Law Society to boycott secret selection of judges

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The Independent Online
THE WHOLE basis for the appointment of judges and Queen's Counsel was dealt a serious blow yesterday when the Law Society said it was withdrawing its co-operation.

The Law Society will no longer participate in the controversial "secret soundings" in which senior solicitors, barristers and judges are consulted about the suitability of candidates for judicial posts and the awarding of the rank of QC. Robert Sayer, president of the Law Society, said the society was also calling for the abolition of the QC system which he claimed discriminated against solicitors and most barristers.

The radical position adopted by the Law Society forms part of its submission to the inquiry into the appointment of the judiciary and silks led by Sir Leonard Peach. Mr Sayer said that the Law Society wanted a judicial appointments commission to replace "secret soundings".

"A system of secret soundings is entirely inconsistent with open and objective recruitment practices," said Mr Sayer.

The Law Society added in its report: "It [the Law Society] has considerable difficulties in participating in a process which was, in origin, designed for the appointment of a small number of judges from a very limited pool by a Lord Chancellor who probably knew all the applicants."

Mr Sayer said it was this system which was still nothing more than an "old boys' network" which sought to self-perpetuate the interests of a small group of lawyers.

As a result, said Mr Sayer, solicitors had been almost completely left out of the higher ranks of the judiciary.

Mr Sayer said that he was told by Sir Leonard that 52 per cent of high judicial office came from just seven chambers.

This, he said, made the system discriminatory for most barristers as well who do not come from the "chosen chambers".

Although solicitors have already won the right to become judges and also QCs there is only one solicitor who has been appointed a high court judge and just four practising QCs.

Judges, says the Law Society, need to be case managers as well good advocates. Mr Sayer said that case management was a skill that solicitors had in abundance.

According to the Law Society, the QC system is little more than a "market rigging exercise" and it is a system which enables barristers to "double their income" as soon as they are appointed.

Under the current "secret soundings" for QCs and judges, the Law Society is presented with a list of names and asked to comment. But the Law Society said it served no real purpose as few of the names were known to any of the Law Society's representatives.

The Lord Chancellor, who set up the Peach inquiry, is understood to be keen to look at the possibility of establishing a judicial appointments commission. But yesterday a spokesman for the Lord Chancellor's department said that Lord Irvine would wait until Sir Leonard had presented his findings before making any official comment.

The Law Society claimed it had the support of groups as diverse as the Legal Action Group and the Adam Smith Institute.