Northern Ireland news

Solicitors urged to apply to be High Court judges

Up to four new High Court judges are being sought to help ease pressures on the judiciary

Solicitors have been encouraged to "consider making an application for a number of High Court judge vacancies" by their professional association.

Law Society president Rowan White wrote to members telling them it is time to "finally cast aside" concerns that only very experienced advocates will be considered.

Up to four new High Court judges are being sought to help ease pressures on the judiciary, which has not had a full complement of 10 judges since 2016.

Tomorrow Attorney General John Larkin leaves the post to take up his appointment as one of a raft of temporary High Court judges.

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In February, The Irish News revealed that a report into the 'recruitment crisis' for High Court judges had found senior lawyers are choosing larger pay packets and skiing holidays over `a sense of duty'.

The authors said the head of the Belfast branch of an international firm of solicitors "asked us rhetorically why he or she would want to take a 50 per cent pay cut in order to become a High Court judge".

However, it also found a general feeling that "solicitors are in effect `second-class lawyers' and that this is reflected in a range of petty restrictions such as solicitors not being able to even announce in court that a case has been settled, to wear any kind of robe in court or to be addressed as `my learned friend'".

It referenced Lord Neuberger's concerns about "inbuilt assumptions that it will tend to be a barrister, not a solicitor, who becomes a High Court judge... people on the whole do not think of solicitors - and solicitors do not think of themselves - as becoming High Court judges".

Law Society president Rowan White wrote to members telling them it is time to 'finally cast aside concerns only very experienced advocates will be considered'. Picture by Kelvin Boyes via Law Society

However, the society said the communication to members "reflects a new confidence within the profession following the successful appointment of Mr Justice Huddleston in January 2019".

"As a profession, we have in the past been guilty of assuming that only very experienced advocates will be considered for appointment to vacancies on the High Court bench," Mr White, who holds a law degree Cambridge University, wrote.

"As a result, many able colleagues have not applied for appointments to which they may have been very well suited. However, it is clear from the criteria that court advocacy is not an essential requirement for these appointments.

"The appointment of our colleague and former president, Mr Justice Huddleston, in January 2019 clearly demonstrates that this assumption is incorrect and must now be finally cast aside.

"His appointment highlights the relevance to his judicial office of the many skills and experience which he acquired as a transactional solicitor practising in property, commercial and private client matters. His practice had not included advocacy and it is essential to appreciate that the skills which NIJAC lists for the current vacancies are not focused on advocacy.

"It is very clear to the society that NIJAC is keen to attract applications from a broad range of skilled lawyers, regardless of their professional background.

"There are undoubtedly a number of eminently suitable candidates currently practising in the solicitors' profession. If you feel that you may be one of them, I urge you to take this opportunity to apply."

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