Who’s that guy?
Have you not heard the news? We’ve got a new Lord Chief Justice!
Er, exciting stuff. Why should I care?
The Lord Chief Justice is a pretty important person – he (and it’s always been a he) is the head of the Judiciary of England and Wales. He gets to sit on the most important cases in the Court of Appeal, those that shape the landscape of the criminal law. He also sometimes pops off to the Supreme Court to sit on important cases there.
All round, he’s a pretty powerful person – if you had a list of the most important 100 political figures in the UK, he’d be up there. Not only that, but you get £239,845 a year.
Ok, so who is it?
The new Lord Chief will be Sir John Thomas – you can read a biography of him here. He’s actually called Roger, but chooses to go by the name John. Currently he’s President of the Queen’s Bench Division, already quite a high profile and important post, ringing any bells?
Nope, don’t remember voting for him.
Well, that would be because you don’t get to vote for him. He’s appointed by the Queen. Well, by the Lord Chancellor. Well, sort of, but only from a shortlist of one that’s presented to him by a panel of the Judicial Appointments Committee. He can veto them, but then they’d just serve up another name for him to approve or veto. Obviously Chris Grayling felt that Sir John embodies what he wants, someone with “forward-looking vision, someone who can embrace change and lead change’“.
To get selected, Sir John had to give in a 2,000 word essay on a topic of the panel’s choosing and then give them a presentation on a hot topic in judging.
Come on, stop messing about.
No, seriously. You’ve got to choose between the candidates somehow – why not that way?
Who else threw their hat into the ring?
Well, there were two others – Lord Justice Leveson (of the Inquiry fame) and Lady Justice Hallett who many thought would have been the first lady Lord Justice. But that landmark will have to wait another 5 years (Sir John is 65 and will probably be in post till he’s 70).
Wasn’t there some other guy called Moses who applied?
Not quite. Sir Alan Moses made a speech to the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association setting out his application. It wasn’t entirely serious though.
Does he have a nickname? Preferably one that makes him sound like a comedy wrestler or something – just in case John Thomas isn’t memorable enough?
Apparently he’s known in legal circles as the ‘Bionic Ferret’. Nope, we’d never heard him called that before, but it’s in a tabloid newspaper, so it must be true.
So, what does the new Lord Chief Justice think? How’s he going to be different?
That we don’t know yet. You can ask lawyers who may have their own thoughts on him, and what he will be like, but there’s no public discussion as to his beliefs on politics, religion, legal philosophy, etc. He obviously has views on those things, but the convention would be that he keeps them to himself.
You can do a Bailii search for cases that he has been involved in recently which may give an indication of where he’s coming from.
As to the other part of his role – organising the judiciary and helping to create the judicial philosophy (Criminal Procedure Rules and the like), that also remains to be seen.
Oh well. Congratulations. As he’s the Lord Chief will he be a lord now?
Not automatically, but he’ll almost certainly be offered one if he wants one. All his predecessors since the post was re-created as the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales have been given a peerage, apart from the first, Sir Alexander Cockburn. Queen Victoria refused to give him one on account of his ‘notoriously bad moral character‘.
There’s no issues like that with our new guy, so I certainly wouldn’t bet against seeing Baron Thomas of Somewhere in Wales sitting in the Royal Courts of Justice sometime soon.