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Chief justice can choose her title
Only two candidates applied for the top judicial post in England and Wales
The most senior judge in England and Wales will be invited to choose her own title, the lord chancellor Alex Chalk told me in an interview to be broadcast by BBC Radio 4 on Law in Action this afternoon.
Contrary to a report in the Telegraph — subsequently repeated by by The Times and the Mail — no “constitutional” amendment will be needed because section 64 of the Courts Act 2003 allows the lord chancellor to change a judicial title with the concurrence of the lord chief justice. A simple order is all that’s needed, as we saw in 2018 when bankruptcy registrars became insolvency judges.
I asked the lord chancellor whether Lord Burnett of Maldon’s successor would be known as the lady chief justice, as in Northern Ireland, or simply chief justice, as I have suggested.
“I’ll probably talk to her and see what she says about it,” Chalk told me. “I think, ultimately, it’s got to be a title that she is comfortable with. And, within reason, I think I’ll probably be led by what she has to say.”
We still don’t know who “she” will be. But the chair of the Judicial Appointments Commission, also interviewed for Law in Action, told me that only two candidates had put their names forward. She confirmed that both were women.
“We asked people to apply,” said Helen Pitcher. “We felt both candidates were worthy of interview and therefore they were invited for interview.”
As I reported last month, the candidates were Dame Victoria Sharp and Dame Sue Carr.
Sharp is president of the King’s Bench division of the High Court, effectively the chief justice’s deputy on the criminal side. Carr is a lady justice of appeal and former vice-chair of the Judicial Appointments Commission.
Readers may recall that I identified Sharp and Carr as the favourites more than four months ago.
Neither of the people I interviewed for Law in Action would tell me who has been appointed and I don’t intend to speculate on who would do it better. But I note that “legal insiders” were quoted by the Telegraph and subsequently by The Times and the Mail as saying that — although Sharp is the favourite — Carr has the more “outwardly confident personality” and that “she would be better able to do the public-facing stuff… liaising with the government and the lord chancellor”.
The news that a woman will lead the judiciary of England and Wales from October for the first time in a thousand years will be widely welcomed.
“It will send a positive signal in terms of role modelling,” Pitcher said.
Chalk confirmed that a name had been sent to the King and an announcement would be made soon. “I look forward to congratulating her before too long,” he added.
The main purpose of my interview with Chalk was to discuss the reforms he plans to make to the parole system. These were heavily criticised by the chair of the Commons justice committee, as I reported last Friday. I also asked the justice secretary about IPP prisoners, the government’s Illegal Migration Bill, the SLAPPs reforms announced today and his predecessor’s ill-fated Bill of Rights Bill.
My interview with Pitcher is about the need for judicial diversity.
And there is also an interview with Mr Justice Mostyn about the challenges of working with Parkinson’s.
This edition of Law in Action — the last in the current series — can be heard on BBC Radio 4 at 4pm today and then on BBC Sounds. The programme returns in October for its 40th year of broadcasting.
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