Malcolm Swift on the appointment of "representative" judges

Solicitors think that, in order to satisfy the Government's policy of attempting to make the judiciary more representative of the community, they should be appointed to be judges in far greater numbers.

The Law Society's head of professional policy, Russell Wallman, is quoted as saying that "performance as an advocate is given too great a weight" in the present selection system. This is far too simplistic a view. The barrister acting full-time in the Crown Court over an entire career acquires far more than advocacy skills. Constant practice before judges hones skills in procedure and perfects a knowledge of the rules of evidence which are the tools essential to the efficient judge. The rough and tumble of the magistrates courts are not the ideal method of acquiring detailed knowledge of the skills necessary to control proceedings properly in the higher courts.

Constant conduct of arguments over admissibility of evidence, consideration of whether questioning is proper and permissible, citing the necessary authorities in prepared submissions and dealing with matters of procedure are better ways to prepare a judge for a sitting career.

Those solicitors who learn these skills by exercising their newly acquired rights of audience in the higher courts and who improve their knowledge by sitting part-time in the Crown Court should have the opportunity to become full-time judges.

The mischief of the drive to appoint so-called "representative" judges lies in the naive assumption that a qualified solicitor without higher court experience can suddenly slot into the job of judge and conduct trials. Nor is judicial training any substitute for 25 years' of daily experience of the higher courts which equip the barrister for a judicial role.

The media image of the out-of-touch judge who doesn't know who the Rolling Stones are is now Dickensian fiction. Modern barristers and judges come from comprehensives and red-brick universities or former polytechnics. No more ivory towers.

The Lord Chancellor should beware of bowing to ill-informed pressure to appoint judges from the ranks of those who are not presently equipped to do the job.

Malcolm Swift QC is with Park Court Chambers in Leeds.