By Mohammed Khamisa QC
On 20 January 2009 400 guests and Circuiteers packed the Middle Temple Hall to hear a number of prominent speakers talk frankly about their experiences as they broke the mould in name of equality and diversity.
First to speak was David Spens QC, the immediate past leader of the Circuit and the architect of the event entitled ‘Against the Odds: A Celebration of Equality and Diversity’. David pointed out that the SEC was the most diverse of all the Circuits in terms of background, race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability and age and that the Bar compares favourably with other professions, particularly with regard to the ethnicity and gender balance at the Junior Bar. However, David said that the SEC can and should play an active part and should exert positive influence to make change happen in order to alter the mix of judges. He said, “The judiciary will only flourish and retain the public’s confidence if it attracts people – regardless of gender - from all socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds.” David announced a new initiative by the SEC to set up an Appointments Advisory Panel (APP) to support those who wish to apply for judicial office and Silk but who feel they need advice and guidance in making their applications. David’s message was, “This is an inclusive Circuit. It is ‘one Circuit’ as it is ‘one Bar’: If you participate in the Circuit’s activities you will see your involvement, your investment, make a difference, not just to your future but to the future of the profession and those who follow you.”
The main speaker was Attorney General, Baroness Scotland of Asthal, QC the first black cabinet minister and woman to
occupy the office of Attorney. She spoke about the very many achievements of the various government agencies in meeting targets in this area. She said that, “The experience of the CPS has shown that overdue, genuine change can be achieved if there is commitment, imagination, ambition and drive. All our public institutions need to step up to that challenge.” Baroness Scotland went on to say, “All my life, I have striven to be part of the solution, not the problem; to play my role in the shaping of our public institutions and, through that, to become part of well-needed and overdue change in those institutions.”
Sir Adrian Fulford, Britain’s first openly gay judge, described his “bizarre and depressing” experience of applying for judicial appointment. He said that his first application to be an assistant Recorder in 1994 “caused real consternation” but since then, “we have come a long way.” Sir Adrian said, “My personal experience has been that times really do change - indeed at an accelerating rate, and I urge you not to give up and tell your friends not to give up . . . and you will ensure that the judiciary is truly open to all those who, on merit alone, deserve to be appointed.” He predicted that the judiciary would soon reflect more realistically the composition of the legal professions, which in turn was undergoing radical transformation. With a little courage, he said, seismic change was possible.
Rabinder Singh QC spoke positively about his experiences and his own career. Rabinder has developed a formidable reputation in human rights law and sits as a Deputy High Court Judge. He gave encouragement to those who were thinking of applying for government lists by his own experience of what could be achieved.
Stephen Leslie QC, the new Leader of the SEC, spoke of the need to continue the good work which had been done, to which end he announced the appointment of a second SEC Equality and Diversity Mentor, Frances Oldham QC. The Leader emphasized the need for the whole of the Circuit to act as a united team
The evening proved to be a huge success and very many positive responses have been received.