How do you ensure consistency in assessment and do you think the existing competency-based approach achieves this aim?
2018-19 was a busy year for the Judicial Appointments Commission. It processed 4,000 applications and made 1,013 recommendations for appointment – over three times as many as two years ago. The JAC has a statutory duty to ensure that only candidates of the highest quality are selected to serve as judges, and to ensure that the sole criteria for selection is merit. It also has a duty to encourage diversity. We want the best talent from a range of backgrounds to apply for judicial office and go on to become the senior judiciary of the future. Competition is tough, which is why our rigorous selection processes are carefully designed to be open, transparent and fair to all candidates.
To ensure consistency in assessment we use a carefully considered set of criteria to assess candidates in each selection exercise. Those criteria are developed in conjunction with the judiciary to ensure a robust assessment of a candidate’s suitability for appointment.
There is no single path to judicial appointment; eligible candidates can come from a wide range of backgrounds and careers and include legal academics, government lawyers and chartered legal executives. A competency framework allows all candidates to be assessed fairly, regardless of professional or personal background by taking into account all of the candidate’s experience including transferrable skills and then assessing judicial potential. Candidates are not immediately rejected if they are weaker in demonstrating one of the competencies, but over the course of an exercise a candidate is expected to have fully demonstrated all competencies to a level to be selectable.
The competency-based approach is used throughout an exercise and not just at the interview stage. In shortlisting for interview, we use a range of assessment tools, including online situational judgement and critical analysis tests, role plays, and situational questioning, all of which are aligned to to the competency framework for each exercise. This means candidates are tested in a variety of ways, giving them multiple opportunities to demonstrate their suitability. A selection panel will review all available evidence in coming to a decision.
What are the dyamics of the selection panel?
JAC selection panels usually consist of a lay chair, a judicial panel member and an independent member. This panel make-up is important to ensure they have the relevant knowledge and expertise whilst retaining independence. The JAC uses targeted outreach to recruit a diverse cohort of panel members, and all are trained regularly on fair selection and unconscious bias.
Panels must make unanimous decisions, with all members contributing equally to the decision-making process. The judicial panel member will support the lay members with their expertise in the relevant jurisdiction and will clarify legal issues. The selection process is designed to test a candidate’s ability to communicate clearly, both orally and in writing, in a manner that ensures understanding by others. Candidates are expected to explain complex legal matters in terms that lay members can understand.
How are JAC selection processes scrutinised?
As a Commissioner, I know how serious the JAC is about continuously improving its processes, and how the JAC regularly seeks and acts upon candidate and stakeholder feedback. Given the importance of merit-based judicial selection, the JAC continuously reviews and seeks regular external independent scrutiny of its selection processes to confirm that it is following best practice approaches in this area. The most recent review highlighted the use of objective and valid selection criteria based on competency frameworks. Where recommendations for further improvement are provided, the JAC has implemented changes including those that will support the JAC’s approaches in promoting diversity, improving the candidate experience and making the most efficient use of judicial time and expertise.
As part of that, in 2018 the JAC introduced a simplified and more flexible application process for the High Court selection exercise to encourage high-quality applications from a range of backgrounds, without compromising on the overarching principle of merit, or lowering our rigorous standards. This included an eight-week application window, a statement of suitability with a CV aligned against a concise set of skills and abilities, and two samples of previous written work or judgments. We will shortly be implementing a similar approach for other leadership roles.
Judge Anuja Dhir QC was appointed to the JAC as a judicial member in 2018. Anuja was appointed as a judge at the Old Bailey in 2017, a Circuit Judge in 2012 and a Recorder in 2010. In 2018 Anuja was authorised to sit in the Court of Appeal Criminal Division.