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Concerns raised over diversity levels of Supreme Court

12th December 2016

Gavel

It seems that Brexit has never been far from the headlines since the result of the EU referendum in June, with the various issues surrounding the seismic change the UK is facing endlessly intriguing – and often infuriating – solicitors and members of the public alike.

The different legal battles which are now accompanying the process of leaving the European Union have also given rise to several unexpected discussions, such as the ethnic make-up of Britain’s Supreme Court judges.

Following the High Court ruling in November that Parliament must approve the final terms for triggering Article 50, the UK government decided to appeal the decision. The appeal case has been held at the Supreme Court and presided over by its 11 sitting Justices.

Live television and internet streaming of the case has allowed the public to follow proceedings as they happen, which has triggered a wave of commentary on the demographic structure of those who are tasked with making what is arguably one of the most important legal decisions the UK has faced for many decades.

Ambitious Targets Set

Judge

The Supreme Court is currently made up of 10 men and one woman, all of whom are white and – in the words of a number of disgruntled viewers – ‘middle-aged’.

This BBC article explores whether and to what extent the panel is unrepresentative in its composition, looking at the gender and race statistics for new and existing people with good legal jobs in the UK.

Last year’s official Judicial Diversity Statistics state that one quarter of all judges in England and Wales are now women, with the proportion rising dramatically to over half – 53% - among judges under the age of 40.

In terms of racial diversity, the picture is less balanced; only 5.9% of judges class themselves as being from an ethnic minority, although this figure is up slightly from 5.1% in 2011.

The Bar Council maintains that the situation is improving, and has also set ambitious targets for the demographic make-up of the UK’s barrister population – the body hopes that 20% of barristers will soon be from black or other ethnic minorities, whilst stating that 50% should be female within 20 years.

Image Credit: Michael Coghlan