Stepping Up to the Bench

Lord Justice Toulson discusses the forthcoming selection for seven criminal law Senior Circuit Judge appointments.

There will soon be a rare opportunity to apply for a significant number of criminal law Senior Circuit Judge roles across the country, including the Old Bailey where for the first time there is to be a vacancy for a judge to work for a reduced number of days.


In November, the Judicial Appointments Commission (“JAC”) will launch a selection exercise to fill seven of these heavyweight crime roles.

Five of the appointments are expected to be at the Old Bailey (Central Criminal Court, South Eastern Circuit). The others will be Resident Judge appointments. One of these is expected to be in the north east at Newcastle and one in the south east at Kingston. The appointments will be made over the next 16 months as vacancies arise.

The JAC has not previously been asked to make this number of recommendations for Senior Circuit Judge vacancies. Our challenge is to do all that we can to attract the very best candidates from as wide a field as possible, and to select the best candidates from that field.

Part time working

The Old Bailey vacancy available for part-time working will enable the successful candidate to sit for 70 per cent, 80 per cent or 90 per cent of the full time hours in appropriate blocks. This arrangement is a small, but important, step in developing different working patterns. I hope that this will widen the pool of high quality applicants by enabling some to apply who would not otherwise have been able to do so, for example because of family commitments.

Judicial duties

Senior Circuit Judges carry out the full duties of a Circuit Judge, but hear particularly demanding or specialist cases. Murder, terrorism, serious organised crime and complex fraud are among the cases these judges will hear. The judges who fill these roles will need to be able to handle often tense and emotionally charged situations in high profile cases with authority, sensitivity and absolute fairness to all parties. The Resident Judges carry out additional leadership and management duties, running large court centres. They oversee the disposal of cases and listings at their centre, offering support and guidance to the judiciary there and provide links with the courts service and the more senior judiciary.

The shortlisting stage

We tailor our selection processes to each exercise drawing on a variety of assessment methods such as a qualifying test, role play, references, interview and application (self-assessment). A qualifying test is normally used except for senior appointments, small exercises and in other limited circumstances. Role plays are used to assess a candidate’s ability in a judicial setting. For this selection the process will be the same as in previous exercises for Senior Circuit Judge appointments because we believe it has worked well for selection exercises at this level. Shortlisting will be by means of a paper sift based on application forms and references. We will not use a qualifying test or role play for this exercise as the qualities can be demonstrated and will be thoroughly tested through the other assessment methods. For example, references should provide evidence that the candidate has demonstrated the qualities and abilities required for the role. Broad generalisations (for example “first rate candidate”) are not very helpful. It is therefore wise to choose referees who can write about you in some detail, rather than someone whose title may sound impressive but knows you less well.

Successful candidates are likely to have had some previous judicial experience, not necessarily full time. It is not essential to have had a predominantly criminal practice, so I would urge anyone pondering an application who is concerned that their background is not an instant match not to dismiss themselves too hastily.

The selection day

Those candidates who are successful at the shortlisting stage will be invited to a selection day where they will be interviewed by a panel comprising a JAC panel chair, a senior judicial member, and an independent lay member. A JAC Commissioner will oversee the process from start to finish. Candidates should expect to be asked to give the panel a short presentation before their interview. The panel will then want to hear specific examples of what candidates have done in their personal or professional lives to demonstrate the qualities necessary at Senior Circuit Judge level.

Candidates should prepare for selection days in the manner they feel is most appropriate for them. The JAC holds “dry runs” to test selection materials and processes for some exercises, which prospective candidates can apply to take part in and may find helpful for experience and familiarisation. Applicants cannot, however, apply to take part in a dry run for an exercise to which they have applied. The best preparation a candidate can undertake in advance of the selection day for these positions is to ensure they fully understand the qualities and abilities against which they are to be assessed and the demands of the role performed by Senior Circuit Judges. A well prepared candidate will not only be able to expand on the examples provided in their application form, but is also likely to have devoted considerable time to thinking of a range of other strong illustrations which demonstrate the depth to which they satisfy the requirements of the role.

Timescales

There have been understandable concerns about the length of time it has taken for successful candidates to be appointed and deployed. We will do our best to make our recommendations to the Lord Chancellor as soon as we can. But it may inevitably take some time once we have made our recommendations before a particular post is vacant, or the successful candidate can extract themselves from their current commitments.

Meritorious appointments

The job of a Senior Circuit Judge trying crime carries important responsibility and a heavy workload. It is also very interesting. If you think that it might suit you, please consider it. I expect the competition to be strong (and would be disappointed if it is not), but I can promise that every application will be considered carefully. The sole criterion for appointment is merit and I know that the readers of Counsel include many who would be meritorious candidates.

Lord Justice Toulson, JAC Vice Chairman

 

The eligibility criteria

Statutory requirement:  Under s 16(3) of the Courts Act 1971, these posts are open to solicitors and barristers with seven years’ post qualification experience; or existing judicial office holders, including Recorders and those with full-time appointments for at least three years in offices listed in Pt IA of Sch 2 to the Courts Act 1971. Solicitors (or salaried judicial office holders who were formerly solicitors) must appear on the Roll.

Age: There is no upper or lower age limit for candidates for these posts, apart from the statutory retirement age of 70 for all judges. The age at which someone is appointed must allow for a reasonable length of service, usually five years.

Previous service in a judicial office:  Candidates applying for salaried judicial posts such as these would normally be expected by the Lord Chancellor to have previous judicial experience at one of the following: Circuit Judge, Deputy High Court Judge, Recorder or as a senior tribunal office holder. Provision is made for exceptional cases where candidates have demonstrated the necessary skills in some other significant way. Disqualification: The House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975 applies to this office.

Nationality: Candidates must be a citizen of the United Kingdom, Ireland or a Commonwealth country

Health: If a health condition constitutes a disability within the meaning of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, reasonable adjustments will be considered to ensure that a disabled judge can take up and perform in office. Applicants appointed to salaried posts must be capable of fulfilling their judicial office and may be required to undergo a medical examination before taking up appointment.

Full information on the Senior Circuit Judge vacancies, including the application form and information pack with full details on the eligibility criteria, will be available at www.judicialappointments.gov.uk once the vacancies are open for application (expected to be 11 November).

Category: