Vacancies for judges will be advertised: Lord Mackay seeks openness in court appointments

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REFORM of the way judges are appointed, with applicants invited for the first time to reply to advertisements, was revealed last night by Lord Mackay of Clashfern, the Lord Chancellor.

Speaking at the Lord Mayor's dinner for judges in London, Lord Mackay also indicated that he would consider the inclusion of lay people on interviewing panels, a departure from present practice.

This was one of a series of measures designed to provide a more open and structured process for selecting members of the judiciary. Although the package will not go far enough to satisfy his most vociferous opponents, it will be seen as a clear attempt to meet criticisms of existing procedures.

Lord Mackay said that he would instruct officials to draw up job descriptions for junior judicial posts, setting out the tasks expected of applicants and qualities needed. Jobs would then be advertised with candidates competing for specific vacancies.

It is understood that the new system is likely to be introduced for all appointments of assistant recorders, recorders and up to the level of circuit judges.

At present, lawyers wishing to step on to the judicial ladder must make themselves known to the Lord Chancellor's Department, which passes their names to Lord Mackay. After confidential consultations with senior judges, he decides whether applicants are suitable and appoints them when a vacancy arises.

This system has been widely denounced as secretive and likely to perpetuate old-boy networks.

The inclusion of lay people in the selection process would go some way to answering such criticisms, although Lord Mackay emphasised that the proposal was still under consideration.

Applications from women and black and Asian lawyers would be encouraged, he said, but measures to ensure that a proportion of the judiciary came from ethnic minorities were ruled out.

'I also plan to review the application forms in use and to move towards a more structured basis for the consultations which will continue with the judiciary and the profession. My procedures, decisions and recommendations do not represent a closed and secret system,' he told the judiciary. 'I wish them to be as open and defensible as their nature allows.'

However, Lord Mackay refused to consider the creation of a Judicial Appointments Commission, a proposal that has been repeatedly floated by lawyers seeking reform.

Without such a commission, some of the Lord Chancellor's sternest critics will insist that his reforms are largely cosmetic and do little to tackle the underlying failings of the appointments process. Lord Taylor, the Lord Chief Justice, last night gave a guarded welcome to the report of the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice. Also speaking at the Lord Mayor's dinner, he praised proposals to speed up trials, saying: 'I also welcome their recommendation that both sides should disclose their cases before a trial begins. If the issues are defined at the start, advocacy can be focused sharply on those issues and judges should be much readier to stop irrelevance and curb prolixity.'

However, he reserved judgement on 'more controversial recommendations', assumed to be a reference to the call to end the right to select trial by jury.

(Photograph omitted)