The deputy president of the Supreme Court and the only woman among its 12 justices has spoken out against the ‘homogenous’ male, predominantly public school and Oxbridge make-up of the top judges.

Due to retirements, six posts at the UK’s top court will become available between September 2016 and December 2018.

‘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,’ Lady Hale told an audience at Birmingham University.

Hale suggested that a search committee could be created to help identify and encourage potential candidates.

Noting its all white and British make-up, she also suggested that the Judicial Appointments Commission should make greater use of the ‘tipping point’ or equal merit provision when appointing senior judges.

Under the Equality Act 2010, where two candidates are of equal merit, selection panels can choose the one from the less represented background in order to increase diversity.

Hale said that ‘diversity of background and experience’ as well as ‘excellence’ is important in appointments.

‘It really bothers me that there are women 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,’ she said. 

Hale added that she would be ‘completely unembarrassed’ if she had been appointed because the ‘powers that be realised the need for a woman’, because, she said ‘they were right’.

‘We owe it to our sex, but also to the future of the law and the legal system, to step up to the plate,’ she said.

Her remarks may be seen as a rebuttal of her fellow justice Lord Sumption’s comments that it could take 50 years to achieve gender equality among the senior judiciary. He suggested that any move to hasten that could have ‘appalling consequences’ for the justice system.

Meanwhile, speaking at a conference on Women in Law, Hodge Jones & Allen partner, Sasha Barton, claimed that male barristers make ‘sexual jokes’ in court in order to ingratiate themselves with the predominantly male judges.

Barton said that women lawyers feel pressure to treat sexist comments as harmless banter for fear of being made to feel ‘prudish and humourless’.