HC Deb 05 July 1993 vol 228 cc16-8
38. Mr. Cohen

To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what study has been made of the parental background, gender and race of judges; and what proposals he has for change.

Mr. John M. Taylor

The Lord Chancellor's policy is to appoint to judicial office, entirely on merit, those best qualified, regardless of gender, ethnic origin, political affiliation, religion or parental background. The Lord Chancellor has repeatedly made it clear that he particularly encourages applications for judicial appointment from women and ethnic minority practitioners.

Mr. Cohen

Are not working-class, black, Asian and women judges scarcer than praise for Arthur Scargill from a Tory Government? Does not the hidebound and classbound composition of the judiciary contribute to its many mistakes? Are not many students—intelligent young men and women—saying that they now find it harder to obtain grants for courses in law studies? Is not it about time that the Government fast-streamed working and middle-class young men and women into the upper reaches of the legal profession?

Mr. Taylor

The only figures available on the socio-economic background of lawyers are contained in the results of a survey of student solicitors at the College of Law. In that survey, just over half the students responding described themselves as being from socioeconomic groups A and 13, 28 per cent. described themselves as C1, C2 or C3 and 20 per cent. failed to respond. That is encouraging evidence of a growing social spread among new entrants to the profession, but it is by no means a cause for complacency.

Mr. Hawkins

Does my hon. Friend agree that the significant increase in judicial appointments in recent years from ladies and members of ethnic minority communities is greatly to be welcomed? However, does he agree also that it is ludicrous for the Labour party to call for some kind of positive discrimination when what the British people need are the best judges? Is not it absolutely right for the Lord Chancellor to continue to insist that judges will be appointed only on merit and does not the positive discrimination suggested by the Labour party lead Labour into the ridicule and contempt of the British people?

Mr. Taylor

Yes, indeed. My hon. Friend may wish to know that the number of women in the judiciary is showing a steady increase. The trends at the lower levels are most important and they are the most particularly encouraging. There are now 50 female assistant recorders, compared with 35 some 15 months ago.

Mr. Boateng

Does the Minister recognise that, the merits of the current judiciary apart, there is a need for special training for judges hearing, trying and sentencing in cases involving sex offences? Does he recognise the extent to which the judiciary is brought into disrepute by the silly and inane remarks of some judges? What attempts will he make to ensure that the training for the judiciary in that important area is enhanced?

Mr. Taylor

There is no more urgent area of anxiety and progress in the Judicial Studies Board programme and curriculum than that identified by the hon. Gentleman. It has the highest priority of all.

Mr. Lidington

Would it not add to the diversity of the background of members of the bench if the Government were to ensure that rights of audience in the higher courts and eligibility to sit on the bench were opened up to all solicitors—not just solicitors in partnership but employed solicitors? Will my hon. Friend therefore override the objections of the barristers's trade union and introduce that necessary reform?

Mr. Taylor

The Lord Chancellor's advisory committee on legal education and conduct published its advice on this important matter on Friday. The committee's advice gives the green light to solicitors in private practice appearing as advocates in the higher courts. I think that the lights are at amber for employed solicitors. The Lord Chancellor will be considering those matters with the appointed judges.

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