The appointment of two solicitors to sit as deputy High Court judges has signalled the end of the Bar's traditional monopoly of the senior judicial post.
Lawrence Collins and Arthur Marriott, who made legal history earlier this year when they were the first solicitors appointed as Queen's Counsel, have again broken new ground in being authorised to sit as deputy High Court judges.
Announcing the move, the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg QC, said he intended to take a new approach to judicial appointments with more candidates being sought outside the Bar.
“Where I have responsibility for judicial appointments, I intend to recognise the talents of all parts of the legal profession and to reward the ablest practitioners,” said Lord Irvine. “I want to open up the ranks of the higher judiciary and I particularly welcome Mr Collins and Mr Marriott.”
A Law Society spokesman applauded the Lord Chancellor's stance. “It's a good sign that things are moving in the right direction,” he said.
Only one other solicitor has made it to the High Court bench since the Bar's exclusive rights to senior judicial appointments were removed six years ago.
Mr Justice Sachs, a former Manchester Law Society president, was appointed a full-time High Court judge in 1993 after nine years as a circuit judge. His appointment was hailed as a breakthrough by solicitors but the Bar has retained its stranglehold on senior judicial posts.
However, the Law Society appears relaxed at the pace of change and views the latest development as a clear signal that barristers will face increasing competition from solicitors for space on the bench.
The £492 per day deputy High Court judge role is a part-time position with no minimum sitting requirement. The appointments are by invitation only and are often seen as the most direct route to becoming a full-time High Court judge.
Paul Hampton, former chairman of the Solicitors Association of Higher Court Advocates, said solicitors would parallel their Bar colleagues in firstly being appointed as QCs and then joining the bench.
Marriott, who joined US firm Debevoise and Plimpton as a partner in July, was unavailable for comment. Collins, who is head of litigation and arbitration at Herbert Smith, declined to comment.