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The JAC has an assigned commissioner for each selection exercise. They review all aspects of the selection from start to finish. This ensures procedures are followed, standards maintained and all stages of recruitment are free from bias.
Katharine Rainsford is a former JAC Commissioner (lay-magistrate). She is a magistrate for the North London Local Justice Area and a former member of the Sentencing Council of England and Wales. By profession she is a novelist and was previously a course director for the Judicial College.
Here Katharine explains what an assigned commissioner does and what she brings to the role.
“I would describe the role of ‘assigned commissioner’ as a supporter, consultant and critical friend. I’m a point of reference and sounding board for staff planning the selection process. I am present at key phases of the process and available to discuss any fresh issues that arise. If necessary I make suggestions and referrals back to the Selection and Character Committee on matters like good character.
“Every new exercise presents a fresh challenge. It’s essential to get up to speed with the jurisdiction and role concerned, and if necessary visit the specialist court or tribunal so that I can see the role in action.
“It is vital that there is good communication between panellists and assigned commissioner because we all have independent but vital functions in the selection process. I observe interviews for the sake of ensuring consistency and fairness but under no circumstances contribute judgements or opinions on a candidate. As a commissioner I have a responsibility under the Constitutional Reform Act to ensure the JAC fulfils its role.
“As a magistrate I have a good understanding of how the judiciary works and the court process. I’ve sat on appeals with Recorders in the Crown Court and served on the Sentencing Council. This, along with my background in training, means I feel well embedded in the criminal justice system. I have a huge, but not unrealistic, respect for the independence and quality of the judiciary. I am very keen to support this by ensuring the selection process is as fine as it can be.
“As a novelist I am a professional communicator. I have to be a lateral and courageous thinker, self-motivated, imaginative, good at making connections, and very good at dealing with set-backs! All these are helpful in my role as a commissioner.
“Being a commissioner is a role that is at once highly official and also deeply human. It is a huge privilege to work with other commissioners and to be present during the selection of highly skilled and experienced people in the judicial system. It is so important that we constantly strive to the get the process right.”