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Baroness Neuberger hits out at Clarke over judicial appointments

Lord Chancellor's role 'a disgrace'

1 June 2012

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Baroness Neuberger has hit out at the Lord Chancellor, Ken Clarke, for giving himself too big a role in senior judicial appointments in the Crime and Courts Bill.

Speaking at today’s CILEx presidential lunch in London, Baroness Neuberger, chair of the previous government’s advisory panel on judicial diversity, said the measure was a “disgrace”.

Under the bill, which received its second reading in the House of Lords earlier this week, the Lord Chancellor would lose his role in appointment of judges below the rank of High Court to the Lord Chief Justice.

However, he would need to be consulted on senior appointments to the Court of Appeal and above, and sit on selection panels for the Lord Chief Justice and president of the Supreme Court. Both panels would have a lay chair.

“I think the Lord Chancellor is trying to fudge it, and he should know better,” Lord Neuberger said. “This goes against the recommendation of the Lords’ constitution committee.

“How will the other members of the panel feel if they voted him down?” Baroness Neuberger asked. “What would they do if they wanted anything from him in the future?”

Baroness Neuberger said she was “picked out of obscurity” to chair the judicial diversity panel.

“I never knew quite why and had no choice over the panel members,” she said.

However, she said the panel agreed on “absolutely everything” and the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, and the Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, had since devoted hours to discussing the issue.

“The culture is beginning to shift,” she said. “By 2020 you could have a considerably more diverse judiciary, even at the most senior levels, and the quality would be as high as it is now.”

Baroness Neuberger said she hoped it would be easier for legal executives to begin their judicial careers at the tribunals and move their way through the judiciary.

“It is undoubtedly the case for many women and not a few men that the ability to work part time is of paramount importance.”

Baroness Neuberger criticised magic circle solicitors’ firms for failing to take forward a project looking at whether solicitors retiring in their fifties might consider going straight into the judiciary.

She added that she hoped a new judiciary would take shape which was “more reflective of the society it serves, not more representative”.

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