The head of the judiciary has admitted being ‘unsuccessful’ in persuading City lawyers to become judges.
Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge told the Lords Constitution Committee yesterday that, if he could persuade City lawyers and their firms that a judicial career is a plausible option, ‘we would have a more diverse judiciary’.
‘We have a problem,’ said Judge.
‘The appointments commission can only choose from those who apply for appointment. Then, it can only choose those who are of adequate quality. I have tried terribly hard to get solicitors working in the major firms – who after all are attracting some of our brightest and best young men and women – to apply for appointment as a judge.
‘I am being unsuccessful. Yet there, there is a huge pool of men and women who could adorn the bench at all levels, right up to the Supreme Court. I cannot persuade the major City firms that this is a sensible route that should be available to some of their men and women. If we had that, we would have a more diverse judiciary.’
Judge criticised the continuing move towards overly prescriptive acts of parliament, and called instead for more broadly worded legislation.
‘I’m not being facetious about this, but do you know there is a guideline for judges passing sentence on those rather odd people who have sexual intercourse with a corpse?’ he said. ‘There’s a different possible approach depending on whether it’s with the same corpse, or a different corpse.
‘It’s all to do with the idea that you can legislate for just about every possibility, and the answer is, you can’t. I would much rather have legislation that was much broader and much less prescriptive.’
He said that judges need to shake off their out-of-date perception of their role in the media, and get up to speed with the fast flow of information.
‘The judiciary used to take a view [that] was entirely out of date,’ he said. ‘I do not think that judges can work on the basis that the only thing they can ever do is say what they have to say in court and not deal with the matter any further. Judges have to face the fact that they live in a very fast-moving information world, that what they do is a matter of public interest.’
Judge said that the media and judiciary are interdependent, and that he has asked resident Crown court judges to improve their relationships with editors of their local newspapers.
Former attorney general Lord Goldsmith asked Judge what he saw as the proper role for the lord chief justice when laws were being formulated in parliament. Judge said: ‘The reason that I’m here is because, under the constitutional reforms, the lord chief justice can’t come to speak in parliament. I would have not been unhappy to have been able to come to say what I had to say in parliament about the Public Bodies Bill, which really does impinge on judicial independence. I don’t think that to come and sit on the steps, not even as a cross-bencher, is of any value.
‘If there’s no broad consultation [on acts of parliament], there’s something rather worrying about judges going to have private words with attorneys general or lord chancellors. I don’t think that the lord chief justice of the day should say to the attorney general of the day, "I think this proposal is bunkum", because it’s interfering with the political process.’ Judge said that he would rather advise the attorney general of the practical consequences of a proposal.