“Positive discrimination,” said the Supreme Court Justice, “is the only thing that is likely to accelerate the rate of progress significantly. It does not of course follow that positive discrimination is desirable... But it should at least be on the menu.”

Sumption, a former member of the Judicial Appointments Commission, said that the profession was deluding itself without an “honest public debate about the hitherto unmentionable subject of positive discrimination. We have to decide whether we want to accept a measure of positive discrimination in the selection of judges, as the price of making faster progress towards judicial diversity. There are arguments both for and against it. But the real problem is that the debate has not happened.”

Lord Judge, Lord Chief Justice, however, speaking at the Judge for Yourself event on 22 November, endorsed the merit-based approach to appointment: “I want the people best qualified to be judges to be appointed as judges. And only people of the necessary quality. No more, and certainly no less.”

Diversity has started its slow trickle through, according to Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) statistics released last month. A quarter of the lawyers recently recommended for appointment as 28 Deputy District Judges (Magistrates’ Courts) were black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME), and women made up 46 per cent of the selections, compared to 44 per cent of the eligible pool - a slight improvement since the 2009 exercise.

Christopher Stephens, Chairman of the JAC, said: “Selections, as always, were made solely on merit and I am delighted to see such a strong performance from BAME lawyers and continued good results for women. There is still a long way to go on judicial diversity and we hope this success is consolidated in other competitions, with the results feeding through to salaried and more senior appointments in the future.”