Scottish judiciary faces a mounting recruitment crisis

Another significant factor in the dearth of applicants is the reduction in income required to become a senator

Lord Cwmgiedd, the lord chief justice of England and Wales, claimed recently that England was facing a crisis due to its failure to attract and recruit the right kind of people to serve as judges. This issue is not limited to England, however, with Scotland facing the same problem whereby the best candidates are snubbing what was once seen as the top job.

Loss of role prestige

They are many reasons for qualified QCs choosing to stay in their chosen roles. Amongst these are qualms about the workload and lack of flexibility in the workplace; however, the job primarily appears to have lost its shine for many QCs due to a perceived lack of respect for the judiciary and its relatively modest pay.

Anecdotal evidence from those currently in the role sees dissatisfaction with the amount of media coverage – often negative – given to judges and their decisions. Furthermore, with pressure mounting to allow more media coverage inside the courtroom, more would-be judges are seeing the potentially negative implications. The question of how this coverage affects the judge’s decision-making process also arises, and who would want to make these decisions under so much public scrutiny?

Unattractive cases and backlogs

Adding to the loss of attractiveness of the role is the current number of child sex abuse cases. This backlog of distressing cases is understood to be almost endless and many are worried about how well an individual can cope working with such material, in effect in isolation, and with such a strenuous workload. Media coverage around these cases is also intense and the pressure to find parties guilty can mean that the public level any dissatisfaction over the decision at the presiding judge.

A step-down

Another significant factor in the dearth of applicants is the reduction in income required to become a senator. At a stage in their careers when many potential applicants are looking ahead to retirement, securing a nest egg is also a consideration. This means QCs may have few motivations as far as financial rewards are concerned.

In short, judicial recruitment in Scotland appears to be in the same situation as that of its neighbour. With hostility towards judges on the rise, an influx of unattractive cases and a lack of flexible working options, in combination with no real prospect of pay increases or further pensions security, the career has lost its appeal.

Many are quick to recommend that the conditions under which judges work must change; however, others claim that the perceived barriers are being blown out of all proportions. They say the role has always been challenging and QCs have always faced a possible fall in income when they ascend the bench. Perhaps it is not the role that has changed, but the applicants.

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