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Only female UK Supreme Court judge says court should be ‘ashamed’ if it does not diversify

Joseph McCormick November 8, 2015
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The UK’s only female Supreme Court judge has said the court should be “ashamed” if it does not diversify in its next judicial appointments.

Lady Hale, the only female judge on the Supreme Court’s 12-strong bench, said there is an urgent need for the court to diversify its justices.

Speaking at Birmingham University on Friday, Lady Hale noted that in the past ten years, all justices in the court have been male, white and the vast majority were privately educated, reports the Guardian.

The comments by the 70-year-old, have been seen as some as a retort against remarks made by fellow justice Lord Sumption, who said trying to achieve a gender-equal senior judiciary could have “appalling consequences”.

“I was sworn in as a lord of appeal in ordinary [a law lord] on 12 January 2004,” she said, noting that fifteen people have been sworn in since then.

“Even if we leave out the two who were sworn in the day after me, the court has more than replaced itself since then.

“One might have hoped that the opportunity would have been taken to achieve a more diverse collegium. It has not happened. All of those 13 appointments were men. All were white. All but two went to independent fee-paying schools. All but three went to boys’ boarding schools. All but two went to Oxford or Cambridge. All were successful QCs in private practice, although one was a solicitor rather than a barrister,” she went on.

Hale has been a long-time advocate of improving the diversity of the judiciary, and gone so far as to ask whether elements of positive discrimination could be needed to fix the gender imbalance.

On Friday, Hale admitted having the same “experience of being white and having been to Cambridge” as her colleagues, but said “in every other of those respects I am different.

She added: “I went to a state day school, my profession was university teacher and then law commissioner, my specialism was family and social welfare law. How is it that, despite their very different characters and outlooks, they remain such a homogenous group?”

Noting that retirements will mean there will be six vacancies on the Supreme Court between September 2016 and December 2018, she said: “If we do not manage to achieve a much more diverse court in the process of filling them, we ought to be ashamed of ourselves.”

Continuing, she said: “I believe that anyone who is appointing the justices of the supreme court should be able to look at the body of justices as a whole and ask how they can collectively best serve the needs of the UK justice system.

“Excellence is important, though I am embarrassed to claim it. But so is diversity of expertise. And so is diversity of background and experience. It really bothers me that there are wome who know or ought to know that they are as good as the men around them, but who won’t apply for fear of being thought to be appointed just because they are a woman.

“We early women believed that we were as good as the men and would certainly not be put off in this way. I may well have been appointed because the powers that be realised the need for a woman.

“I am completely unembarrassed about that, because they were right, and I hope that I have justified their confidence in me. I don’t think that all the talk about the best women being deterred is a plot to put them off, but I am sure that they should not be deterred by talk such as this. We owe it to our sex, but also to the future of the law and the legal system, to step up to the plate.”

Related topics: lady hale, supreme court, UK Supreme Court

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