Opinion: Choosing our Judges

Yesterday’s Guardian front page was plastered with images of white, male, privately educated, High Court judges selected for the bench, even after the introduction of new diversity measures.

The paper bemoans the lack of diversity, where are the women, the ethnic minorities? Let’s consider something radical here; could it be that those men are actually the best for the job, regardless of ethnicity?

Just because a judge might be a white male doesn’t mean he cannot have an appreciation of issues and views of minorities or of women; there are people he can ask for this information, and surely the most important thing for a high court judge is to know the letter and the spirit of the law and how to apply it? If everyone is supposed to be treated fairly and equally under the law, then a white-male, ethnic, religious or gender perspective should have no actual bearing on it? I accept that our world isn’t perfect and while we ought to strive for such a system we will never achieve it, yet if we need a white, black, male or female judge because each would apply the law differently, then haven’t we’ve discovered a flaw in our system that needs to be fixed?

The issue raised is a more fundamental one. Do we want the best qualified people, or do we want a representative mix? If we aim for the latter, in our current society, what we end up having is positive discrimination, and that leads to resentment and political parties like the BNP screaming about how white people are disadvantaged “in their own country” as less qualified and experienced minorities are promoted over equally or more qualified white people. Discrimination, of any flavour, is bad for a society.

Equally, having only white men as High Court judges makes the minorities (and women) feel as though they are being discriminated against, they don’t see any of their “own people” in the important jobs. If we start accepting people as High Court judges to meet some demographic need, instead of by merit and experience, does that not lower the quality of the people we select, and hence the quality of the institution they represent and serve? Does that not lower the quality of justice in our country?

Ideally, in an egalitarian society, when we choose the best qualified we will, on average, also get a representative mix of the population as a whole. Yet that’s not what we are seeing. Why is that?

We only need to look at the various statistics for education to show that privately educated, white people are those most likely to get the best results. If whites get the better education and hence the better opportunities then if you place the CVs of a white and a black person next to each other, with all ethnic and gender references removed, then selecting purely on merit you’ll mostly end up choosing a white person.

You cannot impose diversity from the top down, you need to create it from the bottom up by giving everyone equal education and opportunities to all. Yet until we solve those ills of our society, how do we go about choosing our judges? Should the selection be done blind? Remove the names, the gender, the race, the names of schools, and the names and addresses of residence, in short remove anything that might give a clue to race or gender, and then have our judges selected on merit alone?

Even if we do all that, I predict people will still be complaining the selection process is unfair when we again end up with only white men on our list. They’d be both right and wrong; it is unfair, but it’s not the selection process that’s at fault.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.
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8 Comments

  • Paul Griffiths 29th Jan '08 - 1:58pm

    “Should the selection be done blind? Remove the names, the gender, the race, the names of schools, and the names and addresses of residence, in short remove anything that might give a clue to race or gender, and then have our judges selected on merit alone?”

    Couldn’t hurt.

  • The appointment of judges is the very last arena where we want the disease of political correctness to rear its ugly head.

    Judges should be appointed on merit and merit alone.

    More women are now entering the legal profession each year than men, and there are many ethnic minority people joining it to.

    They will work their way through to the judiciary in years to come.

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