The chair of the Judicial Appointments Commission has ordered an independent review in response to accusations it has failed to do away with so-called 'secret soundings', whereby judges were selected on the basis of whether they found favour with colleagues.
Eight anonymous serving judges wrote to the Commons justice select committee in April alleging that experienced women and ethnic minority candidates were being passed over for senior roles in favour of inexperienced but well-connected 'traditional' candidates.
Appearing before the committee yesterday, JAC chair Lord Kakkar was asked by Labour's Janet Daby for his views on the 'recent negative attention in the press' and whether public confidence had been affected by the continuing under-representation of minority groups in the senior judiciary.
Lord Kakkar said there had been 'something of a misunderstanding in the description of secret soundings' and explained that the commission carries out a 'statutory consultation' as part of the selection process.
The commission is legally required to consult a person who has held the office that candidates are applying for, or someone who has other relevant experience, to ensure that candidates are of good character and have the relevant capability for the role.
Lord Kakkar told the committee that he was concerned about the impact of the accusations on potential candidates and, as a result, has initiated an independent review of the statutory consultation process.
He said: 'We've looked at this before. We don't have any evidence that statutory consultation is working against different candidates from different groups, but I do believe we have a strong duty to look at this matter.'
In their letter, the anonymous judges alleged that colleagues had been ‘undermined, belittled or accused of being mentally unstable’ for raising concerns about a lack of diversity within the judiciary.
Lord Kakkar said: 'Anything that has an impact on candidates to seek judicial appointment is something we are concerned about. We look at everything, all the barriers to judicial appointment. Where those barriers lie outside the direct responsibility or control of the JAC, we will of course raise concerns about those barriers.'
Labour MP Andy Slaughter suggested Lord Kakkar should be formally raising judicial bullying concerns with the lord chancellor or lord chief justice. 'If they're true, they're making your job a lot harder,' Slaughter said.
Lord Kakkar replied that the concerns were being looked into, 'and we are doing our part in that by looking into the question of statutory consultation'.