Britain’s cosy judicial appointments system – under which judges are appointed by the Government after consultation with existing judges and senior lawyers – is poised for the most dramatic overhaul in its history.

Radical plans being drawn up by the Commission for Judicial Appointments (CJA), which advises the Government on legal matters, would see all judges up to the level of the High Court being selected by an independent panel of experts, most of whom would be drawn from outside the legal profession.

The dramatic move to take appointments out of the control of the judiciary would end centuries of tradition for a profession which in recent years has become concerned that its fusty image as a bastion for white, Oxbridge-educated males has deterred women and people from ethnic minorities from joining.

Under the CJA’s scenario, the panel would select a candidate and submit his or her name to the new Department for Constitutional Affairs, which is replacing the Lord Chancellor’s Department. The Government would then be compelled publicly to explain its reasons if the preferred candidate was rejected.

The move will surprise many in the legal profession who had believed that the appointments panel would be dominated by members drawn from the judiciary. The Government, too, has been hesitant about such a radical move. In its consultation paper on reforming the legal system it has previously planned a panel comprised of five members of the judiciary, five who had legal qualifications and five ‘lay’ members.

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