UK

Lady Hale 'disappointed' at lack of female judges

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Media captionLady Hale: "It is always much easier to perceive merit in people who are like you"

The UK's most senior female judge has said the lack of women at the top of the judiciary could be because men prefer to appoint other men.

Lady Hale, the deputy president of the Supreme Court, said she was disappointed no other woman had reached the same level as herself.

In the 10 years since her appointment, 13 other judges have been promoted to her level, but none were women.

Lady Hale also said she opposed legal wigs, saying they were "men's wigs".

Speaking alongside Lord Neuberger, President of the Supreme Court, at the start of the new legal year, Lady Hale said she was among those who were consulted on senior judicial appointments - but the actual decision process was dominated by men.

Supreme Court justices are appointed by the Queen following a recommendation from the Lord Chancellor (also known as the Justice Secretary).

That recommendation comes from a special commission which is set up each time a new justice needs to be appointed. The process includes consulting senior judges and politicians across the UK.

'Disappointed'

Lady Hale said she had been "flattered and proud" to be the first woman to be made a Law Lord, the predecessors of the Supreme Court Justices, but she said she did not want to be the last.

"I am disappointed that in the 10 years since I was appointed not one among the 13 subsequent appointments to this court has been a woman.

"Now, things are improving in the lower ranks of the judiciary, but regrettably not yet up here."

"I do not think I am alone in thinking that diversity of many kinds on the bench is important for a great many reasons, but most of all because in a democracy which values everyone equally, and not just the privileged and the powerful, it is important that their rights and responsibilities should be decided by a judiciary which is more reflective of the society as a whole, and not just a very small section of it."

Lady Hale said she did not play any part in the selection process, other than being possibly the only woman to be consulted.

"I do not know whether the fact that the appointments process is dominated by men has anything to do with the choice of people.

"It would not be impossible to speculate that it is always much easier to perceive merit in people who are like you than it is to discern the merit of those who are a bit different.

"I am not only talking about gender diversity, I am talking about all kinds of diversity."

Until recently both the president and deputy president of the Supreme Court permanently sat on the Supreme Court appointments commission. However, Parliament changed the rules this year, requiring the president to sit on the commission alone, alongside a senior judge from elsewhere. This meant that the deputy president - currently Lady Hale - would be excluded.

Of the six Supreme Court selection commissions to date, five had a majority of men and one included no women at all.

None of the five heads of the other branches of the judiciary are women. A fifth of judges at the Court of Appeal, the most important tier below the Supreme Court, are now women - the highest ever proportion. Women only form a majority in the ranks of voluntary community-level magistrates who deal with local petty crime.

Asked about the role of wigs and gowns in a modern diverse judiciary, Lady Hale added: "I have not made any secret of the fact that I am not in favour of barristers and judges wearing wigs. My main objection is that they are men's wigs.

"Of course, that is one of the reasons why the early women barristers wanted to wear wigs. It was because they wanted to look like everybody else. But we have got beyond that."

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