The Master of the Rolls is considering the idea that judges should rate the quality of the barristers who appear before them, with marks out of ten for various elements in their performance – a kind of Strictly Come Advocating, I suppose. One pictures judges holding up scorecards at the end of each hearing.
Two letters in today’s Times come from judges reacting to this. One, from His Honour Judge David McCarthy, points out that barristers must be fearless in defence of their clients, against the judge if necessary, and suggests that this duty may be compromised if the judge is to report on the advocate’s performance. The other, from His Honour Judge Simon Brown QC, focuses on electronic disclosure and draws attention to Lord Justice Jackson’s recommendations for training for judges as well as for barristers and solicitors, and to existing powers which put lawyers at risk of personal costs orders.
As you might expect from me, I am against this box-ticking approach to quality; quite apart from the fact that judges have quite enough to do already, it reminds me of all those dull little people from Ofsted grading schools and teachers by almost every black and white standard apart from the actual quality of the education received by the pupils – “meeting the target whilst missing the point” as New Labour’s epitaph has it. The market is a pretty good regulator: good barristers get more work and in time rise to become judges; the rest sink to oblivion, perhaps as low as a post at the Crown Prosecution Service – see Judge questions father’s kidnap charge both as justification for my comment and for an example of existing judicial power to make public criticisms of lawyers where, as in this case, the borderline between incompetence and stupidity becomes blurred.
If we must have such an approvals system, then it is only fair that it works the other way round as well, giving barristers the opportunity to rate the judge. Picture a case management conference where the judge has merely ticked a box for standard disclosure, or told the parties to “go away and agree a protocol for disclosure” as I heard one say recently. The judge might get one out of ten for case management because he turned up. The results could be published, and parties could try and avoid courts where the judge ignores his responsibilities in this way.