Delivering the 2017 Neill Lecture at the Oxford Law Faculty, the UK’s most senior judge added that recruitment to the bench should go beyond the bar “to solicitors, employed lawyers, academics and any other group where one could realistically expect to find potential judges”.
He called for serving judges to encourage ethnic minorities and women to apply too.
“The Supreme Court, which is notably undiverse, is about to start recruiting new members, and we are trying our best to have a wide a pool of candidates as possible. That said, merit (albeit a slightly slippery concept) has to be the ultimate standard by reference to which successful candidates are selected to be judges. The primary duty to the country of any judicial selection panel is to select the best qualified candidate for the post: to dilute the quality of our judiciary would be to erect a milestone on the road to perdition. But, of course, merit and diversity are not mutually exclusive: on the contrary,” Lord Neuberger remarked.
He also expressed concern about the increase in “refuseniks” — advocates who are refusing to move to the bench because of misgivings about pay and the treatment of judges — saying “it could become a real problem if it continues”, adding: “The concern is not only that it will undermine one of the two fundamental pillars of our society, the rule of law, if we do not have a first class judiciary. It is also because a first class judiciary underpins the whole financial and professional services industries which are so vital to the fortunes of this country, perhaps particularly in the post-Brexit world.”