Constitutional Affairs Minister, Harriet Harman, attacks law profession’s diversity record

The government has accused law firms of lacking commitment in efforts to improve diversity in the legal sector.

Constitutional Affairs minister Harriet Harman said last week that until the profession was more diverse, the scope for a more diverse judiciary was “constrained”.

“The impetus has to come from the law firms themselves,” she said. “There has to be a commitment from within. There is still a lot of work to be done to ensure diversity is taken seriously within the legal profession.”

By selecting judges from certain backgrounds, the justice system was missing out on a pool of people with the necessary talent and skills for judicial office, she added.

Figures published earlier this month showed the number of women judges had increased from 14% to 18% since 1999, and the number of black and ethnic minority judges had risen from 5% to 17% over the same period.

Last year, the government challenged the top 100 law firms and chambers to publish their equality and diversity figures. So far, less than half have done so.

Despite this, Carolyn Lee, diversity manager at top 100 firm Herbert Smith, said that progress was being made.

“There has been a concerted effort recently to ensure a diverse mix of people are attracted to the profession,” she said. “Diversity is not a short-term objective and it will take time for measures put into place to take effect.”

Seven of the major law firms have signed up to an action plan to promote diversity and judicial service within their firms.

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