Diversity on the Circuits

Under the Circuit Diversity Mentor Scheme senior QCs are the first point of contact for barristers interested in applying for judicial appointments or Silk. Desmond Browne QC explains what is involved.

The Circuit Diversity Mentor Scheme was launched last year by my predecessor, Tim Dutton QC. The aim was to encourage the widest and most diverse possible range of applicants for the judiciary and Silk and appointment to the Attorney General’s Civil Panels. It was strongly endorsed by the Judicial Appointments Commission (“JAC”) which has amongst its statutory objectives “the need to encourage diversity in the range of persons available for selection for appointment”.


Circuit Diversity Mentors have now been in post for just over 18 months. In June we held a review meeting with mentors and with representatives of the JAC, the Judicial Office and the Attorney General’s staff, and considered feedback from Circuits and diversity groups. It was agreed that mentors need to be pro-active; to seek out barristers who are ready to apply for an appointment, to encourage them to apply, and to offer information about the process. Barristers who show potential but who need more experience should be guided about the relevant opportunities as to how to develop their careers. The scheme aims to widen access so that all—irrespective of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, age, religion or belief, socio-economic background, area of practice and whether employed or self-employed—have the opportunity to compete on a level playing field.

The mentor’s role

Key aspects of the mentor’s role are:

  • To identify those ready for appointment and encourage them to prepare and apply for appointments for which they have the skills, abilities and experience. It is essential to build up the confidence of those ready to apply, both in terms of their ability to perform the role and as to the fairness of the appointments process. Recent JAC research highlighted confidence as a critical factor in determining whether an application is made. For example, the JAC’s Annual Report reveals that female barristers are less likely than male barristers of the same Call to apply for judicial appointment. It is critical they are not deterred from applying because of misinformation about the work of a judge, the range of experience required for appointment or the opportunities now offered to those appointed to salaried positions to work flexibly.
  • To encourage junior practitioners to plan their careers with a view to seeking an appointment.
    Mentors will draw attention to the range of junior appointments that provide a first step to more senior roles and to the skills, abilities and experience necessary to apply successfully.
  • To work through Circuits and local networks to widen mentoring provision.
    The aim is to build a wider pool of mentors who will hold Circuit meetings to explain appointment procedures and enable those who have obtained an appointment to assist and inform those seeking to apply. Nirmal Shant QC, one of the Midland Circuit Mentors, is working with the Midlands’ branch of the Society of Asian Lawyers and local chambers to provide mentors to potential applicants for judicial and silk appointment. The Judicial Office has suggested that Circuit Diversity Mentors develop links with local judges, including the Circuit liaison judges, who can assist them in their roles. The judicial shadowing scheme is particularly valuable for those who may well have the right qualities but are unsure as to whether they are suitable. It has recently been extended to cover a range of judicial posts up to and including High Court Judge. The scheme is open to those likely to be eligible for an appointment within a few years and is most relevant to those whose practice only infrequently takes them into court.
  • To be a reliable source of information on appointments for members of the Circuit.


The JAC, the Attorney General’s staff and QC Appointments (“QCA”) will provide briefings to mentors to ensure that they are up to date on criteria and procedures, and thus able to challenge inaccurate perceptions about appointment processes. Papers de-mystifying the appointments’ processes by the Attorney’s staff and QCA are on the Bar Council’s website. The website of the JAC, QCA and the Treasury Solicitor all have detailed information about competitions and procedure (see website details below). The JAC also publishes a programme of future competitions to help potential applicants plan for which posts they are most suited.

The appointment process

Circuit Diversity Mentors are appointed by Circuit leaders. The role is a demanding one and requires a practitioner of some experience who has obtained an appointment, is approachable and has strong local Circuit knowledge. Mentoring is an important tool to promote professional career development. All mentors will be a source of useful contacts and information. Some mentors will provide long term mentoring assistance, whilst others will share experience and provide guidance and encouragement at important stages in a barrister’s career.

If you are interested in becoming a mentor, please contact your Circuit leader. If you would like mentoring guidance, please contact your Circuit Diversity Mentor. If you would like to obtain further information on the scheme please contact Pam Bhalla, the Bar Council’s Equality and Diversity Adviser. E-mail: pbhalla@barcouncil.org.uk       

Desmond Browne QC is Bar Chairman

For further information visit:
www.judicialappointments.gov.uk/

www.qcapplications.org.uk/

www.tsol.gov.uk/attorney_generals_panel_of_counsel.htm

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