Changes to the Judicial Appointments process resulting from the Crime and Courts Act 2013
Consultation on diversity considerations where candidates are of equal merit
Response by the Association of Women Solicitors (AWS) London Group
About AWS London Group
The AWS London Group offers educational courses, lectures and seminars designed for women solicitors in the London area. The Group also holds a number of social gatherings and events throughout the year, offering women solicitors in London the opportunity to get together, support each other and network.
Question 1. Do you agree with this approach to the application of the “equal merit” provision?
(Please support your answer with reasons)
Women solicitors are under-represented within the Judiciary at all levels and anecdotal evidence suggests that one reason is that able ladies lack the confidence to apply, believing that the Bench is still very much the province of men and barristers. We believe that use of the “equal merit” provision (“the provision”) and the approach outlined will go some way to address both the statistical imbalance and the lack of confidence issues, without being confused with quotas or compromising the overall requirement for all judicial appointments to be on merit.
Question 2. Should the “equal merit” provision be used more than once in the selection process, perhaps at the shortlisting and final selection stages? (Please support your answer with reasons)
Yes. The provision should apply at both the shortlisting and final stages of the process. This should result in more women solicitors being shortlisted, giving greater confidence to those thinking of applying.
The full use of the provision may also have a positive effect on aspects over which the Commission has no direct control, such as the high attrition rate for women solicitors in the private sector. Improved opportunities within the public sector such as the use of the equal merit provision for judicial appointments might encourage talented ladies not give up and try for the Bench instead thus increasing the pool of female talent.
Question 3. To which group(s) of people should the Commission apply the “equal merit” provision?
(Please support your answers with reasons)
Answer – Gender and Pregnancy/Maternity
Referring to the pregnancy/maternity category we note what is stated about collection of reliable statistics. The issue however is that at a fundamental career stage (say 5-7 years after qualification when candidates are first able to apply for a judicial post) many women solicitors take out time to have children and may then want to work flexibly or part-time. The Commission needs to prioritise the gathering of these statistics to support use of the provision for pregnancy/maternity and increase the number of mothers appointed.
Question 4. Do you believe that the Commission should, or should not, apply the “equal merit” provision?
Answer – We believe that the Commission should apply the “equal merit” provision.
We endorse use of the provision at all levels of judicial appointment from the initial entry point (addressing in particular the issues of lack of confidence and need for flexible/part- time working) right to the top.
Use of the provision will also go some way to addressing the perception that where two or more candidates are otherwise appointable those not selected are rejected for spurious reasons.
Further Comments – We would welcome any other comments or suggestions in relation to how best to apply the “equal merit” positive action provision under the CCA.
Once the provision is implemented its existence should be publicised on the Commission website, in the legal media and through affected groups.
Such publicity should make it clear that the provision, although implemented pursuant to the Commission’s Diversity duty, is totally different from quotas and only applies to candidates already eligible on merit. Use of the provision should be monitored and included in the annual statistics.