Why are women and ethnic minorities excluded from the UK Supreme Court?

The UK Supreme Court is the final court of appeal for civil and criminal cases from England, Wales, Northern Ireland and for civil cases from Scotland. It was formerly the Appellate Committee  House of Lords, but in 2009 in an effort to separate the judiciary from the government it was renamed and moved to a separate building. The Law Lords (now the Supreme Court Justices) can no longer sit in the House of Lords.

“The Supreme Court, as well as being the final court of appeal, plays an important role in the development of United Kingdom law.” From the Supreme Court website. The Supreme Court interprets and changes the law from a predominately male, privileged perspective. Its decisions are extremely important and range from asylum claims, divorce settlements, and prisoners’ right to vote.


Back row left to right: Lord Hughes, Lord Reed, Lord Wilson, Lord Clarke, Lord Sumption
Lord Carnwath & Lord Toulson. Front row left to right: Lord Mance, Lord Hope (Deputy President of The Supreme Court), Lord Neuberger (President of The Supreme Court), Lady Hale, & Lord Kerr

In the Supreme Court there are eleven men and one woman. And no ethnic minorities. Equal number of men and women enter the legal profession. And yet women do not achieve the same success as men in the legal profession not only in the Supreme Court. “In the top 100 law firms in the UK, just 9.4% of equity partners are women.” Article in the guardian. Percentage wise, 8% of the Supreme Court is female. One women does not equal the inclusion of women in the Supreme Court.

Where does it go wrong? What stops women and ethnic minorities from achieving their potential as lawyers or judges?

Baroness Hales says in an article in the Independent, “I suspect they’re not very good at assessing people who have come from different backgrounds,” she said. “We think we have got equal opportunities, but I would guess, for all sorts of reasons, they’re not necessarily truly equal because so much assessment of merit is subjective.

“There’s an awful lot of unconscious assumptions and judgements that are made when people don’t realise that that’s what they’re doing. The more used they are to having women, and people from ethnic minorities, around, the less that’s a problem because they know how we behave. But if you hardly ever see a woman, you don’t really know how to assess somebody who’s a candidate.”

Women and ethnic minorities are excluded because privileged, white, men that are selecting their successors. They are choosing people that look like them, speak like them and were similarly educated. They are invested in preserving the status quo, and no wonder look how they have benefited from reducing the competition.

“It is the responsibility of the Lord Chancellor to convene a selection commission: he usually does this by way of a letter to the President of the Court who chairs the selection commission. Other members are the Deputy President, and a member of each of the Judicial Appointments Commission for England and Wales, the Judicial Appointments Board in Scotland, and the Judicial Appointments Commission in Northern Ireland. At least one of those representatives has to be a lay person. Nominations are made by the Chairman of the relevant Commission/Board. (NB the Report of the Advisory Panel on Judicial Diversity, published in February 2010, recommends reducing the number of serving Judges involved in a selection panel, and ensuring a gender mix, and, where possible, an ethnic mix.)”  Appointments of Justices

The Supreme Court is five years old this year and still women and ethnic minorities are not fairly represented. Is it time to change the selection process?


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