'Pale, male' courts in Wales 'need more women judges'

The low number of women judges in Wales is due to a "lack of role models", according to a Welsh tribunal judge.

The Judiciary of England and Wales says it wants to change the perception of judges as "pale and male".

Only two women serve as circuit judges in Wales, compared to 30 men, while just two have been appointed as district judges, against 23 males.

Sian Davies, who works in Cardiff, was encouraged by her law firm to apply for the part-time position.

Mrs Davies, 40, who specialises in employment law, sits at the Bristol Employment Tribunal for 30 days a year.

She was appointed in November 2010 after a year-long recruitment process involving interviews, exams and role plays.

Mrs Davies said her firm encouraged her to apply.

The senior partner at her firm used to be a part-time judge at a tribunal in Birmingham and, when he stopped doing that, the company still wanted to have someone working as a judge.

"It's really exciting - it's a great opportunity to do something really different in the middle of your career."

Figures from the judicial database show that 20% of judges are women in the UK. But the figure is much lower in Wales, with only two women sitting as circuit judges, two as district judges and only one female district judge for magistrates' courts.

Tribunal courts seem to attract more women judges, with around 37% female judicial office-holders sitting at tribunals across the UK.

The Judiciary of England and Wales is now trying to attract more women and ethnic minorities to become judges, by holding recruitment roadshows across the UK and offering a work shadowing scheme, where solicitors and barristers receive a judicial work experience placement.

"The old process used to be a tap on the shoulder if you were in the old boys' club, " said Mrs Davies.

"But now they are trying to open it up to people who are not old white men."

Work/life balance

Mrs Davies, who has two daughters aged three and four, said women were more likely to apply to be tribunal judges because they can balance work with family life.

"There are more women judges in employment tribunals than in civil courts. Employment law attracts women," she said.

"You might have to do very long hours as a corporate lawyer and that doesn't work with family life. Employment law has more of a steady flow of work but not such crazy late hours.

"It's hard to fit everything in and look after a family, which the woman tends to do."

She added that women need more positive role models in the judiciary.

"I think there is a lack of role models, which is obviously a chicken and egg problem," she said.

In 2010 an independent advisory panel on judicial diversity was commissioned by the government.

The panel made 53 recommendations, telling judges to engage with schools and colleges, advising law firms to regard part-time judicial service as positive for their practices and encouraging flexible working arrangements.

The panel added that that there should not be diversity quotas or specific targets for judicial appointments.

The Judiciary of England and Wales said it is committed to increasing diversity, encouraging more female solicitors and barristers to become judges.

"A common description of a judicial office-holder is 'pale and male' - a white man, probably educated at public school and Oxbridge," said a spokesman.

"In some branches of the judiciary, this description certainly fits many. However, there are…efforts being made to achieve greater diversity in the judiciary of the future."

"Many solicitors feel that they are not supported by their firms when they apply for a judicial post... the 'special atmosphere' and environment of circuit life has a disproportionate impact on women and can constitute a disincentive to applying," said Nigel Reeder of the Judicial Appointments Commission.

Mrs Davies does not support "positive action" to recruit more women into the judiciary, favouring "recruitment on merit".

"But there needs to be more in the way of encouraging women into the judiciary," she said.

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