Reviewing the appointment criteria and consideration of a distinct judicial career path could help achieve a more diverse judiciary in Scotland, according to the Law Society of Scotland.
The calls come in a series of recommendations by the Society in a paper responding to the Judicial Appointments Board Diversity Steering Group (DSG) report on its conference, held last year, "Merit and diversity – Compatible aspirations in judicial appointments?"
The Society, a member of the DSG, argues that at the moment a key part of the criteria to become a sheriff is experience in court work and case presentation skills, which means that more court practitioners will apply as they can more easily provide evidence to meet the required competencies. However, while such experience may be highly desirable, the full range of required skills should be considered in order to prevent any artificial barrier to potential appointment.
These include the ability to make good reasoned decisions within a reasonable time frame, knowledge of the law, knowledge of the rule of law and court procedure. Also important is the ability to deal with and understand those appearing before them, and to be able to communicate complicated concepts in straightforward language, particularly given the rise of the party litigant.
Further, there should be more specialist judges who have an in-depth knowledge of certain areas of law, and a review of the current barriers which prevent tribunal judges, even those experienced in dealing with complex cases, from moving to judicial posts in Scotland’s courts.
Outreach work in schools, and mentoring, are also mentioned.
Rob Marrs, head of education at the Society, said: “There have been great strides made since the inception of the Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland in improving transparency in the appointments process and other more recent changes resulting from the conference held last year on merit and diversity within the judiciary, including a review of its application process to make it more accessible and increased engagement and outreach work with interested parties.
“However it’s undeniable that there is currently a lack of diversity in our judiciary and, with men making up more than 70% of judicial posts, it is not representative of the legal profession or of the population at large."
He added: "It’s important that as well as considering those recommended for appointment, we look at what can be done to broaden the pool of potential candidates."
On the judiciary as a career option Mr Marrs commented: “We also think there should be more consideration given to career development and ensuring that judicial appointment is an attractive option for a range of would-be candidates. This could include developing a distinct judicial career path– a model adopted in several European jurisdictions – with specific training for advocates and solicitors who are interested in a career on the bench.
“Informing and engaging groups who may be interested in becoming a sheriff or a judge should start at the earliest opportunity and there could be outreach work done in schools, during university and at the early stages of people’s legal careers. Providing shadowing and mentoring opportunities for less well represented groups has also worked well in England & Wales, where there has been a lot of work done on this, and could easily be adopted here to encourage those who may not previously have considered applying for judicial appointment.”