The JAC is changing

The Judicial Appointments Commission was created under the provisions of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 to select judges for courts and tribunals in England and Wales and for some tribunals whose jurisdiction extends to Scotland. Selections are to be made solely on merit from a broad range of candidates.

Each year around 5000 people put in an application for the wide range of court and tribunal roles available – many of them open only to lawyers and serving judges – but also for a myriad of specialist member roles. Around 500 or so of those aspiring applicants will be successful and receive an offer of appointment. The diversity of these selections is improving – over 50% were women in our most recent set of published diversity data for both legal and non-legal roles (April- September 2013).

 


The Constitutional Reform Act is clear that the JAC should encourage applications from a diverse range of candidates, while making selections solely on merit. The 2013 Crime and Courts Act updated some aspects of judicial appointment, but did not change this basic principle.

We believe the process can be made easier and less time consuming – not just for candidates but also for end users, and for the courts and tribunals that deliver the justice system. Informally, candidates tell us there’s room for improvement and we agree.

We routinely seek feedback from candidates as part of the selection process. Our staff also liaise with representatives judges from the jurisdictions affected and involve the legal professions in agreeing any qualifying tests or scenario questions.

The JAC has a duty like so many other bodies to ensure that it delivers a cost-effective and high quality public service. Since 2010/11, the JAC has delivered more selections than previously and at the same time has reduced its costs by 25%. However, we know that further savings will be required over the coming years.

Programme of change

That is why the Commission has instigated an ambitious programme of change with six clear objectives:

  • to ensure continued high quality in the selections we make
  • to improve the candidate experience (easier, quicker, more responsive)
  • to contribute to a joint project to reduce the time it takes from the launch of an exercise to the date a candidate receives a letter offering an appointment*
  • to improve our diversity results
  • to continue to meet the needs of our courts and tribunals
  • to deliver a more effective and less costly selection system.

 

The programme has several major projects under way. These include:

  • making detailed improvements to the selection process based on recognised best practice
  • building a new online recruitment system to make the application process easier, more accessible and more user-friendly
  • making administrative changes across all stages of the selection process aimed at further reducing the amount of time the process takes and
  • making it easier for candidates continuing to implement the relevant sections of the Crime and Courts Act 2013.

Some changes are already in place – largely delivered through the Crime and Courts Act. Others are still work in progress and the benefits will start to become clear as the new system is rolled out through 2014/15.

One benefit already achieved is in the average time needed to run a judicial selection exercise (from the launch of an exercise to a candidate being sent a formal offer letter), which is now down to 24 weeks from 30 weeks in 2012. This has been made possible by working closely with the judiciary, Judicial Office and Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service. Together we hope to reduce it further to 20 weeks. This means candidates now hear the outcome of their applications much sooner than before.

Improvements have been made to each of the three stages of the selection process: forecasting and selection exercise planning; the JAC selection process; and the appointments process. Improvements have included greater clarity of information available to and provided by candidates; better use of technology; better sharing of information across the justice system; better alignment of business and financial planning to the appointments process; and more frequent and smaller competitions.

Further changes are planned and may include using a two-week application period in certain selection exercises that have been well-promoted in advance, and reviewing what references are needed and when in the process, including tighter response times.

New online recruitment system

Another change that will have a significant impact for everyone is the online recruitment system we expect to introduce in the second half of this year. The project encompasses an online application process as well as a new records management system that will allow more efficient processing of applications, references and selection day reports. Much of this work is being undertaken now and some of you may have already been involved in helping to develop and test the new system. If you are interested please get in touch via communications@jac.gsi.gov.uk. We really do want your input.

The judicial selection process

By far the most signifi cant piece of work being undertaken – and one I suspect will be of most interest to the Bar – is the selection process review. At the end of last year we asked occupational psychology experts to conduct a high level review of our selection processes. We are now considering the results and expect to begin implementing changes during 2014.

The review identified a number of strengths in the way the JAC chooses people for judicial posts, including:

  • the high quality work of our selection panels
  • the consistency and transparency of our process
  • the high level of information available relating to our process.

This is fair recognition for those who have built the JAC’s processes. However, more can be done and as a result of the review, we are considering undertaking job analysis of the different judicial roles, and developing more in-depth role requirements. We also hope to introduce person specifications to give more clarity on the requirements of roles and to help candidates assess their own suitability. Other initiatives under consideration include separating the assessment of technical and behavioural elements in testing, and conducting ongoing and long term validation of selection processes to ensure consistency and validity over time.

We will be developing our processes over the coming months and will be collaborating with partners including the Bar Council to find the right solutions to maintain confidence in our systems.

Crime and Courts Act

The Act amended the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 to enable the JAC to apply an Equal Merit Provision, also known as a “tie breaker”. Where two or more candidates are of equal merit, this provision allows us to give preference to a candidate for the purpose of increasing the diversity of the judiciary. We have drawn up a policy to implement the provision based on the areas covered in our public consultation conducted last year, and expect to publish it in April along with the consultation response.

We recognise the Equal Merit Provision on its own will not solve the issue of increasing judicial diversity, but we welcome it as it could make a positive contribution.

The Act also brings changes to the Judicial Appointments Commission itself, including increasing representation from tribunals and providing the opportunity for a member of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives to apply for one of the two professional members’ posts.

The JAC prides itself on being an organisation that listens, learns and is committed to continuous improvement. We believe that the changes we’re making are sensible updates to a robust system that will save time for candidates and judges and will make the process of applying for judicial posts clearer and simpler.

As we come to the Bar on many of these changes, we hope you will take the time to offer suggestions on ways we can improve the process.

* The End-to-End Selection and Appointments Process is a joint project between HMCTS, the JAC, the Judicial O_ ce and the Ministry of Justice. The Steering Group is chaired by Lord Justice Gross.

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Nigel Reeder OBE

Nigel was appointed Chief Executive of the Judicial Appointments Commission in December 2011. He joined the JAC as Director of Strategy and Outreach in March 2008 from the Ministry of Justice, where he had developed the Government’s policy on legal services reform and led the subsequent Bill team. Previously he worked for the Ministry of Defence.