The Constitution Unit Project on The Politics of Judicial Independence recently held a closed seminar for senior professionals in this area (judges, politicians and civil servants, amongst others) on the topic of ‘Judicial Independence, Judicial Accountability and the Separation of Powers’.
One of the most interesting points that arose in the discussion was that there was a general feeling amongst most attendees that the system for appointing judges required reform. In particular, it was felt that the new system for judicial appointments brought in under the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 had had the ironic and unwelcome side-effect of reducing the diversity of appointments to the senior judiciary. Participants attributed this to the fact that the new appointment panels cannot encourage able candidates to apply for fear of being accused of bias. The pre-2005 system, by contrast, permitted good candidates to be sounded out about their interest informally prior to a formal decision being made. As one participant put it, the old system permitted ‘leftfield’ unexpected appointments that often turned out to be very successful. The new system does not allow enough room for manoeuvre in this regard. Some participants also expressed enthusiasm for parliamentary involvement in senior judicial appointments, although others expressed doubt that such a process could be meaningful.
The event was run according to the Chatham House Rule, but we have prepared a short anonymised note on the discussion that took place and this note is available here:
Some of these issues are discussed in Alrich’s Weblog
In particular there are reports on the Lords constitution committee, which is currently examining UK judicial appointments procedure, among them:
The intention is to file further reports to the blog when the committee reconvenes after the August break.
The following piece supports the above Constitution Unit posting and asks why the old “quiet word in the ear” couldn’t be used to enhance diversity by encouraging promising individuals to apply for judicial posts.