Minority scholars urge judges to quit ‘exclusionary’ law journal

Letter urges Baroness Hale and Lord Reed to step back from Law Quarterly Review and Criminal Law Review until diversity improved

July 2, 2022
Baroness Hale
Baroness Hale of Richmond

Black and ethnic minority law academics have called for two of the UK’s most senior judges to step down from the advisory board of a prestigious journal, saying the lack of anonymised peer review has led to the exclusion of minority scholars.

The Law Quarterly Review (LQR), the UK’s oldest law journal, has faced criticism in recent months over its alleged bias towards Oxbridge-based authors after it emerged that 31 of 45 contributing authors in an edition last year were current or former academics at Oxford or Cambridge, students or recent graduates. That level of representation was not unusual for the 137-year-old publication, whose editors have all been Oxford-based, one legal scholar told Times Higher Education.

In response, the journal’s owner, Thomson Reuters, explained that the imprint had an “editorial advisory committee, with eight distinguished members, that is available to be consulted on the general editorial direction and to advise on any significant changes”.

Now a group of female ethnic minority law academics have told THE that they have written to two of the board’s members – former Supreme Court president Baroness Hale of Richmond and current president Lord Reed of Allermuir – to ask them to draw back from their advisory roles until changes were made.

The group, who wish to remain anonymous “for fear of career damage”, said the journal’s reliance on a single editor, former University of Oxford professor Peter Mirfield, was a breach of its duties under the 2010 Equality Act as it failed to guard against unconscious bias in the peer review process. Furthermore, it meant the journal’s “entire editorial focus…continues to operate solely through the lens of white men”.

Another Thomson Reuters publication, Criminal Law Review (CLR), was guilty of similar failings, one of the group said. While its papers were selected using double-blind peer review, its case notes section was not. In one case, one QC, who has co-authored with the editor, has been published in the section more than 60 times, she said.

“The lack of blind review, collective editing and blind editing has led to those known to editors being grossly over-represented” in the pages of both journals, “while BAME scholars remain not only under-represented in the journals but also under-represented in editorial roles”, the academic told THE.

“The Modern Law Review and Legal Studies show how this is done – both those have a range of academics from a wide range of backgrounds that are co-editors, not just advisers, and from a wide range of universities, thereby complying with the Equality Act requirement to open up the chance for BAME academics to participate in editing,” she added.

David Ormerod, a UCL law professor who edits the CLR, rejected the accusation of cronyism, saying the title had run a system of double-blind peer review for at least two decades. The case comments section was published monthly, a time frame that did not allow for peer review as case reports were “topical”, he explained. Nonetheless, contributors who are selected by a sub-editor, rather than directly by the editor, are “quite wide ranging”, though regular commentators did appear, he added.

“Significant effort to diversify the editorial board” had been made in recent years, added Professor Ormerod, who pointed to the addition of “six women as well as members from a range of ethnicities”.


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Reader's comments (9)

The Criminal Law Review has three white male editors only, so I am not sure what definition of diversity that is. Editor in Chief white man, book review editor white man, and case note editor white man. Sprinkling a few women in non-editorial roles on an advisory board is not equal to making them editors. The journal needs 5 year term limits for editors and needs to hold open contests for new editors every 5 years--that is how diversity is embraced. The current editor has been in the post longer than a decade which is an extraordinary long run and has co-authored many times in the article section several times with colleagues-notwithstanding the robust peer review he alleges safeguards conflicts.
It is normal in the UK for people not to recuse themselves from recruitment panels for academic jobs when former colleagues apply and even when close friends apply. There is not declaration required concerning friends and a person can sit on a panel and push for a friend to get a job. There should be robust recusal rules, but do not hold your breath on that happening any time soon. Time to have collective editing, no matter what, and time to make sure the editors are sufficient independent of each other. This protects both editors and authors.
I have submitted many case notes only to be told that the case is taken—and when the case note comes out it is usually done by the co-author of a certain student book on crime. He has now more than a 100 case notes in the CLR (and several articles) and seems to land the cases with the biggest issues. It is no doubt just coincidence, but maybe a solution is to have a quota for the case notes so that those who are in the editorial circles have to wait until others have had a chance, if they have already had 2 case notes or more during the relevant academic year. Case notes are a good way of promoting one's work in their textbooks etc--so need a fair distribution via quotas.
The editor who deals with the Article section of the CLR is Mr. David Ormerod. Case-notes are done by Mr. Peter Hungerford-Welsch. Book reviews are handled by Mr. Jackson. I have submitted many articles to it and only ever got emails from David Ormerod for articles. The women on the editorial board are not in primary editing roles and seem not to be involved directly in any editing decisions or in communications with authors. The articles seem to be singled peer reviewed, because the reports come back in weeks, not months which is normally how long it takes to get reviews back. What’s more, the second report always is not much more than 2 lines. Whereas Modern Law Review takes months to peer review and gives two full length reports. I do not think it matters that people may have worked together at Law Commission and then co-author together later after landing jobs at the same university, if another editor handles their submission and if that editor has declared any conflict that might not make the editing arm’s length. The issue here is not to dig into how representation has become inadvertently skewed, but to change things going forward so that the Criminal Law Review gets its first ever female Editor in Chief which is long overdue.
The editor of the CLR says, ‘“Significant effort to diversify the editorial board” had been made in recent years’, but all three "editors" remain "white" and "male". What would help is for the Editor-in-Chief to resign and let the Society of Legal Scholars run an open contest for his replacement. There ought to be at least three Editors-in-Chief so that conflicts of interests can be handled objectively and carefully. Two of them should be female and one BAME--because it has never had a female editor-in-chief in its 70 plus years. It is not for me to commment on the alleged correlations between those who have previously worked together in a job or published together in the past and thereafter publish more than once in these reviews— it is best that people look for themselves and draw their own conclusions after evaluating the evidence. The Law Quarterly Review is stuck in 1850 and the publisher (Thomson) surely cannot be aware of it. I do not believe that the publisher knows that it is not using blind review and it would be worth someone telling it. I am sure if the publisher knew about the LQR it would appoint an editorial board immediately, because that review used to be a big name and its reputation needs protecting through urgent reforms. I agree with the post above—equity requires quotas. Much of what is blocked in certain brand name journals is 3* and 4* in terms of REF—but being institutionally grounded in the home of journal increases the chances of publication by tenfold---quotas for those employed in the institution where the journal is edited is the only solution--as any other approach will be gamed.
This needs to be investigated by universities where these people work. The Equality Act is a tootheless tiger!
I do not get how the subeditor for case-notes for CLR is able to handle submissions from those who co-author books with the editor-in-chief, since the editor-in-chief is the boss of the subeditor for case-notes. I must be missing something in that defence. If the subeditor is not doing blind review or blind editing for the case-notes and knows the names of those who submit case-notes and knows any relationship they have with his boss, then that does not seem fool proof system to me.
System is not fool proof. It is a case of scratching one's back.
We found the above piece by Jack Gove riveting and were curious so did a quick search of the legal data bases. We discovered that the Criminal Law Review editor is David Ormerod who co-authors the updates to the Smith and Hogan Criminal Law book with Karl Laird. Karl Laird has an astonishing115 case-notes/articles in the Criminal Law Review. Rory Kelly who worked at the Law Commission in a small team (5 staff only in the crime group at the Law Commission) with David Ormerod and followed David Ormerod to UCL Law Faculty (presumably David Ormerod recused himself from the interview panel at UCL that hired Rory Kelly into the UCL criminal law team since they were former close colleagues at the Law Commission). Kelly is already in the Criminal Law Review 5 times and has co-authored with David Ormerod since arriving at UCL: see Crim. L.R. 2021, 7, 532-555. Lyndon Harris who worked for 4 years at Law Commission with David Ormerod in the small criminal law team is in the Criminal Law Review over 100 times. O'Floinn co-authored papers with David Ormerod as far back as 2011 and later was hired at the Law Commission on secondment while David Ormerod was head of the Criminal Law team at the Law Commission and has since published again in the Criminal Law Review. Micheal O'Floinn and David Ormerod Citation: Crim. L.R. 2011, 10, 766-789; Micheal O'Floinn and David Ormerod: Citation: Crim. L.R. 2012, 7, 486-55----and lately Crim. L.R. 2020, 6, 548-553; Crim. L.R. 2021, 3, 163-190. Rudi Fortson and David Ormerod co-authored many times in the Criminal Law Review around the time or not long before David Ormerod obtained the Editor in Chief role (and many times since): see David Ormerod and Rudi Fortson: Citation: Crim. L.R. 2009, 6, 389-414; and Rudi Fortson and David Ormerod: Citation: Crim. L.R. 2009, 5, 313-334; and David Ormerod and Rudi Fortson: Citation: Crim. L.R. 2005, Nov, 819-833. Since David Ormrod has been Editor in Chief Fortson has had 80 plus outputs in the Criminal Law Review. In addition, David Ormerod gets to do editorials in the Criminal Law Review every issue and even though those editorials are only 2 pages and are the academic quality of a newspaper op-ed piece, they do get his name out and promote him in a way that cannot hinder him getting honours and books sales. After a thorough search of the top legal databases (LexisNexis, Westlaw and Heinonline), we can only find two journal outputs in the last decade from David Ormerod that are in journals independent of the Criminal Law Review. 1. A co-authored paper in European Journal of Law Reform, Vol. 19, Issue 4 (2017), pp. 285-305; 2. A 5 page opinion piece in Medicine, Science and the Law, Vol. 55, Issue 3 (July 2015), pp. 156-161; We are not going to comment on the above facts. Our aim here is just to state some empirical facts.


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