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Fewer solicitor judges on the benches

12 July 2019

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There are fewer solicitors now sitting as judges in the courts and tribunals than there were in 2015, according to the Judicial Diversity Statistics 2019.

In figures just published by the Judicial Office, a third of court judges as at 1 April 2019, and almost two thirds of tribunal judges were non-barristers.

Almost all of those who indicated their background used to be solicitors; with just five court judges and 34 tribunal judges from a legal executive or other legal background.  

However, the results show that the number of non-barrister court judges has gone down by three percentage points and tribunal judges by five percentage points.

So why is this?

The figures reveal a greater proportion of non-barristers left the courts’ judiciary (39 per cent) than joined (32 per cent) in the year 2018 to 2019.

There is a marked difference for tribunal judges, with non-barristers comprising 80 per cent of those leaving and 51 per cent joining.

The downturn in the proportion of non-barrister judges has resulted from the combination of a high rate of leavers and the correspondingly lower rate of gain of non-barristers in the judiciary.

The figures have been published in the middle of a recruitment and retention crisis which the government is now attempting to tackle.

Its latest move is to hand substantial pay rises and retentional allowances to senior judges following a review by the Review Body on Senior Salaries (SSRB).

In its formal response to that review, the government said it is “continuing to explore how we can encourage and enable more solicitors to apply for judicial office, particularly in the more senior roles”.

It noted that two out of the ten successful candidates appointed in the most recent High Court Judge selection exercise were solicitors.

The government also expressed its commitment “to increasing the number of high quality candidates drawn from top solicitors, and will consider what further action could be taken to help identify and support suitable individuals to apply for judicial office”.

However, critics say the Judicial Appointments Committee (JAC) process is biased toward barristers and that efforts to increase diversity on the bench is simply window dressing.



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