HC Deb 15 March 1993 vol 221 cc16-7
41. Mrs. Gorman

To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what steps he is taking to increase the number of women judges.

Mr. John M. Taylor

The Lord Chancellor's policy is to appoint to judicial office those best qualified, regardless of gender, ethnic origin, political affiliation or religion. Without prejudice to that overriding principle, the Lord Chancellor has repeatedly stressed that he would like to see more suitably qualified female legal practitioners appointed to the judiciary.

Mrs. Gorman

I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware of the massive imbalance between men and women judges. Of about 1,000 judges in Britain, only 61 are women. There is not a single woman out of 10 Lords of Appeal; only two women out of 13 judges in the family division; and only 24 women out of 463 circuit judges.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, as women are very good when put on the bench as magistrates, it is time to reconsider the criteria for appointing judges? Is not it terribly important, as so many elderly gentlemen judges hand out wholly inadequate sentences in cases of abuse of women, especially rape—judgments which I think would be different if the judge were a woman?

Mr. Taylor

I sympathise with a great deal of what my hon. Friend has said—

Mr. Corbyn

What is the Parliamentary Secretary going to do about it?

Mr. Taylor

As I have said previously, the Lord Chancellor can appoint only from the recruiting ground, by age and experience—

Mr. Corbyn

Change the recruiting ground.

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Mr. Taylor

The recruiting ground is, to a degree, self selecting because it is necessary for members of the professions to offer themselves for part-time judicial office. [Interruption.] Quite clearly, the mood of the House is not sympathetic to my answer.

Hon. Members might be more sympathetic if I point out that the number of women joining the professions has increased greatly during recent times. Therefore, when they have a little more experience and are of a suitable age for judicial appointment, a great number of them will be available for appointment. The House should be aware that that is already beginning to show through. At the lower rungs of the ladder, women assistant recorders represent 12 per cent. of the judicial community and, among assistant recorders in training, 14 per cent. are women. I am quite prepared to admit that there should be more, but the trend is in the right direction.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Is the Parliamentary Secretary aware that as the average woman has had to deal with male children and a male husband, she is perfectly capable of judging the behaviour of even the strangest of people who come before her? Will the hon. Gentleman be more positive in his efforts? Frankly, although we are delighted by the number of women now entering the profession, to wait another 30 years for the millenium would be simply to repeat the position in the House, where all the men tell us that if we wait long enough, something will happen.

Mr. Taylor

I am asked to say what, perhaps, has already taken place. The Lord Chancellor has operated age limits flexibly in respect of women candidates. He has asked that women be included wherever possible in the list of those under consideration for appointment. Specific reviews of female candidates are carried out from time to time. The Lord Chancellor has co-operated with the bar in research into sex equality at the bar and in the judiciary and he is considering the findings of that research.

In 1992, two more women were appointed to the High Court Bench and both assigned to the Queen's Bench division—the first women to be so assigned.