Lord Chief Justice says not enough women judges

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan voiced concerns about the gender imbalance in senior judicial roles

Northern Ireland's top judge has said he is concerned that there are not enough women in senior judicial roles.

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan said hopes that the imbalance would shift naturally by recruitment on merit "did not seem to be bearing fruit".

Sir Declan said the legal profession was the supply line for the senior judiciary.

He said he wanted to look at things that helped or hindered progression at all career stages.

Improve

In a speech marking the opening of the new legal year, the Lord Chief Justice set out the need to gather proper evidence and examine obstacles to reaching the highest judicial ranks.

He confirmed that the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Commission has commissioned a team from Queen's University to examine the issue.

A conference organised by Imelda McMillan, president of the Law Society, is also to look into the reasons.

"There will be a role for the judiciary, for the Judicial Appointments Commission, the legal profession, the Department of Justice, the law schools and perhaps the legislature," Sir Declan said.

"It is not an issue which will be resolved overnight, but that should not stop us tackling it now, and doing all we can to make the senior legal profession and the senior judiciary attractive and accessible aspirations."

Speaking at the Inn of Court at the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast, Sir Declan outlined efforts to improve efficiency in the justice system.

Guidelines

The Lord Chief Justice said strong progress had been made on his first programme of action on sentencing published last year.

He said that in the year ahead a key priority would be to ensure the sentencing process was "transparent, consistent and understood by the public".

Sixty-seven guidelines on sentencing in the Magistrates' Court have been drawn up and are available on an open access internet resource.

The guidelines cover assaults, sexual offences, dishonesty and drug offences, planning enforcement and road traffic offences.

Sixteen new Court of Appeal guidelines have also been published, as well as landmark Crown Court judgements on human trafficking and corporate manslaughter.

The new Court of Appeal guidelines include guidance on sexual offences against children, causing death by dangerous driving, domestic violence and duty evasion.

More guidelines on environmental offences and farming and animal offences are due to be published soon.

Sir Declan described listening and engaging with the community as a key element of the sentencing group's work.

He said he had agreed with justice minister David Ford that the group responsible for sentencing guidelines should be expanded to include lay members.

Sir Declan said the inclusion of lay members was "another significant step towards ensuring that the work of the group is the best that it can be".

"That is why I am today announcing that I intend to recruit two lay members to become part of the sentencing group, one with expertise in understanding the needs of victims of crime, and one with expertise in criminal and sentencing law," he said.

"This initiative is a new departure for the judiciary and an appropriate way of working which I welcome."

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