Only Azerbaijan and Armenia, employ fewer female professional judges than in England and Wales according to a report on ‘European judicial systems’ published by the Council of Europe in September 2012. This is in marked contrast to what the report describes as a gradual ‘feminisation of the judiciary resulting in near gender equality’ across Europe. While the average across all states or entities is 52% men and 48% women, with 22 countries which responded to the report reaching or exceeding these figures, just 23% of judges in England and Wales, and 21% of judges in Scotland are female.
You can find a full table of the results on pages 277-283 of the report. And read The Guardian’s comment on the European report ‘UK among worst in Europe for employing female judges‘ and ‘There is no time to spare – we deserve a representative judiciary‘.
Of course, there is still more work to be done – progress stalls in almost all countries further up the judicial hierarchy. In most states the proportion of men on the Supreme Courts is higher than that of women, and across the judiciary as a whole. Tellingly, the United Kingdom did not provide data for the gender distribution per category of courts for England and Wales or Northern Ireland. Had it done so, it would have found itself above just Portugal and Cyprus in relation to the distribution of female judges on Supreme Courts.
The Council of Europe report was published within a week of Lord McNally’s second update on progress toward diversity in the England and Wales, in which Lord McNally acknowledged that the Judicial Taskforce he leads ‘could do better’:
‘Without fundamental changes to the professions and strong leadership from all I cannot conceive of us having a real chance at improving the diversity of the judiciary in the long-term. All of us involved within the Taskforce must provide strong visible leadership to ensure that all of the work completed to date doesn’t founder on the rocks of apathy’ (p 13).
With just eight years to go to reach the Government’s vision of a ‘much more diverse judiciary’ in 2020, the Equal Justices Initiative agrees with Lord McNally that ‘now is not the time to rest on our laurels’. Continued and improved efforts need to be made to increase judicial diversity by the legal profession, judiciary and government if this vision is to become a reality.