Speaking to Jane Garvey on BBC Radio 4 ‘s Woman’s Hour today, justice secretary Ken Clarke unveiled proposals to ‘stop white men dominating the judiciary’
In summary, Clarke outlined his intention to make the judiciary more representative by utilising some positive discrimination in the appointment of judges and also by means of part-time work and job-sharing positions.
On the face of it these ideas are fair and sensible, though it’s debatable whether a greater proportion of women and minority judges will necessarily achieve Mr Clarke’s aim of ‘a more satisfactory experience for litigants and victims in court’. I think the average Jo(e) would agree that the main inherent flaw with our judges is one of hierarchy. How often have judges been de as being ‘out of touch’ with the man or – particularly – woman in the street. Indeed, Clarke himself came under fire for exactly this not so long back following his remarks re rape sentencing:
Clarke took the opportunity on today’s program to clarify his position, rightly allowing that ‘all rapes are serious’, though the focus was very much on the new judicial proposals, launched today. Speaking of his desire to ‘keep public confidence in the judiciary’ and ‘appointing judges on merit’, Clarke also said he wanted said judiciary to ‘look like modern society’, not ‘a rather patrician establishment of a few years ago’ providing the example of our supreme court, where only one of twelve judges is a woman.
His stated position is that ‘(when) two candidates (are) of equal merit, you should prefer the underrepresented group’ indeed, Clarke suggested one ‘should feel a duty to appoint the underrepresented group’ in such circumstances. I have no problem with this as it would introduce an element of balance into an organisation where historically the default has been just the opposite. As for the ideas of job-sharing and part-time positions, that would quite probably make the judiciary a more accessible working environment for women but it would come at a cost, since in such a heirarchical system ‘part-timers’ would be unlikely to enjoy the same professional esteem as their full-time colleagues.
On the subject of whether he could count on Home Office support, Clarke fudged, willing only to say ‘I should think so’. He and Theresa May haven’t always seen eye-to-eye before, and it would be hopeful to think that there might be some solidarity on this issue. Governments need to be seen as strong and united in the public eye. This is the kind of thinking we should expect from a moderate Tory like Clarke and it would do the party good to embrace it. Folks of my generation and older still regard the Conservatives as the ‘nasty party’ – a situation not likely to be remedied by Clarke’s earlier remarks about rape and current plans for swingeing benefit cuts. Clarke denied today’s plans were part of any grand plan to ‘bid for women’s votes’, though surely if the coalition wishes to remain in power and enjoy any kind of public confidence in the long-term this is something it would be well-advised to do.