'Based on merit?': 17 per cent of NSW Supreme Court judges went to one exclusive Sydney private school


The New South Wales Supreme Court says it’s committed to diversity, after a Feed analysis revealed over 60 per cent of judges went to Sydney University and 15 per cent of male judges to one exclusive high school.

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Eight out of the 52 permanent Supreme Court judges in New South Wales went to the same high school, with more than two thirds going to the same university.

A Feed analysis has revealed 15 per cent of male judges attended Saint Ignatius' College Riverview in Sydney's north shore - a private secondary school charging upwards of $25,000 a year for tuition.

The Feed

There are more than 800 high schools in the state.

The NSW Supreme Court is the highest court in the state - it has unlimited jurisdiction with state civil matters and hears the most serious criminal cases.

Of the 52 judges, eleven are women, with three new female appointments made last year.

The Feed

Of the 41 remaining male judges, around three quarters attended Sydney University, raising questions about the Court's commitment to diversity.

The director of law research at the University of South Australia Dr Joe McIntrye said he was completely "horrified" but "unsurprised" by the statistics.

"A hundred years ago we dispelled the myth that the law is exhaustive," he said.

"We recognise personality and background can affect the judicial system."

The selection process

Supreme Court judges are appointed by the NSW Government on the recommendation of the NSW Attorney General. The decision is made in close consultation with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and legal professional bodies such as the NSW Bar Association and the NSW Law Society.

Judges need at least seven years of experience as a lawyer in Australia, but they usually have decades of experience as barristers and solicitors.

The Feed requested comment from the NSW Law Society, the NSW Attorney General and the NSW Supreme Court.

Information provided by the NSW Supreme Court in response said judicial appointments are based on merit and they have a commitment to promoting diversity.

Dr McIntyre said, unlike the United States and the United Kingdom, Australia is reluctant to recognise that the judges who are selected impact the judicial process.

It is a dangerous myth that the judge doesn’t matter.

The United Kingdom introduced an independent selection system to appoint judges in an attempt to eliminate any "tap-on-the shoulder" method of recruitment - removing the selection responsibility from politicians in most cases.

The UK's Judicial Appointment Commission was introduced more than a decade ago and select candidates on merit, good character and to encourage diversity.

Dr McIntyre believes it is inevitable Australia will move toward a similar system but there is a perception a move away from the current process could be undemocratic.

A reflection of the 'Merit Myth'

Education professor Dr Jill Blackmore said the concentration of privately schooled people in certain professions means the same 'elite' class of people can be replicated over and over again in our society, and our institutions.

"This is particularly relevant in medicine and law which are professions that are considered elite," Professor Blackmore said.

There is a social reproduction model - that tends to be masculine - that favours people from a particular life circumstance.

Professor Blackmore said the concentration of white, highly educated men from suburban Australia is not exclusive to the legal industry.

In the federal parliament, fewer than twenty of the 226 parliamentarians have a non-English speaking background. The two major parties have never been led by a culturally and linguistically diverse Australian.

Thirty two percent of federal parliamentarians are women.

There are more men named John running ASX 200 companies than there are women.

Professor Blackmore said that to address issues of diversity unconscious bias and material conditions must be addressed.

"But I've been writing on this topic for more than thirty years and not much has changed," she said.