High Court judge “compromised integrity” with CA application

Picken: Did not see confidentiality warning

A High Court judge has been given a formal warning after it emerged that he had seen and commented on an independent assessment written for his application to join the Court of Appeal.

Mr Justice Picken’s actions “compromised his integrity”, said the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office (JCIO).

Picken J applied for promotion earlier this year. As part of the process, he was required to nominate two assessors to provide an evidence-based assessment of his suitability for the role.

Judicial Appointments Commission guidance allows candidates can speak to their nominees about writing their assessment – for example, to suggest people they should speak to and to highlight examples of their work – but the assessment is confidential and must not be disclosed to the candidate.

This guidance appears not only on the commission’s website but also “prominently and unequivocally” on the assessment form itself, the JCIO said.

One of the sections on the form asks the assessor to identify possible areas of strength or weakness for an interview panel to explore.

The JCIO said: “One of Mr Justice Picken’s nominees accidentally sent the JAC a partially completed draft of their assessment form. The form included extensive comments and suggestions by Mr Justice Picken, indicating that it had been disclosed to him.”

The judge told the investigation that he had “a brief conversation” with the nominee to explain the need for the assessment to be evidence-based and discuss who they could speak to.

“When the nominee had emailed him a draft of the assessment and asked for comments, parts of it appeared not to be evidence-based and there was no reference to the nominee having spoken to the people whom they had discussed.

“Mr Justice Picken stated that he had not read the reference to confidentiality at the head of the assessment form. He did not think that there was any prohibition on his nominee sharing a draft with him.

“His intention in commenting on the draft was solely to ensure that his nominee understood the need for the assessment to be evidence-based. He had made clear in his covering email that the content of the assessment was for his nominee to decide. He very much regretted that he had caused anyone to question his integrity.”

The unnamed judge nominated to consider the matter – who under JCIO rules had to be at least at the same rank as Picken J – concluded that he should have declined to comment on the draft assessment and deleted it without reading.

They also found that some of the judge’s comments on the draft went “well beyond simply reminding the assessor of the need for evidence-based examples. They included extensive suggestions which were aimed at improving the assessment”.

Lord Chancellor Alex Chalk and the Lady Chief Justice, Baroness Carr, agreed with the nominated judge’s recommendation to issue Picken J with a formal warning.

“By reading and then commenting on the draft assessment, his actions compromised his integrity and could have seriously undermined confidence in the judicial appointments process,” the JCIO said.

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