Judicial Appointments Commission
The Judicial Appointments Commission is an independent commission that selects candidates for judicial office in courts and tribunals in England and Wales and for some tribunals whose jurisdiction extends to Scotland or Northern Ireland.
The JAC recommends candidates for appointment as judges of the High Court and to all judicial offices listed in Schedule 14 of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005. It also provides support for selections to fill judicial posts that lie outside its responsibilities under Schedule 14. For example, the JAC convenes panels that recommend candidates for appointment to senior posts such as the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, Master of the Rolls, President of the Queen's Bench Division, President of the Family Division, Chancellor of the High Court and Lords Justices of Appeal. The JAC is not responsible for selecting justices of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom although a lay Commissioner does sit on the selection panel. Additionally, the Lord Chancellor may request the JAC’s assistance in connection with other appointments that the Lord Chancellor considers appropriate.
The JAC is a non-departmental public body which was created on 3 April 2006 through the Constitutional Reform Act 2005. It took over a responsibility previously held by the Lord Chancellor and the Department for Constitutional Affairs (previously the Lord Chancellor's Department), although the Lord Chancellor retains responsibility for appointing some selected candidates. In other cases the Lord Chief Justice or the Senior President of Tribunals makes the final appointments.
The Appropriate Authority (either the Lord Chancellor, Lord Chief Justice or Senior President of Tribunals) can accept or reject a JAC recommendation, or ask the Commission to reconsider it. If the Appropriate Authority rejects a recommendation or asks for reconsideration they must provide written reasons to the JAC.
Under the Constitutional Reform Act, the Lord Chancellor also lost his other judicial functions, including the right to sit as a judge in the House of Lords. The Act also established the Lord Chief Justice as head of the judiciary of England and Wales. The Act has since been amended by the Crime and Courts Act 2013.
Under the Constitutional Reform Act Parliament gave the JAC the following statutory duties:
- to select candidates solely on merit;
- to select only people of good character; and
- to have regard to the need to encourage diversity in the range of persons available for judicial selection.
The Judicial Appointments Commission comprises 15 commissioners. Twelve, including the Chairman, are appointed through open competition, with the other three selected by the Judges' Council (two senior members of the courts judiciary) or the Tribunal Judges' Council (one senior member of the tribunals judiciary).
The Chairman of the Commission must always be a lay member. Of the 14 other Commissioners:
- 5 must be judicial members (of which one must be a senior tribunal judge)
- 2 must be professional members (each of whom must hold a qualification listed below but must not hold the same qualification as each other*)
- 5 must be lay members
- 1 must be a tribunal judge
- 1 must be a non-legally qualified judicial member
The legal qualifications referred to are:
- Barrister in England and Wales;
- Solicitor of the Senior Courts of England and Wales; or
- Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives
The members of the Commission (as at 31 March 2015) are:
- Christopher Stephens CBE
- Vice Chairman
- Lord Justice Ian Burnett (judicial)
- Mr Martin Forde, QC
- Ms Alexandra Marks
- Her Honour Judge Usha Karu
- District Judge Christopher Simmonds
- His Honour Judge Phillip Sycamore
- Mr Justice Wilkie
- Lucy Scott-Moncrieff, CBE
- Lay justice
- Katharine Rainsford, JP
- Professor Emily Jackson
- Professor Noel Lloyd, CBE
- Lieutenant General Sir Andrew Ridgway, KBE, CB
- Dame Valerie Strachan, DCB
- Debra van Gene
The JAC is run by a staff of around 50. There are two Directorates. Between them they make up the functions that run the JAC and exercises for the selection of judges to the courts and tribunals. Selection Exercise teams run exercises. They handle all applications, booking panels for selection days and running the front of house for the selection days. They also handle outreach with candidates and programming the exercises. There is a small communications team which handles corporate communications, including answering media queries.
The Chief Executive is Nigel Reeder, with Carol Morgan as Head of Operations and Alice Ripley as Head of Policy and Change.
Despite initial doubts about the JAC, it has delivered successful exercises with quality candidates appointed to the High Court, Circuit bench and numerous Tribunals. The JAC treats all candidates equally regardless of legal experience, age or ethnicity.
Several exercises are launched annually or biennially with specialist tribunal members recruited when required. Potential candidates may attend a Dry Run which gives them experience of how an actual selection process takes place. Exercises are run by the Selection Exercise teams; each exercise has its own particular requirements, but they do follow set processes. Candidates create online profiles and apply electronically. Depending on the exercise candidates are then either sifted or invited to take a qualifying test. There may be a second stage to the shortlisting if it is anticipated the selection exercise will attract a large number of candidates, which could take the form of a written assessment or short interview.
After these stages candidates are shortlisted and then invited to an interview on a Selection Day. Candidates may have to attend just an interview or prepare case scenarios for Situational Questioning. They may also take part in a role play. All of these are marked by the panel members who then make their recommendations to the Selection and Character Committee (SCC), which is made up of the Commissioners. The SCC considers the panel's assessments of the candidates, alongside comments received through statutory consultation. Those who are selected are put forward to the Appropriate Authority for appointment. The process is designed to be as fair and equal as possible, with the JAC selecting candidates to put forward for appointment based solely on merit.
The law was changed in 2013 to enable the Commission to apply the ‘tie-break’ clause introduced by the Equality Act 2010. This equal merit provision means that where there are two or more candidates of equal merit, a candidate may be selected for a post by the JAC for the purpose of increasing judicial diversity.
A Ministry of Justice triennial review report, released in January 2015, concluded the JAC should continue to deliver its function independently of the Executive and the Judiciary.
The Judicial Appointments Commission is separate from the Commission for Judicial Appointments (CJA). The CJA was established in March 2001 to review the procedures for the appointment of judges and QCs, and to investigate complaints into those procedures. It closed on 31 March 2006 with the establishment of the Judicial Appointments Commission and the Judicial Appointments and Conduct Ombudsman (JACO). A separate Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland and Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Commission undertake similar functions for Scotland and Northern Ireland, respectively.
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- Judicial Appointments Commission
- The Commission for Judicial Appointments
- Judicial Appointments and Conduct Ombudsman
- Constitutional reforms come into force (DCA press release, 23 January 2006)
- Sumption and Nally bag Judicial Appointments roles (The Lawyer, 23 January 2006)
- Falconer ends 700 years of history (The Telegraph, 23 January 2006)
- Taps on the shoulder make way for job applications (The Times, 3 April 2006)
- Judges aim to dispel fusty image with first move into cyberspace (The Guardian, 3 April 2006)
- JAC launches new system for judicial appointments 31 October 2006
- Merit is our bedrock — we'll appoint judges solely on merit (The Times, 31 October 2006)