Targets not the right way to achieve more diverse judiciary - Lidington

Ministers are determined to see a "more diverse" judiciary but have ruled out targets for appointing more black and minority ethnic judges, Justice Secretary David Lidington has said.

An inquiry by Labour MP David Lammy into the treatment of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people in the criminal justice system called for a national target to ensure there was a properly "representative" judiciary and magistracy.

Mr Lidington said that while the Government was responding "positively" to all of the inquiry's 35 recommendations, he did not believe setting targets was the right way to tackle BAME under-representation in the judiciary.

"I certainly believe that we need to see a more diverse judiciary. That view is shared by the leadership of the judges themselves," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme .

"When you look at the judges, you have got a group of people who have been practising in the law perhaps for 20 years before they become judges.

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"In getting a more diverse judiciary - both black and ethnic minority but also women who are under-represented at the moment - we need to look at the critical path.

"How do people get into the legal professions in the first place? How can the real stars who might be judges one day be better mentored and encouraged in the path towards eventual membership of the bench?"

Mr Lammy, who was originally appointed by David Cameron to look at the treatment of and outcomes for BAME people in the criminal justice system in England and Wales, said he was "disappointed" at the decision.

"I found that the lack of diversity within our judiciary and magistracy has a significant effect on the trust deficit that I found in Britain's BAME communities in relation to how the justice system is perceived," he said.

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"My review demonstrated the lack of progress over the last decade in improving diversity amongst the judges that sit in our courts, and I am clear that more of the same will not work."

Mr Lidington said the Government would be taking forward proposals in the review to allow some offenders to "defer" prosecution.

Under the proposed scheme, instead of entering a plea, those facing charges for low-level crimes would receive targeted rehabilitation such as drug or alcohol treatment.

Individuals who successfully completed the programme would see the prosecution dropped, while those who failed to comply would face criminal proceedings.

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Mr Lidington said that one pilot project had already taken place in the West Midlands and a second trial scheme was now planned for London.

"The use of deferred prosecutions led to a significant reduction into the rate of re-offending because people were successfully diverted away from the criminal justice system and future," he said.