Lord Taylor of Warwick, Supreme Court

Supreme Court

My Lords, in 1972 the popular Jamaican singer Johnny Nash had a hit record with a song called, “There Are More Questions Than Answers”. I am not aware that, when he wrote the song, he had in mind the creation of a supreme court and a judicial appointments commission. But the song’s title fairly sums up how I feel about the Government’s consultation papers, which contain no fewer than 72 questions.

Noble Lords have mentioned some very pertinent questions, which I shall not repeat now. Because of time limits, I will focus on a particular aspect of the proposals: the desire to make the judiciary more diverse. But the question is how diversity will be achieved. I fully support the comments made by the noble Lords, Lord Lester of Herne Hill and Lord Borrie.

Sadly, a woman has never been appointed to our final Court of Appeal. There has never been a black or ethnic minority judge appointed to the High Court in England and Wales. We are familiar with the expression “glass ceiling” when describing the obstacles often faced by professional women. The phrase “concrete ceiling” is one that is commonly used by the black community to describe its barriers to progress. Clearly, the judiciary must become more diverse in order to carry the confidence of the wider community.

The business sector in Britain has been enriched by diversity, so it is not inevitable that a more diverse judiciary would result in lower standards. It will, however, if tokenism is used to enforce diversity. The answer is to create more equality of opportunity. The legal profession itself must, for example, look at whether the terms and conditions of judicial office are “family friendly” and whether it allows sufficiently for the needs of lawyers who need a career break after having children. Black and minority ethnic law students with the same qualifications as their white counterparts still find it more difficult to obtain pupilages and articles¬†I support the rationale behind these proposals, but the devil is in the detail. There are more questions than answers. Johnny Nash ends his hit song with the line, “The more I find out, the less I know”. I hope that is not an omen for these reforms.

The public needs a modern legal system that builds on its current independence and quality. These proposals bring many questions. I just hope they provide the right answers. 08 September 2003