Personality tests may be used to pick judges

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The Independent Online

Judges should be given personality tests to assess their suitability for the bench, a report commissioned by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg, recommended yesterday.

Judges should be given personality tests to assess their suitability for the bench, a report commissioned by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg, recommended yesterday.

The tests, devised by psychologists, will help Lord Irvine identify lawyers with the right personalities to become judges or reach high judicial office. They would also be used to test against racism, rudeness and over-conservatism.

The proposal forms part of Sir Leonard Peach's report on the judicial appointments process. Sir Leonard said that after trials the "psychometric tests" - a form of personality assessment - could first be included in the appointment process for assistant recorders (part-time junior judges).

Sir Leonard recommends: "The test should be completed prior to interview in controlled surroundings and its result should be used by the panel during the course of the interview and certainly in the final evaluation of the candidate."

Dr Colin Cooper, a psychologist and senior lecturer at Queen's University Belfast, said that any test on judicial suitability would have to test for set personality traits. He listed these as open-mindedness (willingness to consider new ideas), conscientiousness (careful attention to detail), agreeableness (being able to interact effectively with juries and counsel). He said conservatism (prejudice, excessive punitiveness and ethnocentrism) was an example of a negative judicial personality trait. Judges would answer dozens of questions designed to test for these qualities. But he stressed that any clued-up judge would know what the expected answers to the questions would be.

His Honour Gerald Butler QC, a retired senior circuit judge, said he thought the most important quality for a judge was simply common sense. He said: "I suspect that it [the test] rather misses the point. You should probably do it three or four years after appointment as this is when weaknesses start to appear."

Sir Leonard also recommended the use of self-appraisal forms for potential judges and those seeking promotion as well as an Ombudsman to address the concerns of disappointed candidates.

Lord Irvine welcomed the broad sweep of Sir Leonard's report, saying he would now "consider the recommendations in detail." But the Law Society, which represents solicitors, said the report was a "wasted opportunity for real reform".