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Should retired judges return to the Bar?

Posted by: Laurence Simons 31/07/15

There are many different standpoints in the argument over whether retired judges should be allowed to return to the Bar. Initially outlined by the UK’s Bar Council in 1963, the official ruling states that it “does not approve as a matter of principle of former judges returning to practise at the Bar in any capacity”.

This prohibition is in place to ensure that there is no bias at any stage in the legal process, but particularly within situations where previously retired judges appear in the courtroom with those who were once their subordinates. Human Rights coordinator, Edmund Bon, has commented that, "You can still be a consultant but you should not appear in court. You don't want to be seen as using your time and experience at the bench over judges who are more junior than you. It is a perceived conflict situation.” But is this argument flawed? It seems insulting to the current judiciary to insinuate that they may be influenced by the former status of an advocate.

Another argument, highlighted by Lord Justice Pill’s working group in 2006, is that if a judge is too focused on his career progression, this may also taint his unbiased stance. The report they produced explained that, “during his tenure, a judge might have his eye too much on what he was going to do after he ceased to be a judge.” But this seems not to reflect the high integrity many people associate with these professionals.

However, many are unhappy with their current working conditions and there is even an underlying suspicion that the next generation of potential judges are displaying reluctance to buy a one-way ticket to the bench from which they can never disembark. So, how drastic is this impact on those considering judicial appointment? And in the current climate of a specialist skills shortage, would it be wise to consider reform?

Tell us what you think.