Why the High Court is still so white and so male..?

// 9 January 2009

An interesting piece by Afua Hirsch at Comment is Free considers one reason why the judiciary is still largely made up of a sea of white, male faces; and in particular why more women and ethnic minority men are not applying to become High Court judges.

As background, 14 out of 107 High Court judges are women.

As a trainee lawyer, there is no choice when it comes to socialising with judges and lawyers over silver service and port in ancient halls. Despite a recent rebranding of the medieval tradition of “dining” (now known as the oh-so-modern “qualifying session”) each year trainee barristers are still required to eat and drink 12 times in the Inns of Court if they wish to be called to the Bar.

But new research released this week suggests that once lawyers reach the upper echelons of their profession – and women and ethnic minority lawyers in particular – they are unlikely to resume this practise voluntarily. So unwilling in fact that the prospect of doing so is a significant factor deterring them from applying for judicial positions. One senior lawyer, when interviewed for the report, which sheds light on the factors discouraging lawyers from applying to be high court judges, said “I’m married and I like to have dinner with my husband and friends rather than talk to a load of high court judges.”

If it’s hard to understand what’s so unappealing about the idea of dining with other judges bear in mind that even the lord chief justice accepted they may come across as “old fashioned” and “fustian”. Add to that a potential pay cut of up to one fifth, a drastic change in the quality and quantity of workload, a significant reduction in autonomy and the requirement to travel regularly to sit in courts around the country, and the report paints a fairly unappealing picture of judicial life from the perspective of a senior lawyer. “It would involve being away. I have young children and I’m not willing to do that”, the same lawyer added. “The idea of spending 15 years of my life being a high court judge doing rubbish work is frankly too depressing to contemplate”.

Comments From You

Laurel Dearing // Posted 10 January 2009 at 3:17 am

i find it so weird how low the figures are considering on tv nearly all judges you see are women or black. normally media makes things appear whiter than they are.

Legible Susan // Posted 10 January 2009 at 4:55 pm


That’ll be the “Black Captain” phenomenon. In American TV the police captain is black because it’s a position of symbolic authority (so people can’t say “We only get to play hoods”) but not one of the leads; thus (I assume the reasoning is) buying off people who want representation without challenging the dogma that the great American public will only watch white men. I bet a woman TV judge is the same thing, though I don’t know the word for that version.

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