In his opening remarks, Lord Kakkar, Chair of the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC), spoke of his admiration for those who serve in judicial positions. Society, he said, owes these individuals a debt. The rule of law is essential to civilised society and judicial service is a key component of maintaining it. It was therefore vital that the process for selecting members of the judiciary should ensure the maintenance of the very highest standards. The JAC, he said, must be resolute and relentless in pursuit of this and operate a fair and proportionate process in order to help maintain a healthy and sustainable system of appointments. In this financial year the Commission has made some 800 selections from 6,000 candidates. All this with a staff of less than 50 people and with just 15 Commissioners.
Paying tribute to the contribution of Lady Justice Hallett, Lord Kakkar spoke of the importance of increasing diversity and opportunity within the ranks of judiciary; whilst ensuring only those who meet required standards are appointed, on merit and merit alone. Lord Kakkar stressed that the judiciary must reflect the citizens they serve. He referred to the work of the Judicial Diversity Forum and, in particular, the role played by the Bar Council’s Robin Allen QC.
Lord Kakkar noted that processes and procedures with the judicial application process are continually being reviewed and improved. Innovation is important but requires a sound evidence base. Progress is being made – recent appointments to the High Court have reflected a broader range of backgrounds. Next year the JAC will start reporting on the social mobility of candidates. To help candidates identify posts, the JAC will publish a five-year plan setting out the posts it will recruit for up to 2022. This should help avoid individuals applying for posts too early and missing out on positions they may be better suited to.
Helpful tips were also provided on how one should position oneself to apply for a post. Whilst it was not impossible for an exceptional candidate to be appointed to a salaried position straight from the Bar there was no substitute for experience gained in fee-paid roles. Performance in these roles was the best evidence of suitability for a salaried role. Sitting in a fee paid position allows an individual to garner which the JAC needs when considering appointments to full time posts. Lord Kakkar concluded by emphasising the importance of an independent and impartial judiciary at what is a time of great change.