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Truss to shake up judicial appointments to increase diversity

Truss to shake up judicial appointments to increase diversity


Deputy High Court judges get new fast-track process as experience and potential are given greater weight

In a drive to increase judicial diversity the Lord Chancellor has announced new government measures to encourage more solicitors and barristers to become judges.

Speaking at the Spark 21 conference from the First 100 Years Project, Liz Truss said she wanted more women, BAME, and solicitors ‘welcomed’ into the senior judicial roles and had spoken to Magic Circle and Silver Circle firms about encouraging more of their lawyers to become judges.

The secretary of state for justice added that she also wanted to see more women and BAME barristers take silk, highlighting that, at present, only 13 per cent of Queen’s Counsels are female and 6 per cent come from minority backgrounds. Just 25 women were among the 107 lawyers promoted to the rank of QC in January 2016 as applications for senior counsel remain stubbornly low.

Arguing that the still prevalent culture of ‘presenteeism’ in many law firms should be rejected, Truss said that becoming a judge ‘should not be about how many hours you put in. What matters is the talent’.

‘To force the pace of change we must tackle both the practical barriers and a mindset that can sometimes prevent talent from breaking through,’ said Truss. ‘The abilities needed to be a judge are legal knowledge, integrity, intellect, and drive. Not how many hours you have put in on the circuit or spent in the courtroom.’

The justice secretary revealed that the selection process for judges would be reformed, with the next round of recorder appointments being drawn for ‘the top 100 talent’ regardless of ‘where they live’. Statistics published by the Judicial Appointments Commission in June showed that white lawyers were three times more likely to be made a recorder than their BAME counterparts. The JAC stats also revealed that 45 per cent of lawyers recommended for the bench in 2015 were female.

In addition, a new fast-track process will make it ‘easier’ for lawyers to progress on the bench ‘as soon as they are ready’. ‘While merit and ability must always be paramount, experience as a deputy High Court judge will carry far greater weight than at present,’ she added.

‘The next recruitment campaign, which takes place early in the new year, will for the first time open the door to a wider pool of direct-entry candidates. Individuals who, while exceptionally talented, have not had previous judicial experience. These could be academics, in-house counsel, or perhaps Magic Circle solicitors who spend more time in boardrooms than courtrooms.’

The Lord Chancellor said judges should be selected ‘on the basis of merit’ but the assessment of merit ‘needs to include an assessment of potential’, telling lawyers in attendance that they should not be put off applying to be a judge because they had little courtroom experience. ‘What matters should be your potential,’ she said.

Seemingly making reference to tabloid attacks on High Court judges, Truss said recent events ‘show the importance of the judiciary and our constitution and our free society. Our independent judiciary is vital. From the Supreme Court down, we are unrivalled around the world in having judges who are independent, impartial, and incorruptible. I can think of no higher calling than joining the judiciary.’

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