GOVERNMENT plans to let civil service lawyers sit as part-time tribunal chairs may improve the judicial prospects of women and ethnic minority lawyers, say lobby groups.
And while the Lord Chancellor's decision does not go far enough for some civil service lawyers, they say the move will also increase their chances for career changes by moving towards full-time tribunal jobs.
Charles Blake, convenor of the Association of First Division Civil Servants' (FDA) legal section, says: "It doesn't let us be assistant recorders. It doesn't go as far as we wanted, but it's a very important first step forwards and we don't look a gift horse in the mouth.
"We hope strong candidates come forward and hope that the Government Legal Service members can prove they can be independent," says Blake.
Makbool Javaid, Society of Black Lawyers chair, says: "We think it's a sensible measure as long as there are sufficient safeguards in place to ensure a distance between the executive and the judiciary.
"It could lead to more women and ethnic minority appointments because black people are pushed into the public sector due to the discrimination they face in the private sector," he says.
Sailesh Mehta, Society of Asian Lawyers general secretary, also welcomes the principle.
But Susan Ward, chair of the Association of Women Barristers says: "I am glad to hear that the Lord Chancellor is opening up the field of potential appointees, but I don't think it will make much difference in practice because of the problems he will face over conflict of interest and implications of bias."
The Lord Chancellor's decision, coming into effect immediately, will also allow Crown Prosecution Service lawyers the same opportunities. Details on how appointments will work are yet to be thrashed out.