THE Scottish judiciary must address its lack of gender balance – which has decreased further over the last three years – to help ensure that women have proper access to justice, according to a leading feminist organisation.

New figures from feminist campaigning organisation Engender’s 2020 Sex and Power report show the number of women working in the judiciary in Scotland has decreased since the report was first published three years ago.

The report, which covers a wide range of Scottish life – from politics to health, sport and media – is due to be launched in full on Friday. It is expected to show a mixed picture.

However, statistics from the judiciary system show a decline in gender parity, with the percentage of female senators of the college of justice falling from 29% to 26% since 2017.

The situation for temporary judges is even worse, with 14 men available to provide cover and only three women. The number of female sheriffs fell from 23% three years ago to 22%.

Engender’s Sex and Power report in 2017 aimed to build on work done by the Human Rights Commission and the Counting Women Coalition and looked to track progress towards equality, which is understood to be increasing in some sectors.

But Emma Ritch, chief executive of Engender, claimed it was “incredibly disappointing” to see the continued lack of women’s representation at the top of Scotland’s justice system.

“Understanding who sits in positions of power is vital in understanding the extent of men’s over-representation in Scotland,” she added. “Knowing this enables us to recognise where concerted action is needed to improve gender balance.

“Since 2017, we have seen a reduction in the numbers of female sheriffs, who deal with the majority of criminal and civil court cases, and in the numbers of women who are supreme court judges – only nine out of a total of 34. From low conviction rates for sexual violence cases, to the shocking numbers of women placed on remand and then released without sentence, the criminal justice system repeatedly fails women and the overwhelming dominance of men in the judiciary cannot help but contribute to that.”

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But she claimed gender balance alone could not solve this: “Action is needed to make Scotland’s justice system work for women, including recognising misogyny as a criminal offence, centring the well-being of survivors of abuse in criminal trials and ensuring support for women leaving prison,” she added.

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SANDY Brindley, chief executive of Rape Crisis Scotland, said the figures raised questions about why inequality highlighted in 2017 had not been addressed since then.

“These figures are of course a concern to us, but they should also be of concern to everyone in Scotland because decisions made in groups where men are overrepresented are poorer decisions and are likely to impact on women and minority groups disproportionately,” she said.

“A justice system that is truly just would reflect the society that it is an authority over.

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“This is as true of racial diversity, LGBT and disabled people’s inclusion as it is of gender, because of course these are not distinct and separate categories but overlapping identities that often bring with them distinct and valuable lived experiences that can contribute to better decisions being made and cultures fostered.”

Rape Crisis has repeatedly raised long-standing concerns about the way women who have been raped or sexually assaulted are failed by the judiciary, with women reporting negative and “retraumatising” experiences in court.

She claimed that though it was “unrealistic” to expect every female judge to act in a way that improves how the law responded to women, it would be a helpful starting point. “Sexual violence overwhelmingly impacts women and yet at Rape Crisis we hear time and time again that survivors feel let down by the criminal justice system, with some describing the process as worse than the assault itself,” she said.

“This is intolerable and urgent change is needed.”

A spokesperson from the Judicial Office for Scotland said: “Recruitment of Judicial Office Holders is primarily the responsibility of the Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland.

The Judicial Office for Scotland is, however, actively considering ways in which it can contribute to improving the diversity of the judiciary, for example through supporting more flexible working patterns and initiatives to encourage applications from a wider pool of candidates.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said the Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland (JABS) had “a statutory duty to encourage diversity in the applicant pool for judicial office”.

He added: “The Scottish Government, while respecting its independence, supports JABS in its commitment to contribute to the creation of a more diverse judiciary in Scotland and has been engaging with stakeholders to consider whether there are issues which can be addressed to improve the accessibility of judicial office for women and other underrepresented groups.”