Roger John Laugharne Thomas, 65, was born in Wales. He was educated at Rugby School and Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where he read law. Called to the Bar in 1969 by Gray’s Inn, he practised at the commercial Bar and took silk in 1984. Appointed recorder in 1987, he rapidly rose through the judicial ranks.
Sir John’s appointment to the £239,845 a year job was approved by the Queen in July, after a search was launched in May for a “vigorous, modernising, and imaginative individual”.
Outlining his priorities for the role, and acknowledging the inevitable tensions in “maintaining the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary and the rights of individuals”, Sir John said he would “endeavour to maintain confidence in the judiciary, its reputation and its high standards of integrity and impartiality” while it plays “a constructive role” in its relationships with government, Parliament and media. “In a time of reduced resources”, the judiciary would “play its leading part in ensuring that justice is delivered fairly and efficiently” and become “more reflective of our diverse society,” he added.
The appointment was a far cry from the outlawed “tap on the shoulder”. Following an amendment to the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 by the Crime and Courts Act 2013, the selection panel had for the first time a lay member majority. The chairman of the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC), Christopher Stephens, the President of the Supreme Court, Lord Neuberger, and the Master of the Rolls, Lord Dyson, were joined by two JAC lay members, Dame Valerie Strachan DCBE and Professor Noel Lloyd CBE.
Candidates were asked to complete an 18-page application form, including examples of recent significant judgments, the name of a senior civil servant with whom they had worked and a self-assessment. They also had to submit a written paper of up to 2,000 words on their approach to judicial reform and make a short impromptu presentation. Lengthy interviews, said to be “gruelling”, were held in early July.
Lord Judge, who steps down on 30 September after five years in the role, said that he was grateful to the JAC for the “painstaking care” they took “to analyse and assess an enormous body of material bearing on their recommendation”.
Running concurrently, but separately, was a JAC consultation on the “equal merit” provision. While confirming a commitment to the principle of appointment on merit, the JAC sought views on how, and at what point in the selection process, the “tipping factor” or “tie-break” provision might best be applied and to which groups of people. The provision clarifies that the JAC’s statutory duty to make selections “solely on merit” (s 63(2), CRA 2005) does not prevent it from selecting one candidate over another for the purpose of increasing judicial diversity, where two candidates are of equal merit.