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Last Updated: Monday, 16 May, 2005, 11:00 GMT 12:00 UK
Damning view on judge selection
Judges
A new board for appointing judges came into being three years ago
The record of the new independent system for selecting judges and sheriffs has been lambasted.

It is claimed that some lawyers "of less than average legal ability" have been appointed to the Bench.

The stinging criticism of the Judicial Appointments Board comes from leading lawyer Alistair Bonnington in an influential professional magazine.

However, the board has insisted that there are mechanisms in place to safeguard appointments.

Its chairman, Sir Neil McIntosh, said all recommendations from selection panels could be vetoed by five senior lawyers if they were unhappy with the candidate.

Lay members

But Mr Bonnington's verdict, written in the Law Society Journal, has also prompted concern from a senior MSP, justice one committee convener, Pauline McNeill.

She stressed that the board was not established by legislation and MSPs have never debated it.

The board started work three years ago because of concerns that the existing system of senior jobs being decided by the Lord Advocate could be portrayed as "jobs for the boys".

Allistair Bonnington, lawyer
Judges can take your children away from you, they can send you to jail.... it's a big job, we need the best people
Alistair Bonnington
Mr Bonnington argued in his piece that widespread disquiet existed over some recent appointments.

The solicitor advocate, a visiting professor at Glasgow University and BBC Scotland's legal adviser, is concerned that lay members form the majority on selection panels.

Mr Bonnington told BBC Radio Scotland: "Lay people selecting who will be a good judge is just completely stupid. They don't know.

"If you're going to have to have lay people on it because of modern management thinking then you should have a couple of them just to make sure the lawyers aren't doing corrupt things, which I'm sure they never were.

"How can a person like that know who is going to be a good judge? They've never done a court case, they've never been in court - how can they possibly know?"

Leading lawyers last year criticised the Scottish Executive policy of increasing the numbers of temporary judges to hear High Court cases.

'Great concerns'

Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson defended the charge from the Faculty of Advocates.

Ms Jamieson said she took the decision to appoint more sheriffs and advocates to act as judges to process a backlog of appeals.

But senior lawyers alleged that the highest courts in the country had been undermined.

Mr Bonnington said experts should choose judges because it was a very important task.

Coat of Arms
Ministers were criticised for increasing the numbers of temporary judges
He explained: "They (judges) can take your children away from you, they can send you to jail, they can say that you're not allowed out late at night.

"It's a big job, we need the best people and I don't think that we are getting it.

"From the very top of the legal profession downwards there are great concerns the judicial appointments board is not doing as well as it might do."

Sir Neil, who previously worked in industry and local government, said the board did not have a lay majority and decisions were made by consensus.

He added: "It's also the case that the professional members of the board have to agree that any candidate taken forward has the necessary legal knowledge and experience

"Lay members contributed a range of experience.

"They don't just walk off the streets, but are people with wide experience of making appointments in the public and private sector."

He said the professional members of the board included a judge, a former dean of the faculty of advocates, a past president of the Law Society of Scotland, a sheriff principal, and a highly-respected sheriff.

"These are not people who are going to let anyone walk off the street and start becoming sheriffs or judges," he said.

Sir Neil said the board would listen to the criticisms being made.


SEE ALSO:
New judges move up to top courts
02 Feb 05 |  Scotland
Temporary judge policy attacked
15 Jan 04 |  Scotland
Judge calls for courts overhaul
11 Dec 02 |  Scotland
Court delays 'have risen by 300%'
03 Nov 02 |  Scotland
Judge slams courts 'farce'
29 Jan 02 |  Scotland


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