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Court Spotlight on Judicial Appointments System

In a case which shone a rare spotlight on the judicial appointments process, a lawyer who was denied promotion to the full-time bench after he clocked up seven penalty points on his driving licence has failed in a High Court challenge to the decision.

There was no dispute that the highly experienced solicitor, who already sat as a part-time deputy district judge, had been an ‘outstanding’ candidate for promotion to a permanent role as a district judge. However, the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) had turned down his application on the basis that he was ‘not of good character’ within the meaning of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005.

That decision was reached solely on the basis that he had been caught speeding in 2010 – an offence for which he was given four penalty points and a £650 fine – and had also received three penalty points in 2012 for failing to obey a traffic signal.

In challenging the decision, his lawyers pointed out that he had been driving for 40 years – his only other motoring offence was recorded against him in 1972 – and argued that his more recent penalty points did not indicate any unwillingness on his part to comply with the rules of the road. There was no basis for saying that he was of anything other than good character and the penalty points had had no impact on his position as a deputy district judge.

However, the Court noted that it was ‘beyond argument’ that the JAC was entitled to adopt a filtering process which took into account the overriding need to maintain public confidence in the judiciary. Such confidence would only be maintained if judicial office holders, and those who aspired to such office, maintained the highest standards of behaviour in their professional, public and private lives.

The decision was in line with the JAC’s policy that applicants with more than six penalty points on their licence would not normally be selected and it was ‘simply inconceivable’ that the body had not considered the possibility of exercising its discretion in the solicitor’s favour.

Giving the solicitor encouragement for the future, however, the Court observed that four of his penalty points would shortly be removed from his licence. He was clearly an outstanding candidate for promotion and the Court expressed the hope that he would re-apply for appointment to a full-time judicial role.