Plenty of family lawyers are applying to join the judiciary – they are just not getting in. That was the response of a solicitor at family law group Resolution’s flagship conference to the family division president’s call for practitioners to aim for the bench.

On Friday, Sir Andrew McFarlane told the conference in a keynote speech that the judiciary needed more deputy district judges, recorders and full-timers, and urged lawyers not to dismiss a career on the bench.

Discussing on the second day of the conference what more can be done to encourage more people from diverse backgrounds to join the judiciary, a solicitor who has repeatedly applied to become a judge, said: 'The process is shitty for one. You cannot tell me people are not applying. They are. They are just not getting in.'

The solicitor recalled finishing the critical analysis and situational judgement tests early one morning. 'It was the first time after [a family death] I was wailing, it was awful,' they said.

Unsuccessful applicants receive 'generic feedback', lawyers revealed. For instance, they are not told which test questions they did poorly on - something that would be helpful in signalling what areas they might want to focus on if they wish to apply again. One solicitor requested specific feedback after initially being told that other candidates had scored higher. The brief feedback they subsequently received merely told them the area where they performed particularly strongly.

'People on the bench are telling you, "you can do it". But you go through the process and it is an awful process,' a solicitor said.

The Judicial Appointments Commission told the Gazette it appoints solely on merit, taking many steps to ensure that the selection process is fair to candidates from all backgrounds.

The commission said it encouraged and supported applications from under-represented groups. Its targeted outreach programme has supported over 280 candidates this year and guidance material is available on its website to help prepare candidates in making their application.

The commission added: ‘The selection process is rigorous and highly competitive which is why we strongly encourage candidates to prepare thoroughly. For each of the large fee-paid exercises, such as recorder, deputy district judge and fee-paid judge of the first tier tribunal and employment tribunal, we will routinely receive over 1,800 applications for around 200 vacancies. Many candidates are not successful in their first application and we recognise that this can be disappointing.

'Although we receive thousands of applications each year, we are able to give some feedback to candidates who were unsuccessful so they can consider this ahead of future applications. The way we provide feedback will depend on the selection process for the exercise.’


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