Judicial process blocks 'rich vein' of talent

AN INDEFENSIBLE judicial selection system biased against employed barristers is depriving the judiciary of a rich vein of talent, according to the in-house barristers' group, Bacfi.

In a hard hitting submission to the House of Commons Home Affairs select committee, the Bar Association for Commerce, Finance and Industry calls for a reform of the law preventing in-house barristers from becoming senior judges.

The group also complains of bias against the employed Bar even in courts where they are permitted to become judges.

“By limiting the pool of candidates to barristers in independent practice the current system is depriving the administration of justice in this country of a large number of people with the right skills to be excellent judges,” it says.

The select committee is currently taking evidence on judicial appointment procedures.

The Bacfi submission says the secretive system based on “secret soundings” should be swept aside. “This practice is, in our opinion, wholly indefensible,” it says.

The document states: “Too often these days we hear of judges who appear to have chronic 'foot-in-mouth' disease and who appear to lack understanding of, or sympathy towards, the litigants whose cases come before them.

“Might this be because judges are appointed from a very small and select group of individuals who might have limited experience outside the confines of the Temple?”

The Bacfi document advocates the following changes:

Reform of the law barring in-house barristers from appointment as Crown and High Court judges unless they have practised for at least 10 years in the independent Bar.

Part-time sitting arrangements for judges which are more sympathetic to the employed Bar.

Reduction of emphasis on advocacy experience for all appointments.

Establishment of a selection panel to appoint judges and which advertises all new appointments.

Bacfi chair Austin Allison says he is willing to appear before the committee in person to give evidence if required.

He adds: “I wouldn't want to give the impression that every employed barrister wants to be a judge. But there are, and will be in the future, people with the right qualities to do so.”