The judicial recruitment process has come under the spotlight again after senior judges reportedly told an unsuccessful candidate that solicitors have a 'higher hurdle to jump' than barristers.
Judicial diversity concerns were addressed in the latest episode of BBC Radio 4’s Law In Action, presented by legal commentator and Gazette columnist Joshua Rozenberg.
Rozenberg spoke to three solicitors who were unsuccessful in securing a judicial appointment. One solicitor, a partner in City firms for 20 years, applied seven times to be a part-time judge.
The second solicitor said: ‘I’ve been told by senior judges that solicitors have a higher hurdle to jump than barristers. This is discriminatory.’ They listed four ‘influencing’ factors, including a 'prepping industry which is much more known and used by barristers than solicitors’.
The third solicitor said: 'For a solicitor who may deal with property transactions or corporate mergers and acquisitions, how do they show the examples they give from their practice are as compelling about the skills that they demonstrate as the advocates?’
Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce told the programme that solicitors are not strongly represented in the upper echelons of the judiciary and there appeared to be a ‘glass ceiling’.
Chancery Lane has called on the Judicial Appointments Commission to share more applicant data. Boyce said appointment panels should be diverse so they are ‘better able to recognise a range of ways of demonstrating judicial skills’. When solicitors are appointed, work must be allocated fairly to ensure judges from all backgrounds are equally able to develop, progress and demonstrate their skills.
The Society is also worried the statutory consultation exercise - which requires the commission to consult a person who has held the office that candidates are applying for - may favour those who appear in front of a particular judge on a regular basis.
Lady Justice Carr, senior judicial commissioner, told Rozenberg the commission was ‘very alive’ to the issue of transferrable skills. ‘When it comes to our scenarios or our role plays at a senior judicial level, they will not be set in a courtroom. They will be set in a different context which enables everybody to have a clear and level playing field to showcase their skills.’
Carr said data, evidence and insight was ‘at the heart of the way we move forward particularly in terms of diversity’ and the commission receives feedback from successful and unsuccessful candidates. The commission also has ‘very good quality candidate-monitoring data’.
The findings of an independent review on statutory consultation, commissioned by JAC chair Lord Kakkar, are expected to be published this year.
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