The Judicial Appointments Commission is to publish an unprecedented forward programme for appointing judges in a bid to boost the appeal of the bench to candidates from all backgrounds.

The five-year plan, running from 2017-2022, will enable aspiring judges to identify ‘clear pathways’ to office and help candidates decide which roles to apply for and when, JAC chairman Lord Kakkar told Saturday’s Bar Conference.

’No longer will candidates have to decide whether to run the risk or not of applying for a Recorder exercise when they don’t feel quite ready, just in case there is not another one for a few years,’ he said. ’[This will] allow candidates to plan for how to prepare for future applications by, for example, seeking mentoring or observing judicial work. It will also help the courts and tribunals with their resource planning of the recruitment exercises, and inform the sequencing of exercises to allow fee-paid appointees to gain sufficient sitting experience to become strong candidates in future salaried exercises.’

The commission is seeking to appoint 800 this financial year from a pool of over 6,000 candidates for judicial office, but has failed to fill a number of recent vacancies amid a well-publicised crisis in judicial morale. For the third time the High Court exercise that completed in the summer fell short, making only 17 recommendations for 25 vacancies. A second exercise to fill the same number of High Court posts was launched last week.

The new programme anticipates annual exercises for the more senior appointments; tribunal appointments every 18 months; and district judge and DDJ appointments in the magistrates’ courts every two years. 

Kakkar encouraged all practitioners, including solicitors, to consider part-time fee-paid opportunities to prove their suitability for salaried office. He also wants to see programmes of continuous professional development for aspiring judges similar to those available in his own profession of surgery. Lord [Ajay] Kakkar is professor of surgery at University College London.