The second most senior judge in England and Wales has voiced his support for adhering to the section of the Equality Act which would give priority to women and ethnic minorities when top law job appointments are made.
Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury believes that when two applicants for a role are equally matched, preference should be given to women or ethnic minorities over white men.
He said that he had “no difficulty” with applying section 159 of the Equality Act to the senior judiciary, which would allow “positive” or “affirmative” action in relation to recruitment in England, Wales and Scotland.
This action is not the same as positive discrimination, or the practice of meeting quotas, which is illegal.
Lord Neuberger said: “The proportion of women and ethnic minorities among the senior judiciary is worryingly small. It is clear that we are moving in the right direction, but very slowly. If you’ve got two equal candidates, you go for women and ethnic minorities – I have no difficulty with (that).”
However, if the person given the role is not the best candidate but is chosen for being a woman or an ethnic minority, Lord Neuberger claimed this would be “unfair” and “patronising”.
He claimed that some female judges thought the Equality Act would mean they “only got the job because they wanted a woman”.
Baroness Hale of Richmond is the only female justice of the Supreme Court. She agrees that women are underrepresented in the senior judiciary.
She said: “A woman litigant should be able to go into the court and see more than one person who shares at least some of her experience.
“I should not stick out like a bad tooth, as I do at present.”
Those who oppose the act believe that it is no different from positive discrimination.
Conservative MP Dominic Raab said: “When it comes to offering a job, the decisive factor may now ultimately be race, gender, sexuality, age, disability, religion, philosophical belief or other social factors – positive discrimination by any other name. It will be voluntary to begin with, but the Commission clearly expects to coax and cajole its increasing use.”
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