First judicial assistants arrive at Appeal Court

The Court of Appeal has appointed its first batch of pupil barristers and trainee assistants to fill its controversial new “judicial assistant” posts.

Of the six that started work last week only two are solicitors and only one, Graeme Johnston, is from a City firm, Herbert Smith. The other four are appointed from the Bar. But it is understood that of the 17 assistants so far selected, there are nine from the Bar and eight solicitors.

The judicial assistant scheme, based loosely on the US law clerks system, has been criticised in a letter to The Times by two US professors of law from the University of Maryland.

They say that in the US “an ever-increasing number of law clerks bear an ever-increasing responsibility for decision making” and that clerks effectively decide cases involving “the poor and the powerless”.

The first six judicial assistants have spent a week in training at the Court of Appeal and last week began their real work, filtering the mounds of applications for the judges. They will work for three months on a part-time basis before being replaced by new recruits.

Johnston, a trainee at Herbert Smith for 18 months, said: “I applied because I just thought it would be fascinating to see how it works from the inside – and it has been so far.”

Johnston was one of 35 selected for interview by the Law Society from around 160 applicants. The Law Society passed on about 20 names to the Court of Appeal. The Bar Council followed a similar procedure before handing its list to the Court of Appeal.

Herbert Smith head of litigation Lawrence Collins said: “We are delighted Graeme was chosen to participate in this scheme which should provide an invaluable extra dimension to his training.”