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No judicial experience required: Judiciary rolls out diversity initiative for deputy High Court judge roles

In a move to boost diversity within judicial ranks, the judiciary has begun piloting a new initiative to allow candidates from ‘non-traditional backgrounds’ to apply for positions as deputy High Court judges without gaining judicial experience first.

The programme will help selected ‘high quality lawyers and legal academics’ and who have no prior experience of judicial office, apply for the deputy roles by providing work-shadowing and mentoring ‘to acquaint them with the culture and pace of the High Court’.

Places are limited to women, candidates from a BAME background and those coming from less advantaged social or educational backgrounds, areas where ‘we know the judiciary is significantly less representative of society’.

The successful applicants will sit on a fee-paid basis and have the same responsibilities as High Court judges.

Circuit judges, recorders and qualifying tribunal judges can currently only be requested to sit as a deputy High Court judge but the Judicial Appointments Commission will run its selection exercise this July to appoint up to 14 people as deputy High Court judges using the provisions of Section 9(4) of the Senior Courts Act 1981. The aim is to provide a route to the High Court for those who have been put off by the traditional recorder route according to a statement published by the judiciary today (8 April).

The deadline for submissions of applications is Tuesday 21 April 2015.

In a recorded speech yesterday (7 April) Lady Justice Hallett said: ‘The appointments system is now far more open than it was and the judiciary is becoming more diverse year on year – demonstrated by the fact that there are now more women than ever in the High Court and in the Court of Appeal. But, progress is slow and the route to the senior judiciary remains a long one.

‘We fear that we may be missing out on a pool of talent for whom the traditional route is not an option – top flight solicitors and barristers, general counsel, academics and many more. They are also likely to be men and women from a broad spectrum of social and ethnic backgrounds with the potential for the High Court and beyond.’

She added: ‘Candidates who are successful in that selection exercise will be given appropriate training in the relevant jurisdiction and the opportunity to sit as a deputy High Court Judge so as, hopefully, to compete on a more level playing field for the High Court…Sitting as a High Court judge is one of the toughest legal jobs there is; but it is also one of the most satisfying and intellectually rewarding.’