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Helen Pitcher OBE Chair of the Judicial Appointments Commission talked to Bhini Phagura from Raydens solicitors about her career.
Tell us about your career progression which led to your appointment as the Chair of the Judicial Appointments Commission:
I studied law at QMC London and used this degree as a basis for a career in commerce, where I rapidly progressed up the ranks to become an Executive and Divisional Director in Grand Metropolitan. I retained a footprint in the law in various roles related to Standards, Fairness, Equity and Diversity.
The first role I held in parallel to my Commercial career was as a lay representative of the Professional Conduct and Complaints Committee of the Bar Council. I also became a lay representative on the Employment Appeal Tribunal and still hold this office. I then joined the Queens Counsel (as it was then) Selection Panel and rapidly became its chair. Whilst there we improved the Diversity Statistics. I held this role for 9 years. On stepping down, I decided not to apply for another role as I also had a burgeoning Consultancy and Portfolio Career. About 18 months later, however, an advertisement for the role of the Chair of the CCRC (Criminal Cases Review Commission) was brought to my attention. This role had been held some years before by Professor Graham Zellick, who had been one of my tutors when studying Law. I had always greatly admired Graham and was delighted to be able to follow in his footsteps.
I was initially appointed for a 3-year term, which was extended last year by a further 5 years.
Last year the role of Chairman at the JAC (Judicial Appointments Commission) became available. A Headhunter contacted me having uncovered my background on LinkedIn. I checked with the MoJ that there was no conflict of interest and submitted my application. On December 31st following a Justice Select Committee earlier in the month, I was appointed and took up the post on January 16th.
Since joining I have been delighted to see what an excellent and dedicated team we have within the Commission and a very impressive team of panellists to support our selection exercises.
My role as chair involves leading the Board, ensuring appropriate oversight on governance and providing appropriate challenge and support to the executive. I am also involved in some of the most senior appointments.
I have rationalised my portfolio (which was a Commitment I gave to the JSC) in order to ensure I have the appropriate amount of time to devote to this key role.
You are holding this role for 3 years from January 2023, what are your aims/goals?
The strategic aims were already set, however they are due for a refresh as the period they covered draws to a close. These aims, which are developed in conjunction with the Board and executive, are on our website and thus in the public domain.
Our primary purpose set out by statute is to recruit on merit, our secondary (and no less important role) is to assist the rest of the judicial system to increase the diversity pool. It is for this reason that I also chair the Judicial Diversity Forum, which has a clear action plan to achieve its aims.
What can be done to encourage a broader range of people to seek a career in the Judiciary? What steps do you hope to take?
Our outreach programme has been set up for just this purpose. As part of this we demystify the process and give guidance in relation to how to apply. It is a competency-based process, which people don’t always find easy, so assisting them to understand the kind of evidence to gather is key. We need to start early, for example in schools, universities etc.