Open the doors over judicial appointment

The Home Affairs Select Committee has given a resounding vote of confidence to the status quo in its report Judicial Appointments Procedures.

It states boldly that there is no need for large scale change in the procedures for appointing professional judges and lay magistrates. It is not the procedures themselves but the restrictive scope within which the procedures operate that is the problem. The committee goes on to arrogantly state it would have been more concerned if there had been recurrent evidence that unsuitable appointments were being made.

It praises the Lord Chancellor for his efforts to open up the system and says any observations made by the committee should be seen as complementary rather than as a challenge to policy.

However, the good intentions of the Lord Chancellor are not enough. Nor is it enough to justify the present system on the basis there was no recurrent evidence of unsuitable appointments. Any other number of lawyers could do a sterling job.

Instead, the argument centres around the type of people we want as judges and the fairness of the appointments system. Do we want a mainly male, white, old boys network to dominate our courts?

With 2,804 male and only 312 female judges, whatever explanation is given, the fact is that many suitable candidates are not getting a look in.

We need a new approach to tackle the problem. Any system which recruits by collective "whisperings" needs to be reviewed and as in other areas of appointment, the recruitment of judges must have clear and fair procedures. The Lord Chancellor has made genuine efforts to make appointments regardless of race, sex and politics. No-one is asking that merit should be taken away as the main reason for appointment. What we want is clear procedures which inspire confidence in one of the most important public appointments. To no-one's surprise, the report ducks the issue.