Creating a judicial career fast-track for young lawyers could help improve diversity on the bench as they work their way up the judicial ladder, the most senior solicitor judge has told the Gazette.
But such a scheme would be just one of many entry points rather than an exclusive European-style career judiciary, Mr Justice Hickinbottom (pictured), recently appointed to the Court of Appeal, said.
This is one of a range of ideas being considered by senior judges, including developing a generic judicial skillset so applicants would be recruited for their judging abilities and then trained for specific roles.
Sir Ernest Ryder, senior president of tribunals, believes that would create a more objective selection system because ‘you aren’t just looking for someone who looks like you and looks like a good family judge. You are looking for a group of lawyers who satisfy the competencies we want from a judge – now how are we going to train them and where are we going to deploy them?’
Another driver for change is that fewer solicitors are applying successfully for court roles.
Ryder stressed: ‘One thing I am absolutely sure about is I want solicitors’ skills.’ And that means looking at ways of fast-tracking solicitors from part-time roles because ‘we know we can train someone to the appropriate level in a shorter time than it takes now’, he said.
Hickinbottom said that multiple entry points could speed up improvements in diversity. ‘We take judges from the top of the profession,’ he said. ‘But we could also take lawyers in as district or circuit judges in their twenties and support them up through the system. It happens in other jurisdictions and attracts a lot of women.’
However he recognised that those coming up through the ranks could be viewed differently and acknowledged it would require a residential judicial college.
He is not in favour of people becoming a full-time judge without doing a part-time role first. ‘That is dangerous. You can’t go back so you have to enjoy it,’ he said. ‘Most do, but, for those that don’t, it is hell.’