Concerns over "concerns about the reluctance of many of our best practitioners to consider applying to join the judiciary" were voiced today by the Lord President, Lord Carloway, in his address to mark the opening of the new legal year.
Noting that this was also an issue in other parts of the UK, due to financial considerations as well as perceptions of the nature of the judicial workload and its potential impact on personal commitments, the Lord President said he hoped two developments would ameliorate the situation.
These were the introduction of the judicial work shadowing scheme, which allows practitioners to spend up to three days observing the work of a judicial office holder, to provide "a reassuring insight into life on the bench"; and the changing nature of the work of the court, through the reforms designed to ensure that only the most important cases, "from a legal not a personal perspective", are heard at Court of Session or High Court level.
Recruitment for three new judges will take place to replace those retiring in 2019 and 2020.
On the topic of which cases are heard in the highest courts, Lord Carloway reported that civil appeal work had reduced by around a third, due partly to cases now being heard in the Sheriff Appeal Court (SAC), "and partly, but most notably, the introduction of the permission stage in petitions for judicial review".
He continued: "On the criminal side, again, the SAC has, by taking over the summary business, provided time and space for the appellate High Court to look with greater scrutiny at the solemn appeals which have passed the sift and ought thus to have an arguable point to consider."
In contrast, however, High Court trial work continued to grow significantly. "It is anticipated that, for 2018, indictments, and trials at which as evidence has been led, will increase by a third as compared to 2017. Registered indictments are projected to break the 1,000 mark for the first time next year. This will put a significant strain on our ability to cope with the increasing volumes. I am confident that we can reduce the potential effects of the increase, provided that everyone – the courts, the Crown and the legal profession – play their part; especially in relation, in all three cases, to preparation and readiness to proceed."
Work was continuing on reforms to civil and criminal procedure, and on bringing more tribunals within the unified Scottish Tribunals. In addition, "We will also be issuing in the immediate future a protocol on the broadcasting of court proceedings, covering both the Court of Session and the High Court."
After welcoming the nine newly appointed Queen's Counsel, and encouraging those disappointed this time round to try again in the future, the Lord President concluded:
"I repeat what I have said in previous years, that, although never decisive, demonstration of commitment to public service, in particular as an advocate depute, and regular appearance in substantive matters in the appellate courts, especially having already represented the party at first instance, are regarded as favourable attributes when it comes to considering applications."