Unnatural Selection

Baroness Prashar has written a response in the Law Society Gazette to my criticism of the Judicial Appointments Commission, which she chairs. Some people, she says accusingly, “are beginning to crave the old system of ‘tap on the shoulder'”. But Lady Prashar appears to be one of them.

How else can we explain the private letter she wrote earlier this month asking senior judges and the heads of the specialist Bar associations to encourage good candidates seek a High Court appointment?

“Some of the most talented potential applicants may be more likely to put themselves forward if they are given some encouragement,” she notes in the letter.

“I am writing to seek your support by asking you to encourage the talented potential candidates you know, and engage the support of others who could do the same.”

Everybody who is selected will be appointed, she promises – referring back to the commission’s first High Court appointments round, when suitable candidates were left languishing in the bottom of the pool for months before finding themselves beached. Any repeat of these arrangements would have been a “substantial deterrent to many,” she admits.

But the problem is that some of those selected this summer will have their careers blighted for as long as two-and-a-half years. 

As she explains, the selection exercise to be launched early next month will be for “appointments to vacancies arising in the Queen’s Bench and Family Divisions of the High Court from around October 2010 to late 2012”.

Now that candidates have to provide so many references from other lawyers, it soon becomes widely known that someone is on the waiting list. The names of those shortlisted for the Supreme Court were common knowledge only a couple of days after they were interviewed. Nobody wants to engage a lawyer who might have to give up a case at any time. But those who are selected in June or July will have to tell their clients that they may have to drop out of a case at any point over the next 30 months.

No wonder the commission has had such difficulty in finding someone to head the High Court Family Division. 

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