In her first public appearance since coming under fire for a slow response to press attacks on the Article 50 judges, the lord chancellor has reasserted the importance of an independent judiciary.
Liz Truss told a conference to celebrate a century of women in law that ‘this week’s events show the importance of the judiciary and our constitution and our free society. Our independent judiciary is vital’.
She said: ‘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.’
Announcing new measures to recruit more widely, Truss said she wants to see more women and ethnic minorities in the judiciary, particularly in the senior ranks. She also said she wants to see more solicitors ‘welcomed’ into its senior levels.
Announcing measures to change the selection process to ensure merits of all candidates are recognised from the outset, Truss said she wants to ensure that talent and ability ‘trump box-ticking’.
In the next recorder competition, which is expected to begin in February next year, judges will be appointed from the ‘top 100 talent’.
‘No longer will they be required to have specific experience in any particular type of law, be it crime, family or civil,’ Truss said. ‘Nor does it matter where they live, as applicants will no longer be bound by specific location.’
The government and judiciary ‘will make it easier’ for the top talent to go straight into the High Court.
Truss said: ‘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.’
A new fast-track process, to be introduced by the end of the year, will let members of the deputy High Court bench wanting to progress in their career more quickly apply for full High Court office ‘as soon as they are ready’.
Truss said the selection process will be more straightforward. ‘While merit and ability must always be paramount, experience as a deputy High Court judge will carry far greater weight than at present,’ she said.
Truss felt the assessment of merit needed to include an assessment of potential.
She said: ‘I think that future recruitment campaigns should make it clear to all candidates that their potential counts. You shouldn’t be put off just because your career so far hasn’t taken you into a courtroom, because we will offer training and support where that is necessary.
‘What matters should be your potential to preside as a judge in court, to develop your judge craft.’
Truss said the country already had the best judiciary in the world. ‘The reputation of our judiciary is unrivalled,’ she added. ‘It is this that has helped establish this country as a global legal forum. And it’s crucial we nurture the next generation of talent by making the judiciary even more open and diverse.’
Meanwhile, responding to criticism from former lord chancellor Lord Falconer in The Times yesterday that judges 'should rightly fear for their independence' due to her failure to condemn some of the media's reaction to the Brexit ruling, Truss said on Thursday that she thought it 'unlikely the High Court is imperilled by the opinions of any newspaper'.
Falconer called for Truss to be replaced with 'someone willing and brave enough to do the job'.
In a letter to the newspaper, Truss highlighted another principle at stake - the freedom of the press. She wrote: 'I believe in a free press, where newspapers are free to publish, within the law, their views. It is not the job of the government or lord chancellor to police headlines, and it would be a dark day for democracy if that changed.'
Truss said the three High Court judges had made a ruling 'without fear or favour' in accordance with their judicial oath. She concluded: 'The right of the judges to make that judgment was never in question, and I defended their independence after that decision.'