GMB member’s legal challenge reaches court of appeal

A member of the GMB union’s Judicial Branch has been scheduled for Thursday June 13 for court of appeal. The challenge, brought by a District Judge GMB member, is to debate the use of ‘Secret Surroundings’ when deciding an appointment of judges.

The practice, which has been called ‘highly contentious’ by representatives, involves seeking the views of existing judges as to the suitability of a candidate. Members of the union have called out the practice as a relic of the ‘old boys’ era, and highlights the ‘old boys network within the Judicial Appointments Commission.
The case is seeking to prove the system is flawed, as after an objective and openly assessed appointment process, the deciding factor may still be anonymous, secret feedback from judges, with no right of reply nor even a right to know what has been said.

Stuart Fegan, GMB senior organiser said:

“This case is incredibly important as it seeks to challenge this controversial, and in our view wholly unfair, practice.
This practice is not in keeping with the objective of transparency for which the JAC was set up and enables continued discrimination when it is clear that the judiciary falls far short of being broadly reflective of the society over which it presides.
If this old boys’ network continues to cherry pick members of its own, we will never see the end of this system which is dominated by white, male, privately educated barristers.”

In 2021, the Judicial Support Network Ltd (JSN), a confidential support association for judges, submitted a request to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) urging an investigation into the current judicial appointment process in England and Wales. The JSN argued that the existing regime was deeply unjust, potentially unlawful, and institutionally discriminatory.

Specifically, the JSN called for a thorough examination of the opaque interactions among various entities involved in the appointments process, including the Ministry of Justice, the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC), the Judicial Appointments and Conduct Ombudsman (JACO), the Judicial Office (responsible for supporting the lord chief justice and ‘leadership judges,’ as well as handling the judiciary’s HR functions), and the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office (JCIO) acting on behalf of the lord chancellor and the lord chief justice.

The issues raised by the JSN went beyond perceived discrimination and unfairness in the appointments system. They encompassed allegations of direct and indirect workplace discrimination, including structural or institutional discrimination. Additionally, concerns were raised about bullying and reprisals against judicial officeholders who raised complaints, whether informally or formally, about any aspect of the judicial system, including the appointments process. The JSN argued that these issues were systemic, ingrained into the functioning of the involved departments, and lacked effective internal mechanisms for resolution.

In response to these challenges, judges have started joining unions, with the GMB soon to establish a judicial division for its members. The EHRC submission’s full text will be made available on the JSN website in the near future.

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