Senior judge reprimanded for editing his own job reference in bid for promotion

2024-06-18 HaiPress

Sir Simon Picken

A senior judge has been reprimanded after being caught editing a confidential supposedly independent reference another judge wrote for him in order to boost his promotion prospects.

Sir Simon Picken,a High Court judge,was given a formal warning after his nominated referee accidentally emailed the reference with his “extensive” edits on it to the judicial appointments commission.

Alex Chalk,the Lord Chancellor,and Lady Chief Justice Sue Carr concluded his actions in connection with an application for promotion compromised his integrity and “could have seriously undermined confidence in the judicial appointments process”.

Sir Simon,58,was appointed to the High Court in 2015 and became one of the judges of the Commercial Court the following year.

Earlier in 2024 he applied for promotion to the Court of Appeal. As required,he nominated two independent assessors to provide an “evidence-based” assessment of his suitability for the role.

The rules dictate that candidates can speak to their nominees about writing their assessment,for example to suggest people they should speak to and to highlight their work. But the assessment is confidential and must not be disclosed to the candidate.

‘Comments and suggestions’

One of Sir Simon’s nominees accidentally sent the appointment body a partially completed draft of their assessment form,which included “extensive comments and suggestions” by him.

Sir Simon,who was the most senior judge for Wales between 2018 and 2021,told a judge appointed to investigate the case that he had a brief conversation with the nominee. He said he explained that the assessment needed to be evidence-based and suggested some people to whom he could speak.

However,the accidentally emailed copy of the draft showed that it “went well beyond simply reminding the assessor of the need for evidence-based examples” and included “extensive suggestions which were aimed at improving the assessment”.

In his defence,Sir Simon said that he had not read the reference to confidentiality at the head of the assessment form and did not think that the nominee was prohibited from sharing the draft with him. He said that he regretted that he had caused anyone to question his integrity.

Sir Simon was educated at Cardiff High School,his local state secondary,before studying law at Cardiff University and then Cambridge where he obtained a starred first class masters degree.

He was called to the Bar in 1989 and from 1991 practised at 7 King’s Bench Walk in commercial law,taking silk in 2006. He was the commercial law QC (now KC) to the Welsh Government from 2009 until 2015 and also the QC Church Commissioner,appointed by the archbishops of Canterbury and York between 2013 and 2015.

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