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Keith Vaz: 'Arbitrary' age cap hinders search for next Lord Chief Justice

Keith Vaz: 'Arbitrary' age cap hinders search for next Lord Chief Justice


Labour MP says losing judicial talent on the basis of age is 'poor practice'

Keith Vaz MP has tabled a private member's bill which would disregard the age of candidates for the position of Lord Chief Justice and other senior roles.

Last week the Lord Chancellor tasked the Judicial Appointments Commission with convening a panel to elect a new head of the judiciary as Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, pictured, is set to retire later this year.

However, according to the announcement, the successful candidate is expected to serve in the role for at least four years, effectively setting an age cap of 65 for applicants as judges normally retire at 70.

The decision, which has been described as 'disappointing and arbitrary' by Labour's Vaz, effectively rules out well-respected jurists such as Sir Brian Leveson and Lady Justice Hallett. Both will be 68 later this year.

The Leicester East MP's bill will require 'those responsible for the selection and interviewing of candidates for, and appointment to, the posts of Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, the President of the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court of England and Wales, the Keeper or Master of the Rolls and Records of the Chancery of England and the President of the Family Division of the High Court of England and Wales to disregard the age of applicants under 70 years of age; and for connected purposes'.

A member of the justice select committee and former solicitor before turning to politics, Vaz said: 'The recent decision taken by the Judicial Appointments Commission is disappointing and arbitrarily rules out exceptional candidates for the position of Lord Chief Justice.

'If there are concerns that those appointed must serve for a reasonable length of time, exceptions can surely be made to delay retirement until heads of division have completed their service.

'If we compare ourselves to judicial systems abroad, like the Supreme Court in the US, losing talent on the basis of age is exposed as a poor practice which hinders the process of finding the best legal minds in a mire of technicalities.'

Speaking to peers yesterday on the ability to recruit new judges, Lord Kakkar, the chair of the JAC, suggested that the decision to limit the age for the most senior judge in England and Wales followed a meeting with the Lord Chancellor, in which she said criteria for the role required 'a reasonable length of service'.

Vaz's bill will be presented to parliament at 12.30pm today, Thursday 2 March 2017.

John van der Luit-Drummond is deputy editor of Solicitors Journal | @JvdLD