Four essential attributes of a judge

The moral courage to make unpopular decisions is a necessary attribute of a judge, according to Lord Clarke.

In a paper on judicial appointments, “Selecting Judges: Merit, Moral Courage, Judgment and Diversity”, Lord Clarke of Stone-Cum-Ebony, formerly the Master of the Rolls and now a Justice of the Supreme Court, said four “essential” principles underpin any judicial selection and appointment process—openness, merit, good character and diversity.

Moral courage is as important as honesty in defining good character. He said: “Individuals who are likely to be swayed by public opinion, who might not make the right, the just, decision because it is an unpopular decision or because it is adverse to their interests cannot properly be seen as having good character.”


On diversity, he said judges must be properly representative of the state and not drawn from a single group within society. Therefore, more solicitors and those who do not practise advocacy should be encouraged to apply.  Merit is a “mutable” criterion, but requires legal ability and practical judgment. Managerial skills are also required, as judges must actively case manage claims, as well as manage themselves and court staff.

“A judge must not only be seen and understood to be competent and able to exercise the moral courage needed to adjudicate fairly and justly, which comes through the merit criterion, they must also be trusted as individuals who will do so. Good character is essential to building this trust and confidence. It is difficult to conceive of a judiciary that could be trusted by the public to deal with cases justly, to do justice, if its members were not of unimpeachable character.”

An appointments process that is committed to openness is necessary in an open, democratic society, he said, particularly since the Human Rights Act 1998 and the greater use of judicial review applications means judges are “increasingly adjudicating as to rights between individuals and the state”.

He said that it was “absolutely essential” that active steps were taken to encourage all those who are eligible for appointment to apply. “It is no longer sufficient to carry on as before. Barristers, solicitors, legal executives, academics must be encouraged to apply where they meet the statutory qualification.”

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