A Pox on the Patriarchy
In November 2011, one of the country’s most senior judges, Lady Justice Hallett, voiced her support for the use of the ‘tie-breaker’ provisions in the Equality Act 2010 allowing a woman to be selected for a judicial appointment ahead of a man when two applicants are equally well-qualified. There might, said the Judge, be times when both candidates would be suitable but one came from a non-traditional background.
In the context of our judiciary, ‘being a woman’ still constitutes a non-traditional background, as the only female Supreme Court justice out of 12, Baroness Hale, knows all too well. In 2013, Baroness Hale added her voice to those calling for use of a tie-breaker system: interview panels, she said, were most comfortable hiring men; and unconscious sexism was getting in the way of gifted female candidates progressing.
Since Baroness Hale made those remarks, a further three white men – and no women – have been appointed to the Supreme Court (Judicial appointments: new boys at the supreme court, The Guardian, 27 February 2013).
The appointment of the new Lord Chief Justice offered a real opportunity to break the mould and it was encouraging that the application pack included ‘ability to lead change in encouraging a more diverse judiciary’ in the criteria for appointment. To date, every Lord Chief Justice in this country has been male.
The selection panel was faced with a number of impressive candidates. No-one could deny that Lady Justice Hallett, widely praised for (among other things) her handling of the inquest into the 7/7 London bombings, would have made an exceptional Lord Chief Justice.
It is thus a huge disappointment that the interview panel (which consisted of four men but only one woman) did not take this opportunity to show that the judiciary is open to women at the highest levels (Sir John Thomas named as next lord chief justice, The Guardian, 16 July 2013). Just as we need diversity in those who make our laws and those who enforce them, so too we need diversity in those charged with interpreting and applying the law. Without a radical overhaul of the appointments system, it seems that institutional sexism at the highest levels of judicial appointments is here to stay.