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Local authority lawyer employment T&Cs "should allow part-time judicial role"

The terms and conditions of employment for all employed lawyers – including those working for local authorities – should allow them to carry out a part-time judicial role, the Advisory Panel on Judicial Diversity has recommended.

In a 113-page report published this week, the panel said: “Such part-time roles should be encouraged and permitted, not only in the Government Legal Service and the Crown Prosecution Service but also by those lawyers employed in local authorities and legal academics.”

It called on professional bodies such as the Law Society and Bar Council to work with their employed lawyer groups to promote part-time judicial service, including as a magistrate, and take up of the panel’s proposed Developing Judicial Skills courses.

The report recognised that employed lawyers in the public sector tend to be more diverse than those in private practice. These courses would help them decide if a judicial career is right for them and give them the necessary confidence to apply, it said.

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The panel, chaired by Baroness Neuberger, acknowledged that there was “no quick fix” to moving towards a more diverse judiciary. It found that the diversity of those entering the profession is significantly greater than that of those who have the experience to apply for judicial office.

“We will achieve significant transformation if, and only if, diversity is addressed systematically – not only within the appointments process, but throughout a legal and judicial career, from first consideration of the possibility of joining the judiciary to promotion at the most senior level,” the report said.

The panel made 53 recommendations overall, including the creation of a Judicial Diversity Taskforce to oversee the delivery of reform and be responsible for overseeing progress. This taskforce would encompass the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Chief Justice, the Chairman of the Judicial Appointments Commission, the Senior President of Tribunals and the heads of the Bar Council, ILEX and the Law Society.

Other key recommendations include:

  • The Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) should revise its criteria for assessing merit, to support and underline with greater clarity its commitment to diversity
  • Selection processes should be open and transparent, promote diversity and recognise potential, “not just at the entry points to the judiciary but for progression within it to the most senior levels”
  • The Judicial Studies Board should evolve into a Judicial College offering courses in ‘Developing Judicial Skills’, and
  • A proactive campaign of myth-busting should be undertaken as many of the perceived barriers to diversity are not reflected in practice.

The panel ruled out quotas or targets for recruiting under-represented groups, but recommended improvements to the way data is captured and stored “so that there can be systematic evaluation of what works and progress can be monitored against agreed benchmarks".

The panel said its reforms, which have not been costed, needed to be seen as a comprehensive package if significant progress is to be made.

The Lord Chancellor, Jack Straw, said he would start working immediately with the judiciary, the JAC and the heads of professional bodies to implement the report’s findings.

He added: “I am determined that race, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or disability should be no barrier to those with ability joining the judiciary and progressing within it. Becoming a judge must be, and must be seen to be, open to everyone with the right skills and qualities.”

Guy Goodman, chair of Solicitors in Local Government, said the group warmly welcomed the advisory panel's report, adding that “a judicial career should be on the radar of every local government solicitor”.

He said: “Having participated in the panel's work we are pleased to see the specific recommendations in respect of employed lawyers.  As a professional association we have been promoting judicial appointments throughout the last year working in partnership with the Judicial Appointments Commission.”

The SLG’s Weekend School in April will be hosting a workshop run by the JAC on applying successfully for a judicial appointment.

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