The government has dropped a proposal aimed at increasing the diversity of the judiciary after the Law Society argued that it could be counter-productive.
After consulting on modernising judicial terms and conditions, the Ministry of Justice announced it will not press ahead with plans to introduce non-renewable fixed terms for part-time fee-paid judges. Instead, the ministry will address the policy objective ‘through other means’.
The ministry’s consultation response document highlights the Society’s concern about the challenges presented by the commercial environment in which some potential candidates operate. Chancery Lane said the proposals could put off younger candidates who already find it difficult to negotiate time off to undertake a fee-paid role.
The ministry said it remains committed to the policy objectives of improving diversity and career progression opportunities.
A recorder competition began this month to recruit 100 candidates regardless of whether they have crime, civil or family experience. The ministry is working with the judiciary and the Judicial Appointments Commission to make it easier for in-house and private practice solicitors to go straight to the High Court. The Judicial Diversity Forum is examining the feasibility of developing pre-application training targeted at under-represented groups. A working group chaired by Lord Ouseley, who headed the football anti-racism ’Kick It Out’ campaign, has been established.
The ministry has also backed down on introducing a blanket ban on travel expense claims for journeys to primary courts. The ministry will instead ’explore a more targeted approach focusing on reducing unnecessary payments for very short, routine journeys’.
Law Society president Robert Bourns said the ministry's decision to drop a string of proposals that would have undermined judicial diversity will be a relief to the legal sector.
Bourns added: 'Setting non-renewable fixed terms would have been a backwards step, making these roles less attractive to new judicial candidates, and we're pleased the government has listened to the responses to their consultation and thought better of this idea.'
However, the ministry will proceed with proposals to introduce an expectation, rather than a guarantee, of the number of days that existing fee-paid judges are required to sit despite concerns that the measure could equate to the introduction of ‘zero hours contracts’.
Bourns said: 'Taking a reasonable and flexible approach to allow part-time judges to balance their work and judicial commitments is vital. However, removing clear minimum expectations of income and time does not add flexibility, but instead makes it harder for solicitors and their firms to understand the commitment they are entering into.
'It can be challenging for a solicitot to step out of their firm to take up judicial duties, and asking solicitors to do so without any guarantee of time or income is unfairly asking them to gamble with their legal career.'
The ministry says leadership positions, which will involve mentoring and supporting other judges, will be appointed for fixed terms.
The consutlation attracted some 400 responses. Commenting on 10 further suggestions, including removing the bar on salaried judges returning to practise law, the ministry said it would consider the suggestions carefully in liaison with the senior judiciary ’before deciding whether any of them should be pursued’.