The justice select committee has backed the appointment of Helen Pitcher, a management specialist who has chaired a wide range of public and private sector organisations, as the new chair of the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC).
MPs said in a report that Ms Pitcher, who is set to replace Lord Kakkar, had “an acute awareness of the environment in which she would be operating” and they were reassured by her experience.
Having faced a grilling earlier this week from Sir Bob Neill, chair of the justice committee, on whether she would be able to combine being chair of the JAC with chair of the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), MPs said they were reassured by her “willingness to dedicate such time as is necessary to fulfil all facets of the role”.
The committee said 20 people applied for the post, a third of whom were from ethnic minorities and a third female. The chair is a lay role, and cannot ever have been a practising lawyer, held judicial office or have been a civil servant.
Ms Pitcher was selected by a panel chaired by Lord Bew, a history professor based in Belfast, with the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett, and Baroness Stuart of Edgbaston, better known as the former Labour MP for Edgbaston Gisela Stuart.
As well as chairing the CCRC, Ms Pitcher was chair of the Queen’s Counsel selection panel from 2009 to 2017.
MPs said in the report that the JAC had “made progress” in improving judicial diversity, but “more work is required”.
The latest statistics, from July this year, showed that there continued to be a “statistically significant difference in outcomes” between ethnic minority and white candidates in recruitment exercises, and for solicitor candidates compared with barristers.
“The disparity in outcomes for ethnic minority candidates is not seen in non-legal tribunal member recruitment.”
Gender and ethnic diversity was “much lower” in senior levels of the judiciary, with a reduction in the proportion of solicitor judges and “no evidence of recent change” in the proportion of Black and ethnic minority judges.
The JAC had also “had difficulty in filling recent recruitment rounds”, at a time when the Ministry of Justice was planning to recruit 1,000 new judges.
There were 78 vacancies in the most recent circuit judge exercise but the JAC made only 62 recommendations. In the most recent district judge exercise, the figures were 100 and 67 respectively.
Informing the justice committee at the end of last month that Ms Pitcher was the preferred candidate for chair of the JAC, the Lord Chancellor, Dominic Raab, referred to her “wealth of experience in relevant non-executive and executive roles”.
Ms Pitcher was chair and chief executive of the CEDAR TM specialist human resource consultancy from 1990 to 2007, which then became part of Savile Group PLC, of which she was a director.
Since 2013 she has chaired Advanced Boardroom Excellence, a board effectiveness consultancy, which she has combined with non-executive director roles at a global manufacturer and distributor of biscuits and chocolate and a global branded drinks business.
Ms Pitcher has been chair, since last year, of the Public Chairs Forum, a membership network for chairs of public bodies.