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Judicial appointments: how you can take part

19 January 09

The Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland is appealing for help in a study aimed at achieving the widest range of eligible applicants

by Chris Orman

How diverse is Scotland’s judiciary and legal profession? This is the question which the Judicial Appointments Board hopes to answer when it sends out a research questionnaire to the judiciary, advocates and solicitors next month.

The Board has a remit to encourage the widest possible range of applicants for judicial offices in Scotland. To fulfil this remit a Diversity Working Group was established, chaired by Professor Alan Paterson, and comprising representatives from the Faculty of Advocates and the Law Society of Scotland.

From the evidence currently in the public domain, the working group has been unable to establish the precise makeup of the eligible population for appointment to the bench. Their research to date suggests that the Judicial Appointments Board is not receiving applications from a fully representative range of eligible applicants.

Those who have applied for judicial appointments will have completed our equal opportunities questionnaire, so we have evidence of the diversity of applicants. The Working Group has identified a need to gather more evidence in order to establish the current makeup of the eligible population for judicial appointments (and how this might change in the next few years), as well as to identify whether there are any actual or perceived barriers which could be inhibiting eligible candidates from applying to become sheriffs or judges.

The Board is also keen to have your opinion on the judicial appointments process and whether there are any perceived or actual barriers to appointment. Once we have better data in all of these areas, the Board will be able to assess the position more accurately and also to develop appropriate policies with a view to encouraging applications from the widest spectrum of candidates. Our selection process will continue to be based solely on merit, and this is now set in statute (Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008, s 12(2)).

Sir Muir Russell, recently appointed as chairman of the Board, said: “I am glad that this work is underway. It will be very helpful to the Board, and I hope recipients will take time to complete the questionnaire.”

The research project has received the support of the Lord President, the Dean of the Faculty of Advocates and the President of the Law Society of Scotland. The Dean, Richard Keen QC, said: “By encouraging a much more diverse entry into the legal profession we will achieve the sensible objective of arriving at diversity based upon merit in appointments to the bench. Indeed, the process has been ongoing for a number of years, for example in the greater number of women deciding on law as a career. If we can also achieve greater social diversity, that will also lead naturally into appointments to the bench.”

Richard Henderson, President of the Law Society of Scotland, said: “This is important research and I would encourage all our members to respond as it will help inform the Judicial Appointments Board as to the makeup of the eligible population for judicial appointments and how this might change in the next few years. It will also help to identify whether there are any actual or perceived barriers which could be inhibiting eligible candidates from applying for judicial posts. JABS will also be able to share certain anonymous data with the Society which will provide important follow-up statistics to the successful 2006 Profile of the Profession study. This helps us achieve two goals within a single project.”

The Board has appointed an independent research company, MVA Consultancy, to conduct the research on its behalf. MVA Consultancy will provide statistical reports, from which it will be impossible to identify individual respondents, and will destroy the original responses upon completion and sign-off of the study. The free-text comments will also be screened to ensure they do not identify individuals or organisations. At no time will any other body have access to the original completed questionnaires.

The study will result in the production of a report which will be made available publicly on the Board’s website and distributed to various interested parties. Some additional information may be provided to the Faculty of Advocates and to the Law Society of Scotland, relating solely to their respective members, to assist in their more detailed understanding of any issues arising, on a basis that will make it impossible to identify individuals from the data.

Our counterparts in the UK are also undertaking similar research. In October 2008, the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Commission published the result of their research project and you can visit their website (www.nijac.org/ publications/research.htm) for further information. The Judicial Appointments Commission (for England & Wales) will be conducting their research questionnaire this year.

Because we have so little reliable data at the moment, we are asking for a great deal of information. The Board is extremely grateful to you for your time and effort in helping us.

To appoint the best, we need to be sure that the best are coming forward and we would like to seek your help to achieve that objective.

Chris Orman is secretary to the Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland

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