ANALYSIS JUDICIAL APPOINTMENTS: Secretive, Elitist, Self-Serving: Why Britain's Legal System Needs Radical Reform ; L Sir Colin Campbell's 18-Month Inquiry Upholds Four Key Complaints and Calls on the Lord Chancellor to 'Demystify' Appointments

By Robert Verkaik Legal Affairs Correspondent | The Independent (London, England), October 8, 2002 | Go to article overview
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ANALYSIS JUDICIAL APPOINTMENTS: Secretive, Elitist, Self-Serving: Why Britain's Legal System Needs Radical Reform ; L Sir Colin Campbell's 18-Month Inquiry Upholds Four Key Complaints and Calls on the Lord Chancellor to 'Demystify' Appointments


Robert Verkaik Legal Affairs Correspondent, The Independent (London, England)


WHEN THE Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg, asked a senior academic to investigate the judicial appointments system, he must have known he would end up having to make some minor tweaks and adjustments to the process by which all judges and QCs are called to public office.

What he probably didn't expect was a 35-page report that begins by upholding four complaints against his own department and ends by asking him to reconsider his role in the appointments system.

Sir Colin Campbell's 18-month investigation into judicial appointments also calls for immediate remedial action, including greater efforts by the Lord Chancellor to demystify the so-called "secret soundings", where judges and senior barristers are consulted on the suitability of judicial and QC candidates. He also wants an end to the lengthy delays which characterise many of the appointments.

As an outsider to the cloistered world of the legal profession, Sir Colin asks questions that go to the very heart of the constitution of a modern system for appointing an independent judiciary.

On many of these questions, Sir Colin and his seven-strong team of commissioners have yet to come to any firm conclusion.

But today's report puts the Lord Chancellor on notice that the first Commissioner for Judicial Appointments is planning to make some unsettling recommendations as soon as he has had more time to collect his evidence.

Sir Colin, vice-chancellor of the University of Nottingham since 1988, was chosen for the role in March 2001. His fellow commissioners - who, like him, have no professional legal background - took up office a year later.

Their terms of reference allow them to investigate any complaint "arising out of the application of appointment procedures" and give them unrestricted access to the appointments system.

Of the 10 complaints made by prospective judges and QC applicants, the commissioners have upheld four, dismissed two and have yet to decide on four more. About the same number were declined jurisdiction because the commissioners ruled that they fell outside their remit.

During their inquiry they say they have uncovered a vast bureaucratic machinery for assessing the merit of hundreds of applications to some of the most powerful posts in the judiciary.

In the case of QCs, or silks, Sir Colin and his team must have also recognised that successful candidates stand to increase their fees overnight. While they found no evidence of corruption, nepotism or a system of "nods, winks and appointments made in smoked-filled rooms", they said the current procedures did not guarantee fairness to the applicant.

This does not mean that for hundreds of years judges and QCs in England and Wales have been unfairly appointed, but simply that the system may be ignoring equally good candidates who have slipped through the net.

All three of the complaints brought by QC applicants considered by Sir Colin were upheld and have now resulted in personal apologies from the Lord Chancellor.

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ANALYSIS JUDICIAL APPOINTMENTS: Secretive, Elitist, Self-Serving: Why Britain's Legal System Needs Radical Reform ; L Sir Colin Campbell's 18-Month Inquiry Upholds Four Key Complaints and Calls on the Lord Chancellor to 'Demystify' Appointments
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