Northern Ireland is facing a serious shortage of judges on its High Court, and a recent report on the problem sheds some light into why. The government wants to promote only top barristers to the position, eschewing the candidacies of lower-level judges. But it turns out the targeted barristers are not interested:
Among the startling findings of the report obtained by the Irish News is the blunt admission by top lawyers that it simply does not pay to apply for what in the past was regarded as a promotion, with “considerable rewards still available to barristers and solicitors through non-publicly funded work”.
“As far as solicitors are concerned, the head of the Belfast branch of an international firm asked us rhetorically why he or she would want to take a 50 per cent pay cut in order to become a High Court judge,” the authors said.
“It seems clear, certainly, that in Northern Ireland there is a cadre of high-earning lawyers who, at present, are not likely to be interested in applying to become a High Court judge because they would be significantly better off financially if they stayed in their current job.”
One QC said simply: “I just wouldn’t be interested in the job.”
Continue reading ““Recruitment crisis” in Northern Ireland’s courts reveals misalignment in candidate and recruiter expectations”
Lord Kakkar, Chairman of the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC), announced a new “forward programme” for judicial recruitment over the next five years. The programme “will enable aspiring judges to identify ‘clear pathways’ to office and help candidates decide which roles to apply for and when,” according to a news story in the Law Society Gazette.
“No longer will candidates have to decide whether to run the risk or not of applying for a Recorder exercise when they don’t feel quite ready, just in case there is not another one for a few years,” [Lord Kakkar] said. “[This will] allow candidates to plan for how to prepare for future applications by, for example, seeking mentoring or observing judicial work. It will also help the courts and tribunals with their resource planning of the recruitment exercises, and inform the sequencing of exercises to allow fee-paid appointees to gain sufficient sitting experience to become strong candidates in future salaried exercises.”
From Scottish Legal News:
Less than a month after a warning by Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, that the English legal system was facing a ‘ticking time bomb’ in its failure to recruit judges, Scottish Legal News can reveal that Scotland too is facing such a crisis with top quality candidates spurning elevation to the bench.
Our enquiries among leading QCs found that most had no appetite to become judges citing hostile media coverage, lack of respect for the judiciary, relatively modest pay and pension packages, a backlog of distressing child sex abuse cases and concerns over judicial independence as well as the isolation and strenuous work load.
When incentives to enter a profession drop, the number of people seeking that profession drop as well.
The Times of London reports that the United Kingdom’s Senior Salaries Review Body (SSRB) will review the pay and working conditions for the country’s judges, in light of ongoing difficulties in recruiting qualified judicial candidates. The Times explains:
A judicial attitudes survey has found low morale among existing judges because of the erosion of their pay levels, and in particular their pension, increased administrative workload and poor working conditions.
The review, announced yesterday, will look at three areas: the judicial salary structure and whether this can be simplified; the way in which judicial leadership should be rewarded and incentivised, and judicial recruitment, retention and motivation.
The study findings are expected to be released in June 2018.