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Judicial watch: Sir John Thomas handed top judicial role as Lady Justice Hallett misses out

Despite speculation that the UK could be set for the first woman Lord Chief Justice, it was this week confirmed that Queen’s Bench Division president Sir John Thomas has been appointed to replace retiring Lord Judge, who steps down at the end of September after completing five years in the role.

Thomas, who was recently involved in the high profile cases of Abu Hamza and Julian Assange, will take up his role on 1 October following his 66th birthday.

Thomas said: ‘It will be a hard task to follow such a great Chief Justice, but I will endeavour to maintain confidence in the judiciary, its reputation and its high standards of integrity and impartiality. Although in a time of reduced resources significant change must continue, the judiciary will play its leading part in ensuring that justice is delivered fairly and efficiently.’

Thomas has promised that the judiciary will also ‘become more reflective of our diverse society,’ amid on-going debate over whether positive discrimination is the right way to improve the ratio of women and ethnic minorities. At present around 23% of the judiciary in England and Wales are women and only 4% from ethnic minorities, compared with 12% of the population.

Court of Appeal judge Lady Justice Hallett, who led the London bombings inquest, missed out on the top judicial position after being said by some to be the front runner. Other potential candidates included Lord Justice Leveson, who oversaw the highly-publicised Leveson Inquiry, and vice-president of the criminal division Lord Justice Hughes.

Thomas was called to the bar in 1969 and became Queen’s Counsel in 1984, before being appointed a Judge of the High Court of England and Wales in 1996.

He later became president of the Queen’s Bench Division in October 2011 – the second most senior judge responsible for criminal appeals – and was president of the European Network of Councils for the Judiciary from May 2008 to December 2010.

The selection process kick-started in May by the Judicial Appointment Committee (JAC), with a selection panel comprising JAC chairman Christopher Stephens, Supreme Court president Lord Neuberger, Master of Rolls Lord Dyson and lay commissioners professor Noel Lloyd and Dame Valerie Strachan.