The Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer last week announced his long-awaited plans to increase judicial diversity, prompting a cautious response from the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf.
Falconer announced that he would open the judiciary to legal executives, patent agents and trademark attorneys in addition to barristers and solicitors. He also reduced the number of years of post-qualification experience (PQE) needed for judges so that one can become a judge with just five years’ PQE.
Woolf said that although he was “supportive” of the proposals, he had “some concerns” which he will express in due course.
“We must ensure that no action is taken that would undermine the high quality of the judiciary and the need for appointments to be made on the grounds of merit alone,” said Woolf.
“Time elapsed since qualification is not a meaningful measure of an individual’s experience or skills,” Falconer said.
At present, judges must have between seven and 10 years’ experience, which Falconer deemed “unnecessarily long”. That will be reduced to between five and seven years, depending on the post.
Other proposals include extending judicial work-shadowing schemes, advertising judicial posts more widely and organising events to target under-represented groups.
Falconer stressed that the appointment of judges would continue to be made on merit and insisted that applicants will face “a rigorous, competitive, competence-based selection process”.