Selection of judges 'farcical'

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The Independent Online
POINTLESS and damaging secrecy surrounding the appointment of judges was condemned yesterday by Lord Williams QC, chairman of the Bar Council, writes Adam Sage.

Speaking at the Law Society's national conference in Birmingham, Lord Williams criticised appointment procedures as farcical, highlighting secret files that are opened on anyone applying to become a judge. These contained errors which could not be rectified.

His speech comes amid calls for an overhaul of the way judges are chosen, trained and monitored. In his fiercest criticism yet, Lord Williams said: 'The present system of appointing judges is damaged and flawed by pointless secrecy - the curse of this country - and defensiveness.'

At the heart of this system were the files assessing candidates' abilities. 'You do not know what is in it. The cruellest error may be contained in it. You cannot put it right.' Lord Williams went on to criticise the 'lamentably scanty' training given to judges and the failure to monitor their performance. 'We all know that some judges are slow, incompetent, rude and arrogant.' However, there was no one to pull them up under the present system.

The Judicial Studies Board - 'hopelessly under-resourced' - should be expanded and given the task of scrutinising judges, he said.

Lawyers are failing to warn clients how much their services are likely to cost, Michael Barnes, the Legal Services Ombudsman, told the conference. 'Hourly rates and the levels they are currently reaching do present problems for an increasing number of clients,' he said.