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08 December 2015

A small yet significant step towards a diverse judiciary

3 mins

As Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb, the first female Asian High Court Judge, begins her second week of hearings, it is important not to forget the significance of her appointment. Bobbie Cheema-Grubb QC was one of two newly appointed female High Court judges joining Juliet Mary May QC at the Bench. In the same week Denise McBride QC and Siobhan Keegan QC became the first women to be appointed to the High Court in Northern Ireland.

A much needed step has been taken in progress towards equality in the judiciary, and hopefully society as a whole.  The judiciary is in great need of excellent judges from all genders, ethnicities and social backgrounds.  We wish Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb success in the role to which she has been appointed.

It is of course an appointment that should not be significant.  With a fear of sounding maudlin in the face of what is of course good news, it is somewhat concerning that this appointment comes 45 years after the Equal Pay Act 1970, 40 years after the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and 36 years after the Race Relations Act 1979.  Asian women represent a large proportion of the UK population, and the legal profession for that matter, and it is absolutely vital that there be adequate representation in the judiciary. 

In 2015 it should not be worthy of any special recognition purely on the basis of gender or familial history that any lawyer with a highly distinguished career is appointed as a High Court Judge. Currently 23 out of the 108 High Court judges are female. The number of High Court judges from minority backgrounds now stands at four out of 108.  The figures are even more stark when looking at the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court, where out of a total of 50 judges, only nine are female and zero are from a black, Asian or minority ethnic background.  The appointment of the first female Asian High Court is clearly a stage in a process that still has a considerable way to go. A report produced by Karon Monaghan QC and Sir Geoffrey Bindman QC (Hon) explored methods by which accelerated diversity within the judiciary may be achieved, and it is sadly the case that methods do need to be implemented to expedite the process beyond its current pace.  

When newly elected Canadian President Justin Trudeau was asked why he had insisted on gender equality within his cabinet he said, “because it’s 2015”.  We would like to expect equality in such a matter of fact fashion in all professions. Unfortunately statistics such as the above, and the Fawcett Society’s publicising of Equal Pay Day, Monday 9 November, the day that women began effectively working unpaid for the remainder of 2015 as a result of the gender pay gap, underlines the long road to equality. 

Appointments such as these should stand alone as an achievement for progress, and any appointment that shows the judiciary to be less of an exclusive club and more of a reflection of the society to which we all belong is welcome.


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