; Deirdre Fulton of the judicial appointments board for Scotland; Lord Kakkar, chair of the judicial appointments commission for England and Wales, and Lindsay Todd from the judicial appointments commission for Northern Ireland.

Their recommendations will be sent to the justice secretary for final approval.