A leading disabled barrister has called for a “sea change” in the attitudes of judges towards disabled people.
John Horan said judges should be forced to undergo diversity training that includes a section on disability discrimination because of their lack of knowledge and awareness.
He was speaking as a new report – commissioned by the government – called for a “coherent and comprehensive strategy” to increase the number of disabled judges and those from other minorities.
The report by the Advisory Panel on Judicial Diversity says the legal profession must do more to promote diversity at all levels and support applications from talented candidates from all backgrounds.
The panel, set up last April by the Lord Chancellor, Jack Straw, points to the “virtual invisibility” of disabled judges and those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.
Among its recommendations, the report calls for reasonable adjustments for disabled judges, the promotion of flexible working and “open and transparent selection processes that promote diversity and recognise potential”.
And it says members of the Judicial Appointments Commission’s (JAC) interview panels should receive regular equality and diversity training.
Horan, an expert in disability discrimination law, said he “absolutely” agreed with the need for training.
He said: “I really welcome the report of the advisory panel but I wonder whether judges can take it seriously because it involves a sea change in their attitudes towards disabled people.”
He said he would not consider applying to become a judge until “attitudes have changed”.
Baroness Neuberger, who chaired the panel, said there could be “no quick fix” but implementing their recommendations would deliver “real change”.
Her panel also called for a new judicial diversity taskforce to oversee an action plan and publish an annual report on progress.
Although the report rules out diversity targets or quotas for judicial appointments, it says the JAC should make use of the positive action measures in the government’s equality bill that will allow it to appoint a minority candidate if two or more applicants are “essentially indistinguishable”.
And the report says the Bar Council, the Law Society and the Institute of Legal Executives should set out timetables for improving the diversity of their own members who are suitable for appointments “at all levels”.
Straw, who welcomed the report and accepted all of its 53 recommendations, said: “I am determined that race, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or disability should be no barrier to those with ability joining the judiciary and progressing within it.”
25 February 2010