Promoting diversity & inclusion in law – becoming an Appointed Person

30th Sep 2021

“If you are interested in the judiciary in any capacity, becoming an Appointed Person is a uniquely good first step.”

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Increasing diversity and inclusivity at all levels of the judiciary is an important element of striving for a fair and just society.

To achieve this, there must be more opportunities for candidates from diverse backgrounds to identify and access routes to securing judicial positions. 

One such position is that of ‘Appointed Person’, and a recent webinar - held by IP Inclusive’s Careers in Ideas initiative and the IPO - invited speakers from the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC), together with Appointed Persons who are in post, to provide advice and insight into applying for this rewarding role.

In his introduction, Mr Justice Meade underlined the importance of the Appointed Person (AP) as an expert judicial resource that provides “simple, cost-effective access to justice” for parties who may not have the resources to take proceedings to the High Court. 

He highlighted the variety of subject matter involved in cases and the “tremendous scope” for career development through a variety of work, concluding that becoming an AP is “a good place to start whether as a role to do long term or to use as a stepping-stone to other [judicial] roles”. 

He encouraged applicants from all backgrounds and interests.

What is an Appointed Person and who can become one?

An Appointed Person is a senior lawyer who is an expert in IP Law who hears appeals against IPO decisions on trade mark and design cases. 

Lawyers must have held a relevant qualification for five to seven years (dependent on the appointment) before they are eligible for judicial office.

For salaried roles, they must have a minimum of two years’ experience sitting as a judge. 

They must demonstrate skills and ability that align with those required in the competency framework for the role and be persons of good character.

Trade Mark Attorneys have been eligible to become Appointed Persons since 2008; the first Trade Mark Attorney Appointed Person was appointed in 2020.

What is being done to promote diversity among Appointed Persons candidates?

The Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) is the constitutional authority that undertakes the judicial selection process in the UK and makes recommendations for appointments. 

Representing the JAC, professional commissioner Brie Stevens-Hoare QC, explained that the Commission has three statutory duties: to select candidates solely on merit; to recommend people of good character; and to encourage diversity. 

She underlined that while the first two duties are drivers for selection criteria in every competition, the duty to encourage diversity runs through everything the JAC does and ensures the commission is driven by fair, open, transparent selection. 

Actions to promote diversity include:

  • Monitoring the progression of under-represented target groups at each stage of the selection process to understand whether they are making the desired progress.
  • Employing an equal merit provision: where two candidates are assessed as having equal merit, the commission can choose to progress with a candidate that falls into a target group.
  • Reviewing all competition material from the perspective of diversity and inclusion, including review by the JAC Advisory group that has representatives from all target groups.
  • Undertaking regular fair selection training for panels.
  • Conducting targeted outreach exercises [such as this webinar] to raise awareness of judicial opportunities among target groups. JAC is also part of the Pre-application Judicial Education Programme that supports talented lawyers from underrepresented groups.
  •  Making reasonable adjustments to the selection process to accommodate people with diverse needs.

The Commission is also moving towards name-blind applications to eliminate unconscious bias. Claire Thurlow, Senior Stakeholder Engagement and Diversity Manager at the JAC, emphasised the overarching aim of these actions, saying: “We’re looking for the best people from a wide range of backgrounds who fit the requirements of the competency framework.”

How are Appointed Persons Selected?

Appointed Persons are selected through a rigorous, multi-stage evaluation and assessment process that can take up to a year. The JAC provides detailed information about the process on its website, and Claire and Brie offered further tips:

  • Think carefully about how to present your skills and experiences in the framework of competencies required; a list of cases is not sufficient. Provide examples with explanations, rather than assertions, about how you meet the competencies.
  • Consider your strengths and transferable skills from outside your legal role. Examples included being a school governor or on a charity committee.
  • Review the detailed feedback from previous competitions, which explains what the stronger applications tended to look like, compared to weaker counterparts.
  • Apply to be a ‘mock candidate’ for competition dry runs so you gain familiarity with the kind of materials candidates need to work with.
  • Think carefully about who you choose to provide your independent assessment. It should be someone who will understand your work and take time to build evidence about how you fit each competency. 
  • Apply to shadow an Appointed Person to get an in-person perspective on what the role entails.
  • Read previous AP decisions to get a flavour of the types of cases that come up and how they are decided. 

Brie advised prospective candidates to apply to become an Appointed Person “whenever it starts crossing your mind seriously”, as it may take several competitions before you are successful.

Questions reflected concerns of a diverse candidate pool.

On the topic of how to fit the role of Appointed Person around existing work and home life, recently appointed AP Brian Whitehead said: “There is a lot of flexibility. Obviously, you have to read in before the hearing at a time of your choosing. It’s the same with judgement writing, you can fit it around other commitments. With hearings, I submit a list of dates I can do and, so far, there have been no problems fitting around other commitments.”

Daniel Alexander QC, also pointed out that APs typically hear around ten appeals per annum, meaning that the time commitment is not excessive.

Professor Ruth Annand noted that being an AP has wider benefits to working life, saying: “It’s fun and rewarding and interesting and a very good way to learn.”

Asked how a prospective candidate would know that they are ‘ready’ to apply, the panellists offered various tips. Daniel Alexander QC advised potential APs to read through previous decisions: “If you read a range of AP decisions and think that you could write and want to write decisions covering that range of topics […] you are probably ready.” 

Tom Mitcheson QC, added: “One of the best ways to decide if this is something you want to do is to come and sit with us”. This can be accomplished via the AP shadowing scheme.

A further question asked about the level of procedural knowledge required to be an AP. Emma Himsworth QC reassured attendees that: “Trade mark agents would be surprised how much procedure they actually know about as they will be using it in dealing with the IPO.” 

Emma Himsworth QC, added: “Trade mark agents would be surprised how much procedure they actually know about as they will be using it in dealing with the IPO.”

A rewarding and worthwhile role

The consensus among the APs present was that the role is varied and stimulating, and can be fitted around existing work and life commitments. 

Emma Himsworth QC, summed it up saying: “It is one of the best things I’ve ever done, really interesting and rewarding. You not only meet colleagues and Appointed Persons in the UK and in the EU (in the past) you also have a wide variety of people in front of you bringing all sorts of problems.

“It is very different to how you proceed in practice but also very helpful. You’ll get an enormous amount out of it, and it is positive for your wider career.”

Resources

To enquire about the Appointed Persons shadowing scheme: [email protected]

For more information on the selection process: www.judicialappointments.gov.uk

Social media: @becomeajudge

The pre-application judicial education programme (PAJE): [email protected]  

Sign up for the ‘Judging your future’ newsletter: https://judicialappointments.gov.uk/sign-up-for-judging-your-future-newsletter/