Out of touch, over here and judging us

Watch any US drama series that includes a court scene and, sooner
or later, it strikes home. Take a look at the judge.

Often it is a she – black or Hispanic or white and clearly not
drawn from the Anglo-Saxon Protestant elite. Or, if male, again
black and streetwise, knowing that hip hop isn’t garage while being
reasonably au fait with The Simpsons. In fiction,
as in real US life, the judiciary often reflects the community upon
which it sits in judgement.

Not here. The way senior judges are appointed is a disgrace, based
on bias and patronage. The first independent investigation,
conducted by the Commission for Judicial Appointments, describes
the selection procedure as “opaque, outdated and not demonstrably
based upon merit”.

It reports that the system has a “cloning” effect, perpetuating an
overwhelmingly male, white and privately educated judiciary. This
is at the expense of solicitors (QCs preferred), women and ethnic
minority lawyers (who may also be female).

Of course, posh, expensively educated males may be highly capable
of coming to a fair decision – although listening to the views of
some judges expressed on issues such as child abuse, domestic
violence and racial attacks, the “living on another planet”
syndrome does occasionally emerge.

Ability, however, is not the point. In a democracy, selection and
promotion to the judiciary should be transparent, properly
regulated and have nothing to do with the old boys’ network.

Ministers are planning reforms with a judicial appointments
commission using modern selection methods – but that will not be
until 2006, nine years after “the party of the people” was

Sir Colin Campbell, vice-chancellor of Nottingham University, who
chaired the commission, has called for an immediate bar to further
appointments until “a radical overhaul” is instituted.

The Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, will not be best pleased for he
nominated three of the nine candidates recently offered High Court
posts. “The championship of the lord chancellor or another senior
member of the judiciary was clearly a factor in determining a
candidate’s chances of appointment,” the commission says.

So what is the government’s response to the request for urgent
action? A spokesperson is reported to have said that the need for
change is accepted, but it would “very difficult to do right

And we call that justice?

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