Solicitors outperformed barristers in two selection exercises for the judiciary completed earlier this year, the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) has revealed.  Eleven solicitors and eight barristers were selected as district judges (magistrates’ court) and 14 solicitors and 11 barristers as lawyer chairmen of the Residential Property Tribunal Service. Women also performed strongly, making up 43% of the total of 478 judicial appointments this year. Black and minority ethnic (BME) candidates performed strongly in the selection exercise for lawyer chairmen of the Residential Property Tribunal Service, accounting for six (21%) of the 28 appointments. However, there are increasing concerns over the difficulties in recruiting judges for the Chancery division of the High Court. This is attributed largely to the differences between the earning power of top Chancery barristers and the salary of a high court judge.

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, has issued a warning of the need to preserve the integrity of jury trial and the jury system. Lord Judge remains concerned “At the ease with which a member of the jury can, by disobeying the judge’s instructions, discover material which purports to contain accurate information relevant to an individual case or an individual defendant.”  In three separate appeals last year convictions were found to be unsafe in the light of jury irregularities. Re-trials were ordered in two of those cases.

In an interesting post on the UK Human Rights blog, Adam Wagner analysed the increase in the number of ‘top judge says’ headlines and the impact this has on judicial decision making and media portrayals of the judiciary. He suggested that while a “public facing judiciary” is a good thing, “if judges speak about politically or legally sensitive topics, they risk having to withdraw from cases where those same topics are at issue for fear of being seen to approach the issue with a closed mind. Jonathan Sumption, a Supreme Court appointee who is yet to take up his post, may have already counted himself out of cases involving high constitutional principles with his recent speech on human rights law.

Last week’s Week That Was noted CPS plans to roll out ‘paperless courts’. However, the plan to go paperless by April could be in peril following a refusal by defence firms to engage with it. In a letter to the Director of Public Prosecutions, the 30 largest criminal firms, accounting for over 10% of the criminal legal aid budget, gave notice that they will not take part in the scheme until concerns over costs and workability have been addressed.

The Telegraph reports that Magistrates will be able to hand out summary justice in police stations under a radical overhaul of out-of-court penalties being considered by the Government. Nick Herbert, the police and criminal justice minister, has suggested that magistrates be on hand in a police station, or even via video link, to make decisions on how an admitted offence is dealt with and even hand out sentence.  He or she would decide whether an out of court penalty is appropriate or whether the offence should go to court.

The government has unveiled a new strategy to prevent transgender prejudice. Measures include tougher sentences for hate crimes, support for transgender pupils in schools, and tailored recruitment advice for businesses.

There is an excellent article by Joshua Rozenberg on a decision to be handed down on Thursday by the European Court of Human Rights following a challenge by the UK Supreme Court to its ban on hearsay evidence. Rozenberg suggests that the decision could constitute a turning point in the UK’s relationship with the Strasbourg court. If Strasbourg decides to uphold the ban then there could well be another standoff between Strasbourg and London – as there now is on prisoners’ voting. On this occasion, though, the government would have the support of parliament and all the senior judges.

Finally, the Homicide Review Advisory Group published its report on sentencing for homicide last week, arguing that the public would be open to ending mandatory life imprisonment for killers. The report states that “with appropriate education … an already receptive public mind could develop in the general direction long favoured by legal experts and the judiciary”. One of the main legal experts behind the report is Sir Louis Blom-Cooper, a lifelong campaigner for the abolition of capital punishment and an end to the mandatory sentence of life imprisonment. However, despite calls to Kenneth Clarke to reform the current sentencing guidelines, commentators remain doubtful that the Justice Secretary will be able to push through the reforms.