| 13.3°C Belfast

Up to four new High Court judges could be appointed to address NI's shortage

Close

Up to four new High Court judges are being sought in Northern Ireland to help ease pressures on the judiciary.  (stock photo)

Up to four new High Court judges are being sought in Northern Ireland to help ease pressures on the judiciary. (stock photo)

Getty Images

Up to four new High Court judges are being sought in Northern Ireland to help ease pressures on the judiciary. (stock photo)

Up to four new High Court judges are being sought in Northern Ireland to help ease pressures on the judiciary.

Low pay, pension cuts and the increasingly demanding and unsociable nature of the job are driving a recruitment crisis.

The Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Commission (NIJAC) is currently advertising just two vacancies on the High Court bench, but is maintaining a reserve list of applicants as "up to two further vacancies may arise" by November 2021, according to Irish Legal News.

The court has not had a full complement of 10 judges since 2016, which prompted NIJAC to commission researchers at Queen's University Belfast (QUB) to examine why. In last year's report, they identified pay and pensions, the nature of the job, recruitment, traditions and assumptions, and career ramifications as "the five types of barrier to High Court appointments which we think are most relevant in Northern Ireland".

The Law Society of Northern Ireland has written to solicitors urging them to apply for two vacant positions on the High Court.

Rowan White, president of the Law Society, said: "As a profession, we have in the past been guilty of assuming that only very experienced advocates will be considered for appointment to vacancies on the High Court bench.

"As a result, many able colleagues have not applied for appointments to which they may have been very well suited.

"However, it is clear from the criteria that court advocacy is not an essential requirement for these appointments."

Mr White added: "Furthermore, the appointment of our colleague and former president, Mr Justice Huddleston, in January 2019 clearly demonstrates that this assumption is incorrect and must now be finally cast aside. His appointment highlights the relevance to his judicial office of the many skills and experience which he acquired as a transactional solicitor practising in property, commercial and private client matters.

"His practice had not included advocacy and it is essential to appreciate that the skills which NIJAC lists for the current vacancies are not focused on advocacy.

"It is very clear to the Society that NIJAC is keen to attract applications from a broad range of skilled lawyers, regardless of their professional background."

In January of this year, Attorney General John Larkin QC was appointed a temporary High Court judge, the first time that a law officer has been called to the bench in Northern Ireland.

Belfast Telegraph