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Supreme Court in search for new justices

Selection process launched to fill three vacancies on UK’s highest court

16 February 2017

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The search to appoint some of the most senior judges in the UK has begun, with applications invited to fill three soon-to-be vacant seats on the Supreme Court, including the president’s.

The number of vacancies on the UK’s highest court arising at the same time is unprecedented and follows the retirement of Lord Toulson last summer, and the forthcoming retirements of Lords Neuberger and Clarke.

To encourage the broadest range of applications and achieve the most efficient process for all involved, Lord Toulson’s seat was not filled immediately. Instead two candidates will be appointed from the forthcoming selection round.

A third justice will be appointed from the same pool of candidates if Lord Neuberger’s successor as president is appointed from within the Supreme Court.

Applicants for the vacancies must provide a supporting statement of up to 2,000 words, giving clear evidence to demonstrate how they meet each of the selection criteria.

Serving judges must cite three of their recent interesting or important judgments in support of their application. Other applicants must submit three copies of articles, opinions, or other relevant material to prove their eligibility for the role.

The current annual salary for the president of the court is £222,862, while a justice’s is £215,256. Applications close on 10 March 2017.

Last November, Lord Neuberger announced steps to encourage a diverse range of eligible candidates to apply for the roles. These included the launch of ‘insight sessions’, with potential candidates making a private visit to the court to discuss the role with a serving justice, and ensuring the application material makes clear the availability of part-time working for new justices.

The statutory qualification for a Supreme Court justice is either two years’ high judicial office, or being a barrister or solicitor with 15 years’ law-related activity.

The appointments process will be overseen by two independent selection commissions, convened by the Lord Chancellor and subject to the process laid out in the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 and the Crime and Courts Act 2013.

The commission to appoint the next president of the Supreme Court is chaired by Lord Kakkar. The rest of the panel is made up of the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, Supreme Court justice Lord Mance, Professor Nichola Rooney of the Judicial Appointments Commission for Northern Ireland, and Deirdre Fulton of the Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland.

A separate commission for the two justice vacancies has the same panel but will be chaired by Lord Neuberger.

Candidates are shortlisted and interviewed by the panels. Under changes introduced by the Crime and Courts Act 2013, where two candidates are deemed to be of equal merit, the commission can give preference to one candidate over the other for the purpose of increasing diversity within the court.

In a speech to law students at Birmingham University in November 2015, Baroness Hale of Richmond, who is the favourite to succeed Lord Neuberger as president, said the court should be ‘ashamed’ of itself if it did not become more diverse by 2018.

Speaking to Solicitors Journal last November, Lady Hale stressed that applications from solicitors for the empty spots would be ‘warmly encouraged’.

‘Between now and mid-2020 we will inevitably have nine vacancies,’ she said. ‘We are looking to group them in threes so it won’t be one vacancy at a time. We hope it will encourage a wider range of people to put themselves forward and to think this might be an appropriate career for them.’

Once shortlisting, interviews, and the required consultation exercises have taken place, it is expected that the names of those appointed will be announced by the government by July, with the new post-holders taking office at the start of the new legal year in October 2017.

John van der Luit-Drummond is deputy editor of Solicitors Journal

john.vanderluit@solicitorsjournal.co.uk | @JvdLD

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