Future judges should be appointed from non-traditional backgrounds to not only improve diversity but overcome misconceptions about what a good applicant looks like, the president of the Supreme Court has suggested.

Lady Hale told the House of Lords constitution committee today that many people who come from different career paths could make excellent judges. However, 'the difficulty that the [Judicial Appointments Commission has] is "how do we assess merit and potential in people who haven't come through the traditional career path?",' the former academic lawyer said. 'How do you compare the merits of somebody who is currently an academic lawyer who also fulfills the professional qualification that's required against somebody who's currently in the Court of Appeal'.

Hale said beginning to appoint people from different career paths and different backgrounds will help to overcome misconceptions about what a good candidate looks like. She added: 'There have been some recent appointments to the High Court bench from the Upper Tribunal, for example. That has improved the number of solicitors who have become High Court judges, and also people from the Goverment Legal Service and the parliamentary clerks. The more of that that we have, the more it can encourage people that it's alright, it can work. I think example is the best thing.'

Hale said the Supreme Court shares widespread concern that High Court vacancies have remained unfilled for two consecutive competitions. Hale told peers it is a particular problem in Northern Ireland, which has 10 judges and three vacancies. 'That's almost a third of the court missing and that's obviously not sustainable for very much longer. The lord chief justice is relying upon the goodwill of retired justices but it's equally going to be a problem with England and Wales.'

Changes to the pension scheme have undermined trust, confidence and morale, Hale said. 'Pay is one thing but not as important as change to the pension scheme. Part of the problem with the change to the pension scheme is it not only affected new recruits, which is one thing, it was that it changed the pension arrangements for a large number of people who had become judges, [who] accepted appointment on the basis of the previous pension scheme. If things can be changed after you have given up a lucrative career for public service, that's not very much of an incentive.'