Monday's paper edition of the Guardian bore, at the top of the front page, pictures of the bewigged visages of the ten newest appointees to the High Court. These, the headline informed us, were the "first 10 high court judges [appointed] under [the] new diversity rules".
The report then went on to complain that the new high court judges were all white, male, barristers. Such oppressed groups as non-whites, women, and, um, solicitors were still dangerously under-represented, we read. In support of this contention, they cited that renowned paragon of virtue and goodness, Keith Vaz. With such moral authority as his name confers, can we doubt that the Guardian is right, when it implies that there is a significant problem?
Well, yes, of course we can. For a start, neither Vaz (who, lest we forget, has something of a track record of making unevidenced claims of discrimination, in respect of the legal profession, as elsewhere) nor the Guardian has actually produced any evidence of discrimination. They simply infer, from the fact that the new appointees are all white men, that some form of discrimination must have taken place. And this simply is not sufficient evidence on which to base any reasonable claim.
Their implicit suggestion that there was anti-female discrimination is particularly dubious. Judicial appointments have, since 2006, been the business of the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC). The creation of the JAC marked a move away from appointment of judges by the Lord Chancellor, after consultation with other judges, and was created because it was alleged that the existing system was leading to an insufficiently diverse judiciary (hence the reference to "new diversity rules" in the Guardian headline). A cursory examination of the JAC's website reveals that seven of the fifteen commissioners are female, as are three of the five members of the commission's "leadership team". Presumably they all engaged in discrimination against their own sex. On the ethnic front, two of the commissioners are non-white, including the chairman, Baroness Prashar. Although this is obviously a minority, it does nonetheless constitute 13% of the entire body, which means that non-whites are, in fact, over-represented. So, in essence, what Vaz and the Guardian, not to mention numerous outraged letter writers ("disgusted of Islington"?), are alleging, albeit only by implication, is that a body composed of roughly equal numbers of men and women, in which non-whites were over-represented, and which was headed by a non-white woman, discriminated against, um, non-whites and women.
One has to wonder what the Guardian are hoping to achieve. After all, they stuck their (implied) allegation of discrimination on the very front page of the newspaper. One assumes that they feel that some change is due. And, since the JAC asserts that it appoints by merit, one can only assume that this change will involve racial and sexual quotas. This approach has previously been advocated by Britain's first black woman High Court judge, Mrs Justice Dobbs, and it is as idiotic now as it was then. As idiotic, indeed, as demands for such quotas always are. And the reason why they are idiotic is clear. Since there is no evidence to contradict the JAC's claim that is selects on merit, we can only assume that quotas will either have no effect (if the number of non-white/female candidates who are the best candidates meets or exceeds the quota), or will lead to the appointment of inferior candidates over superior candidates. If it's the former, it will be pointless, and if it's the latter (as I suspect it would be), then it will be positively harmful. After all, it is important that any job should be done as well as possible, and this applies doubly when the job is one so vital as the administration of law and justice.