06 December 2002
New Labour fails to modernise judiciary
The judiciary is still largely made up of the usual suspects - privileged, white, elderly men - despite the election of the young fresh New Labour government in 1997, according to a survey in Labour Research magazine.
The survey, of all 774 judges sitting in English and Welsh courts, found that:
* 67% went to public school and 60% attended Oxford or Cambridge universities;
* under New Labour, those in the senior courts are more likely to have been public school educated;
* the UK's highest court remains an all-male all-white bastion;
* the average age of the judges is over 60; and
* only 8% of today's judges are women while fewer than 1% are from an ethnic minority group.
Labour Research has been publishing regular surveys on the judiciary since the mid-1980s. But the make-up of the judiciary has been particularly important since 1998, when the Labour government introduced the Human Rights Act, which gave judges wide new powers to interpret UK law.
But after more than five years of Labour rule, and its commitment to ending "old boy" networks for the appointment of judges, the judiciary does not look very different compared with10 years ago.
Labour Research found that two in three (67%) of the current stock of judges went to public school ? a figure matched exactly by those appointed since Labour took office in 1997. Indeed the trend in the highest courts has been to increase the proportion of those with public school backgrounds.
Labour Research's 1991 survey found that 90% of the judges in House of Lords had been to either Oxford or Cambridge universities. Today the proportion has actually increased to 92%. Of those appointed since 1997, all have Oxbridge backgrounds.
At the Court of Appeal the situation is not much better. Of those who attended university, 91% went to Oxford or Cambridge. Taking those appointed since 1997, the figure is 95%.
It is only in the Family Division of the High Court that there have been significant changes. Just 20% of those appointed in the last five years were Oxbridge educated compared with 57% of all currently in post and 66% in 1991.
And a look at their extra-curricular activities indicates that the judges have not felt the need to modernise their upper-class eccentricity.
Judge Bernard Lever likes "picking up litter", Judge Roger Ryce has a collection of corkscrews, and Circuit Court judge Isobel Plumstead lists "gargling" among her hobbies, while Circuit Court Judge James Wadsworth just likes "idling".
Notes to editors
1 Further details of the survey are published in the enclosed December 2002 edition of Labour Research magazine.
2 Labour Research is published by the Labour Research Department, an independent trade union and labour movement organisation founded 90 years ago. More than 1,800 trade union organisations, including 55 national unions representing 99% of total TUC membership, are affiliated.
3 Labour Research Department press releases are also available on the LRD website at www.lrd.org.uk
4 For further information contact Sonia McKay on 0207 902 9827