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There seems every chance that 2012 will be remembered as the year that the UK began to change its system of judicial appointments. I make this prediction on the strength of two developments next year: the appointment of a new Supreme Court president and the forthcoming report of the House of Lords Constitution Committee on judicial appointments.

The Supreme Court has never had a full complement of 12 judges since it opened. And the saga of Jonathan Sumption hardly inspires confidence. The leading QC was rejected in 2009, apparently because he had no full-time judicial experience, only to be appointed in 2011 — despite telling the selection panel that he would not be free to start before 2012.

The appointment of Lord Phillips's successor as president is likely to be equally opaque. I would expect the job to go to Lord Neuberger, currently Master of the Rolls, if he wants it. His present job, running the civil division of the Court of Appeal, is more congenial and still, perhaps, more influential. But he may come under pressure to apply from those who want to stop the job going to Lady Hale, probably the strongest internal candidate. Though likeable and approachable, Hale clearly managed to irritate her fellow judges something rotten as the sole dissenting voice in the McDonald case, decided by the Supreme Court in July.

The panel that will choose Phillips's successor will be chaired by Phillips himself. It will include his deputy, Lord Hope, and three members of the judicial appointments bodies covering the UK. They will be looking for a "good leader", Phillips told the Lords Constitution Committee in October. He was then asked by the former Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine, whether his role in choosing his successor gave the appearance that the appointment was being made by a "self-perpetuating clerisy". It did indeed, Phillips replied, "and not merely because it gives that appearance". It was undesirable as a matter of substance, although he felt the incumbent should be consulted.

Calling for a change in the statute that required him to sit on the appointments panel, Phillips revealed that he had even attempted to get out of it. "I tried to persuade others that one could actually interpret the statute in a way that would relieve me of this responsibility," he told peers. It is hard to see how this provision in the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 can itself escape amendment in the future.

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