The Crime and Courts Bill which was introduced after the Queen’s Speech provides for major changes in judicial appointments. It follows on the Ministry of Justice consultation, ‘A Judiciary for the 21st Century’ which was published in May.
The existing provision that judicial appointments are to be made ‘solely on merit’ would be changed so that ‘solely’ would not prevent the selecting body, ‘where two persons are of equal merit, from preferring one of them over the other for the purpose of increasing diversity within the group of persons who hold offices for which there is selection’ or ‘a sub-group of that group‘. The Chair of the Judicial Appointments Commission, Christopher Stephens, has welcomed the provision to allow the JAC ‘to select the more diverse candidate. It is essential to be clear on the detail of how this works in practice’.
Recommendations for appointment from the Judicial Appointments Commission for all posts below the High Court will now be reported to the Lord Chief Justice rather than the Lord Chancellor.
The selection panel for senior appointments including the Lord Chief Justice will consist of at least two members of the Judicial Appointments Commission, plus two members of the judiciary and two non-legal members who could also be Commissioners. The panel will sit with an odd number and will be chaired by one of the non-legal members. In terms of the Commission itself, the current provision setting the number at 14 plus a lay chairman would be substituted to ‘such number’ as is specified in regulations made by the Lord Chancellor with the agreement of the Lord Chief Justice, to include holders of judicial office, persons practising or employed as lawyers, and lay members with maximum and minimum numbers in each of these categories.
The Bill also creates a single county court system and a single family court system for England and Wales.