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    the selection procedure as “opaque, outdated and not demonstrably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
    elected.

    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
    now”.

    And we call that justice?

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