Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged   Leave a comment

This week, the Department of Justice announced plans which they hope will help make more women and black or minority ethnics (BME) become top judges. The plans would both encourage more people from these groups to apply (they would introduce more flexible working hours) and would assist them in the selection process (“positive action” would mean interviewers are encouraged to select someone from an under-represented group).

It’s unsurprising to hear these plans being introduced as we are often told measures are being considered to promote the need to employ people from a wider range of backgrounds. It’s not uncommon to hear someone coming out to say “there aren’t enough women on the executive boards of big companies” or “those from ethnic minorities are under-represented in certain professions”. But why is it such a prevalent concern?

The problem can stem from the persistent domination of cultural stereotypes, meaning fewer people from certain backgrounds will apply for certain jobs: for example, fewer women do manual labour and fewer men work in the ‘caring’ professions such as teaching and nursing.

Do judges really need to represent wider society though? Surely the most important thing is that they are good at their job? In fact, in order for a judge to remain unbiased, I think it would be much better for them to not try and find things in common with the people they are employed to judge. Those employed within the judicial system should be able to distance themselves from the cases they are working on. This ensures they maintain an air of professionalism and are able to act out their duties without being swayed by any emotional attachments they may develop if they started seeing themselves as a judge who was in place to represent women, for example.

Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke

Secretary of State for Justice, Ken Clarke, did point out that the government is aware of the need to “continue to recruit the very best judges”, but also expressed a desire to “do what we can encourage top applicants from a diverse range of backgrounds so that the judiciary better reflects society”. Looking at the bare statistics, it does seem as if certain types of people aren’t succeeding or are just put off going into the profession: less than 15% of senior judges are female and only 3% are of black or Asian heritage (source: BBC News).

However, whilst it is common for people to talk about whether certain industries represent society in physical attributes (gender, racial, disabilities), you never hear a similar discussion about more representation of homosexuals or certain political ideologies, mainly because they are ‘hidden’. In the same way, racial attributes take priority over religious representation because a Muslim who has an Asian skin colouring is more obvious to the outside world than someone who is a white Muslim (assuming they aren’t wearing anything that would identify them as a practising Muslim).

Another complaint which the media often like to bring up is that politicians should be more representative of the electorate. The current angle of this argument has been about how the majority of the cabinet went to public school and/or are Oxbridge graduates. Now, whilst I do agree that our politicians should be able to represent the public’s views, which may at times be in contradiction to their own, but they don’t need to have led the same life or to look the same (or to share the same religion, etc.) as the rest of their constituency. Members of Parliament (MPs) are elected to represent our interests, concerns, and viewpoints to the government, not our lives. MPs are our “delegates” – they speak and act on our behalf. We have recently started thinking that their representative role should encompass being physically representative of the society they represent, but this is simply not in the job description and it never was.

Also, even though those people who want measures such as “positive action” (sometimes known as “positive discrimination”) introduced as an aid to those who are under-represented in certain professions, particular at a senior level, these good-natured people might actually being more harm than good. As a woman, I can say that I would much prefer to feel that I got a job or received a promotion because I had shown that I was the best person for the job rather than always having the sneaking suspicion that I was there simply to “make up the numbers” and show that the company in question was trying to portray itself as one that will employ anyone from any background. Of course, I do believe in equality of the opportunity to apply for a job in any profession at any level, just not in equality of achievement as not all who apply will be deserving. After all, if everyone got a promotion, it would simply render your own promotion meaningless wouldn’t it?


Posted 14/05/2012 by thinkmindy in identity, Politics

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