Appointing and Training Judges

Judges and courts play an increasingly important role in national and international politics. Yet there has been little empirical research in the UK about the appointment and training for UK or international court judges.

UCL Laws has pioneered Judicial Studies in the UK, and research by Professor Dame Hazel Genn and Professor Cheryl Thomas (Co-Directors of the UCL Judicial Institute) and Professor Philippe Sands (Director, UCL Centre for International Courts and Tribunals) led to the following changes in the appointment and training of national and international court judges:

  • improved fairness of judicial selection practices
  • reduced barriers to judicial diversity
  • improved data collection on judicial appointments
  • improved training for judges and aspiring judges
  • improved understanding of the barriers to judicial diversity.

Judicial appointments

In 2008, Professor Genn conducted research on why highly qualified practitioners were not applying for senior judicial posts. Her finding that many practitioners, particularly women, did not apply because of the lack of flexible working conditions contributed to the introduction of flexible working in the High Court. The number of women on the High Court has since increased from 10 in 2008 to 18 in 2013.

In 2010, Professor Thomas conducted research for the Neuberger Panel on Judicial Diversity identifying successful judicial diversity strategies in other jurisdictions. Her findings led to improved diversity data collection by the Judicial Appointments Commission, and was drawn upon by the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution in its 2011 recommendations for improving judicial appointments.

In 2008-9 Professor Sands conducted research on judicial appointments to international courts. His findings were used in 2011 by the International Criminal Court to draw up new operating procedures, and in 2013 to review processes used by member states in screening potential appointees.

Judicial training

In 2006, Professor Genn was commissioned by the Judicial Studies Board (JSB) (now known as the Judicial College) to develop a Framework of Judicial Abilities and Qualities based on an empirical study of the training needs of the English judiciary. Since 2008, this framework has been used as the basis for the development of all judicial training in England and Wales. The JSB also commissioned Professor Thomas to review judicial training in 12 jurisdictions and identify best-practice and innovative programmes. Based on this UCL research, in 2008 the JSB implemented a new training strategy, which includes more use of participatory learning, cross-jurisdictional courses and generic ‘judgecraft’ skills courses.

Professor Genn also conducted a review of judicial training needs in Scotland in 2007, which led to the development of a new judicial training programme and the establishment of the Judicial Institute of Scotland.

Professor Thomas’s 2010 research on judicial diversity strategies in other jurisdictions led to the Neuberger Panel recommendation that judicial skills training be offered to lawyers interested in applying for a judicial post. In 2011, the UCL Judicial Institute developed a training course for lawyers wishing to apply for judicial appointment, which was cited by the Judicial Diversity Taskforce as evidence that key recommendations of the Neuberger Panel have been fulfilled.

Learn more about Appointing and Training Judges

Fancy being a judge? Try it for a weekend first by the Butterworth and Bowcott on Law Blog in the Guardian, 19 August 2011

Find out more about the UCL Judicial Institute, the UK’s first and only centre of excelence devoted to research, teaching and policy engagement on the judiciary.

Purple Haze: The Danger of Being in the Dark about Judges

Why in the 21st century is there such a lack of understanding and scholarly research in this country about one of the key institutions of the state: the judiciary? Recent work with juries has dispelled the myth that the law prevents research with and about juries.

This lecture, Professor Cheryl Thomas argues that a similar myth exists about researching the professional judiciary and judicial system, and that the lack of Judicial Studies in the UK is academically unacceptable and socially dangerous, leaving our understanding of the judiciary both conceptually and empirically weak.


Cheryl Thomas, Understanding Judicial Diversity: Research Report for the Advisoy Panel on Judicial Diversity Hazel Genn, The attractiveness of senior judicial appointment to highly qualified practitioners, Report to the Judicial Executive Board (2008)
Cheryl Thomas, Understanding Judicial Diversity: Research Report for the Advisory Panel on Judicial Diversity (2009) Hazel Genn, The attractiveness of senior judicial appointment to highly qualified practitioners, Report to the Judicial Executive Board (2008)