What do judges look like?

Recruitment of BAME judges is still slow, but diversity and community relations judges are working at grass roots to alter our judiciary’s future face, writes Jacqueline McLean

Equal treatment and diversity in the law has rightly come under much scrutiny in recent years.

A 2017 study by the reform group JUSTICE, chaired by the Bar’s Nathalie Lieven QC, cited the lack of diversity among the senior judiciary as a serious constitutional issue. The judiciary remains strongly committed to achieving greater diversity within its ranks, while recognising there is much more to do.

The Judicial Diversity Committee of the Judges’ Council demonstrated some level of progress but ‘not as fast as we would wish’ (see its Report on Progress and Action Plan). In the period from 1 April 2014 to 1 April 2017, the percentage of female judges increased from 18% to 24% in the Court of Appeal; 18% to 22% in the High Court and 24% to 28% in the courts judiciary. The percentage of BAME (black and minority ethnic) judges increased from 6% to 7%. In the tribunals over this period the proportion of female judges increased from 43% to 45%, and the percentage of BAME judges increased from 9% to 10%.

However, the media still tends to portray judges in a one-dimensional way, regularly reinforcing the myth that the judiciary is entirely made up of judges who are ‘pale, male and stale’. None of us will forget the critical coverage which followed in the immediate aftermath of the High Court Brexit ruling, with ‘Enemies of the People’ headlines portraying judges as out of touch with the mood of the public. There is little reporting outside the legal press of the judiciary’s growing diversity, nor the activities of its 100 diversity and community relations judges (DCRJs), which is one strand of the judiciary’s efforts to increase diveristy in recruitment.

Diversity and community relations judges

Drawn from across England and Wales – from Truro to the borders – the DCRJ group is geographically spread with an eclectic range of experiences and skills. Historically the main role of a DCRJ was to act as a point of reference within the courts to facilitate and promote dialogue and understanding with diverse communities and minorities. They were there to help, together with the court administrators, to develop links with harder to reach communities and minority groups who would otherwise have very limited knowledge of the court process. Now they work to improve diversity from the grass roots up and bridging gaps between court and community, with three common aims:

  • To make the judiciary more diverse by supporting and encouraging those currently under represented (women, BAME, social mobility) to consider a career in the judiciary.
  • To go out into their communities to explain more of what it means to be a judge and dispel some of the urban myths that prevail. The links they form within their respective communities enhance mutual understanding as well as inspiring a more accurate and positive image of justice.
  • To act as a source of diversity expertise among their peers and encourage other judicial efforts to improve diversity.

At the helm

HHJ Marc Dight CBE has been leader of this cadre of volunteers for seven years and has brought about an expansion in numbers and greater collaboration and focus in overall efforts. There are currently 102 DCRJs from the courts and tribunals. The annual return from the DCRJs show that they have already reached in excess of 4,000 university students, 4,000 school children, 1,800 legal professionals and 1,200 members of their respective communities.

Judge Dight is assisted in this leadership role by his deputy, Judge Tan Ikram, recently sworn in as Deputy Senior District Judge (Chief Magistrate). Judge Ikram describes himself as ‘an ordinary bloke from Slough’, whose father was a postman and mother a biscuit factory worker. English was not the first language in the Ikram household and as a young child he was taken back to Pakistan and then had to re-integrate during his primary school years. He is very attuned to the barriers faced, mindful that while his career has progressed, one or two childhood friends have ended up on the other side of the law – and in one case, in prison. Very few progressed into the professions. Born into a working-class Muslim family and poly-educated, he puts much effort into encouraging students in the inner cities and from less privileged backgrounds to get the best education they can and to know just what is possible with the right mindset and determination. He is a very visible role model.

Interfaith dialogue

Judges Dight and Ikram have set up a pioneering roundtable discussion between a range of DCRJs and some of the most senior imams in the UK. Judges and clerics both benefitted in having a greater mutual understanding of their respective roles and of the constraints and challenges. The open discussion that took place at the Old Bailey has paved the way for further engagement work with the Muslim community and indeed all faith groups.

The 2016 DCRJ annual training event was on interfaith dialogue with contributions from a Bishop, an Imam, a Rabbi and Hindu leader. Engagement with different faith groups demonstrates the layers of complexity of community engagement – how do you meet with the right stakeholders and what is the most effective and culturally appropriate way to engage? It is a continuous learning experience which brings rewards.

Social mobility

The subject of the 2017 annual meeting of DCRJs was social mobility. It provided the judges with the opportunity to meet with some young BAME students on the Social Mobility Foundation’s Aspiring Professionals Programme with a view to engaging in their mentoring programme across the UK. The recent State of the Nation report on social mobility in Great Britain is proof enough that much remains to be done – and not just in the judiciary.

Inspiring future generations

One tribunal judge from Wales recounted her rewarding experience of working with local children from disadvantaged backgrounds who are really motivated to progress their lives. One disabled girl asked if the fact she was disabled made any difference to her prospects, and hoped to read history with a view to considering law as a later option. A young boy from a BAME background told her at the end of their discussion that he wanted to become a judge. Perhaps a seed had been planted.

Primary school children are the most inquisitive of audiences and can ask some pretty direct and random questions – such as ‘exactly how much do you earn judge?’ A DCRJ from Suffolk went to speak to a large group of nine-year-olds – quite a daunting audience who enjoyed dressing up in the mini robes his wife had made up just for this purpose – the props were definitely a hit. Needless to say, this DCRJ has been invited back. His latest endeavour sees Year Six pupils swap pens and pads for wigs and gowns as they perform their very own mock trial of Johnny Rotten, moving from the classroom right into Ipswich Crown Court itself. What better way to get an insight into the criminal justice system and experience why justice matters for all?

If you have a good idea for community engagement, then there’s bound to be a DCRJ willing to give it a go. Please get in touch: Jacqueline.McLean@judiciary.uk

Contributor Jacqueline McLean is HR, Policy and Diversity Adviser, Judicial Office

Local and bespoke: Examples of DCRJ community engagement

  • Hosting teams of young people in Dragon’s Den-style events for the National Citizen Service in Brent.
  • Attending the Ramgharia Sikh Gurudwra temple in Birmingham to deliver a presentation on the role of the judiciary and to outline the legal remedies to protect vulnerable members of society. The Gurudwa is active in campaigning to alleviate domestic violence, poverty and homelessness.
  • Working with the charity UpRising to upskill young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
  • In conjunction with the Justice Museum, a Q&A with school children about what it is to be a judge.
  • Judging moots.
  • Arranging the shipping transportation of a redundant employment tribunal library to Guyana through the charity International Law Book Facility.
  • Helping aspiring law students write their CVs.
  • Mentoring a range of BAME legal professionals.
  • Contributing to diversity events with the professional bodies – the Bar Council, Law Society, CILEX.
  • Mentoring and empowering girls from underprivileged backgrounds through the Girls Network and other similar initiatives.
  • One DCRJ has written a Judicial Awareness Course that in the past 12 months he has delivered in nine separate schools in the South West.
  • Giving talks to Rotary clubs, the Mother’s Union, Church Groups.
  • Contributing to the Church of England’s Leadership Programme for encouraging greater BAME diversity among clergy in the Church.
  • Hosting foreign judges from Slovakia, France, Japan, China, Pakistan, Panama and sharing knowledge of the justice system.
  • DCRJs at the Old Bailey have hosted numerous school visits and offered marshalling and work shadowing experiences.
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Jacqueline McLean

HR, Policy and Diversity Adviser, Judicial Office