The prospective chair of the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) has sought to reassure MPs that she will have enough time to combine the post with remaining chair of the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC).
Helen Pitcher, who has another four years at the CCRC, said she was “absolutely confident” she could “do justice” to both roles, otherwise she would not have put her name forward.
Ms Pitcher was addressing a pre-appointment hearing at the justice select committee, having been chosen by Lord Chancellor Dominic Raab for the role of JAC chair.
The committee will soon issue its view on her appointment.
Ms Pitcher, an experienced chair, board member and business coach, was awarded an OBE for services to business in 2015. She was chair of the Queen’s Counsel selection panel between 2009 and 2017.
Committee chair Sir Bob Neill described the post as a “big job”, which would be bigger next year because of the need to find a successor to Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett, who retires in September.
Ms Pitcher said the roles of chair of the JAC and the CCRC, both of which are two days a week, were “of a different nature” and she did not perceive any “overlap or potential conflict at all”.
A lay member of the Employment Appeal Tribunal, Ms Pitcher said she would “relinquish other roles” in the private sector to make way for the JAC.
She said she might need to “double or triple” the allotted time when she started at the JAC, in which case she would not have “an issue” with having to “work across weekends”.
Sir Bob went on: “You don’t rule out having to say to the Lord Chancellor that this job needs more time than has been allocated?” Ms Pitcher said she did not rule it out.
She faced further tough questioning from Labour MP Maria Eagle on the “longstanding” issue of judicial diversity.
Ms Pitcher said she had seen the statistics. “There have been improvements. The question is whether they are fast enough and whether the people exist to draw from in the pool. It will not be fixed overnight, but it will be a very important focus.”
In particular, Ms Eagle said progress in appointing Black judges had been “glacial”; that they make up of 1% of the judiciary has not improved since 2014.
Ms Pitcher said there was a need to get access to a broader pool of applicants, with outreach work was important as well as “demystifying what the roles are”.
Pressed by Ms Eagle on the issue of “non-traditional backgrounds” and the fact that less than a third of those appointed judges were non-barristers, Ms Pitcher said the issue should not be ignored.
On the statutory consultation process, which requires the JAC to consult sitting judges about candidates and has been the focus of fierce criticism from the Law Society and others, Ms Pitcher said it could be “enormously helpful if it is evidence-based”.
She said that any future chair of the JAC should be judged, among other things, on the volume of applications, whether there had been “some movement” in the pool”, whether appointments were “appropriately diverse” and whether it was operating within budget or justifying why it could not.