Supreme court justice Lady Hale, who was recently named as the fourth most powerful woman in the UK by BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, stated in a lecture on equality in the judiciary that steps such as positive discrimination may be required to redress the balance, the Guardian reports.
Across Europe as a whole, the average gender ratio among judges is 52 per cent male to 48 per cent female, but in England and Wales, only 23 per cent of judges are female.
Lady Hale noted that the higher up the profession you look, the more male-dominated it becomes, while a lack of ethnic diversity is also an issue.
Only 15.5 per cent of High Court judges are women and 4.5 per cent are from an ethnic background, while in the Court of Appeal, just 10.5 per cent are women and there are none from an ethnic background. Lady Hale is the only female in the Supreme Court, where there are usually 12 justices.
Delivering the Kuttan Memorial lecture, Lady Hale said she agreed with many of the concluding on improving judicial diversity reached by fellow supreme court justice Lord Sumption last year.
However, she said: “Where I respectfully disagree with Lord Sumption is in his belief that we will not make quicker progress – if it would be progress – without some measure of positive discrimination, which he thinks would be a bad thing.”
Lady Hale suggested it would not be a major issue if the judiciary were to revive arguments for special provisions when it comes to appointing judges, in order to take into account racial or gender balance.
She noted that current equality laws prohibit taking gender or racial factors into account except in very exceptional circumstances.
However, she suggested bringing a minority perspective to the higher courts could be considered a genuine reason for making exceptions in this situation.