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Judiciary (England and Wales)

Volume 515: debated on Thursday 16 September 2010

I am announcing today proposals to bring the tribunals judiciary in England and Wales under the overall leadership of the Lord Chief Justice. The changes require primary legislation and I hope to include them in a Bill as soon as parliamentary time allows.

An announcement was made in March that the Ministry of Justice would be bringing together Her Majesty’s Court Service and the Tribunals Service in a single, unified organisation. The new organisation will be established by 1 April 2011.

I subsequently agreed with the Lord Chief Justice and Senior President of Tribunals that in bringing together the administration of the courts and tribunals the current judicial structure should also be reviewed.

Our shared vision is to work towards a unified judiciary encompassing both courts and tribunals. This could be achieved, so far as concerns England and Wales, by transferring the statutory powers of the Senior President of Tribunals to the Lord Chief Justice, and creating a new office of Head of Tribunals Justice with a statutory obligation to protect and develop the distinct and innovative features of the tribunals.

The Senior President of Tribunals is a statutory role that has jurisdiction in both Scotland and Northern Ireland. Further, a number of important tribunal jurisdictions extend to one or both of those countries, and cross-border sittings are a normal part of the judicial work of many tribunal judges. I recognise the importance attached by them and the Senior President to this aspect of their work, and the advantages it offers to the interests of users and the efficiency of the system overall. I am in discussions with judicial leaders and with Scottish and Northern Ireland Ministers about whether and how we might transfer the Senior President’s tribunal responsibilities to the Lord President and Lord Chief Justice of NI respectively. Any such transfer will wish to preserve the benefits of existing arrangements.