News: Judicial Appointments Commission seeks specialist defamation judge

17 10 2013

JAC_RGB (1)The Judicial Appointments Commission has, this week, advertised 9 vacancies for High Court Judges – eight Queen’s Bench Division and one Family Division.  One of the eight Queen’s Bench vacancies is for a “specialist in defamation“. The closing date is 4 November 2013.

The JAC advertisement says

“While all the selections will be made on merit, the QBD positions will ideally be filled by candidates with particular specialisms: four in crime, one in planning and one specialist in defamation. The other vacancies are suitable for generalists or specialists, but all QBD candidates must have the potential to adapt to a variety of work across the Division. In addition, the Lord Chancellor expects that candidates for the defamation post must have some knowledge of, and experience in applying, this area of the law(emphasis added).

The JAC tweeted the vacancies to its 1,700 Twitter followers today

There were, until recently, three judges who had practised primarily in the field of defamation and privacy law whilst at the bar: Mr Justice Eady, Mr Justice Tugendhat and Mrs Justice Sharp.  However, Mr Justice Eady retired earlier this year, and Mrs Justice Sharp is now Lady Justice Sharp.  Mr Justice Tugendhat, the judge in charge of the “Jury List” (which deals with defamation and privacy cases) reaches the statutory retirement age on 21 October 2014.

A number of other High Court Judges have recently heard defamation and privacy applications and trials, including Nicol J, Bean J, Simon J, Nicola Davies J and Dingemans J – although none of them had specialist defamation practices at the Bar.

In a Speech given last September [pdf] Mr Justice Tugendhat mentioned his own statutory retirement in 2014.  He argued that it was “very much in the public interest that there should always be a number of specialist media judges”.  He concluded by saying:

“I hope that those who would be best qualified for appointment to the High Court Bench will apply in the course of the forthcoming selection exercise. If specialist lawyers do not apply, there can be no specialist judges. That is a prospect that greatly concerns me, and I am sure it concerns all of you here today as well“.

 

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One response

17 10 2013
Andrew Scott

Allied to the concerns reiterated above, a quick glance at James Price and Felicity McMahon’s text on the Defamation Act 2013 – or a read of Mike Dodd’s reports on recent conference proceedings re the Act – should convince anyone just how important a strong appointment will be for the coming years. When in force, the Act will create very significant uncertainty. Just for starters, what will the abolition of the main common law defences mean in terms of the continuation – or not – of various peripheral rules? And just what will s.3(4) mean?

Looked at another way, I guess its quite an opportunity for someone to put a strong personal stamp on the law going forward…

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