Committee (4th Day)
Relevant documents: 2nd Report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 2nd Report from the Constitution Committee.
Schedule 12 : Judicial appointments
117: Schedule 12, page 168, leave out line 42
My Lords, in moving Amendment 117, I shall also speak to Amendments 118, 131 and 132, which address an issue of constitutional concern. The Bill would allow the Lord Chancellor to sit as a member of the appointments commission for the posts of Lord Chief Justice and president of the Supreme Court. The amendments would deny the Lord Chancellor such a role. The amendments are also in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, former chairman of the Judicial Appointments Commission, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, a former Lord Chief Justice, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jay of Paddington, who is the distinguished chairman of the Constitution Committee, all of whom I am pleased to see in their places.
At present the Lord Chancellor can ask the appointments commission to think again about a proposed appointee, but the Lord Chancellor is not a member of the commission. The Constitutional Reform Act 2005 rightly recognised the need for a clearer separation of powers between the Executive and the judiciary. The change proposed by the Government would regrettably go back on that and it would have substantial disadvantages. First, it would increase the danger of political partiality in the appointment of a senior judge. I recognise, as I am sure will all noble Lords, that the present Lord Chancellor would not contemplate acting in such a manner, but even Mr Kenneth Clarke cannot continue in political life for ever. He is already above the retirement age for judges—a matter that we will be discussing later this afternoon. It would be highly undesirable to give a future Lord Chancellor the power so actively to influence the appointment of the senior judiciary.
The second disadvantage is that the Government’s proposal would undermine the appearance of political independence of the senior judiciary. There is a real danger that a new president of the Supreme Court or a new Lord Chief Justice would be undermined in the eyes of the public by being seen as the Lord Chancellor’s man or the Lord Chancellor’s woman. That would be most regrettable. Appearances matter in this context. There is a third disadvantage, which is that the Judicial Appointments Commission would inevitably find it more difficult to conduct an objective assessment of the rival candidates if it has the Lord Chancellor as one of its members. Indeed, the Bill implicitly recognises the dangers involved because it provides that the Lord Chancellor, if he does sit as a member of the appointments commission, may not chair it. It is unnecessary to give the Lord Chancellor the power to sit on the appointments commission with all the dangers that I have identified.
The Lord Chancellor undoubtedly has a proper interest in the appointments process and needs to work with the Lord Chief Justice. The Lord Chancellor and the Government need to have confidence in the president of the Supreme Court. However, the Lord Chancellor’s and the Government’s interests are fully met by the ability of the Lord Chancellor to be a consultee during the appointment process and by the current position which gives him the right of veto.
Your Lordships’ Constitution Committee, of which I am a member, conducted an inquiry into judicial appointments, on which we reported in March. The conclusion we reached in that report has been repeated in our report on the Bill, which was published on 18 June. In each of those reports, we stated, in relation to the role of the Lord Chancellor in the appointment process that any closer involvement—that is, closer than currently exists,
“risks politicising the process and would undermine the independence of the judiciary”.
I beg to move.
My Lords, I endorse the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. I expressed my concerns about this provision in the Bill at Second Reading, so I will not repeat them this afternoon. However, following the Second Reading debate, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, very kindly copied me into the letter he sent to the noble Baroness, Lady Jay of Paddington, which explains in more detail the Government’s reasoning behind the proposed change. I read it very carefully and I am not convinced by the rationale it advanced. The issue in question is the appropriate involvement and accountability of the Lord Chancellor. In my experience, the current arrangements work fine. If the consideration or rejection of the recommendation is based on clear and sound reasons, this presents no difficulty. Indeed, it helps to concentrate the minds both of the selection panel and the Lord Chancellor. It is very helpful to the parties concerned. Furthermore, the Lord Chancellor has appropriate involvement in the course of the selection process as he is consulted at relevant stages.
Under the proposed changes, the Lord Chancellor might choose to sit on a panel and lose his veto or choose not to sit on the panel in order to retain his veto. On what basis will the Lord Chancellor make that decision? I fear that his decision to sit on the selection panel will raise questions and suspicions which may not be healthy—both for the selection process and for the perception of why the decision has been made. I am therefore concerned both on constitutional and practical grounds. I do not see why we need to disturb the finely crafted balance of accountability and involvement that was arrived at in 2005.
My Lords, the role of the Lord Chancellor is very different from that which existed before the 2005 Act came into effect. We have no certainty at all that future Lord Chancellors will take an equivalent role to that of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, who was an outstandingly strong and determined Lord Chancellor. The role of Lord Chancellor is now entirely different because it is, in effect, as ordinary a role as a Minister of the Government. It is not a role equivalent to that of the Lord Chancellor before the 2005 came into force.
My Lords, I agree entirely with what has been said so far about the inappropriateness of altering the Lord Chancellor’s position from that contained in the 2005 Act. I do not propose to repeat the reasons for that, since they have already been given. I will try to identify, however, one or two further reasons why the same conclusion should be reached.
The relationship between Parliament and the judiciary is central to the operation of our constitution and the Lord Chancellor’s ability in the future. I endorse what has been said about the present Lord Chancellor and I recognise his good motives, but the constitution as devised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, and myself, first in the concordat and then in the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, referred specifically to the role of the Lord Chancellor being limited to giving either an affirmative response or applying a veto. That was done because it needed to be clear beyond peradventure that he had the responsibility of saying no to a recommendation of the Judicial Appointments Commission, if anyone was to do so. Because of that, if he did not exercise that power, the situation would be one where it could not be said afterwards that the Government of the day had not given consent to an appointment which was in fact made.
Secondly, there is a provision in the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 which provides that if the Lord Chancellor decides to exercise his veto, he has to do so openly and give reasons for it. If he is a member of the commission responsible for the appointment, the part that the Lord Chancellor plays will not be known. The experience in other jurisdictions is clear. One of the problems of having an independent appointments commission is that deals will be done. For example, if the Lord Chief Justice and the president are both up for appointment at the same time, it is only human nature for the commission to come to a decision. If the members of the commission do not all agree, they will give the Lord Chancellor either the Lord Chief Justice or the president, as long as they have the other appointment. That would be highly undesirable.
For example, it can be seen clearly in other jurisdictions that the Executive can control what the judiciary does if it can only achieve a senior judge who is sympathetic to its cause. I will cite but one example. One could assign a judge who is regarded as giving unhelpful decisions to parts of the jurisdiction that are unattractive in which to operate. So far, that has not happened here. We do not want to make it easier for it to happen than is the position at the present time.
My final point is this. The amendment must be looked at in conjunction with the amendment we considered on Monday whereby the Lord Chancellor would give up any responsibility for the appointment of the great majority of judges. We are going to have a situation where he does not exercise any powers in regard to a large number of judges and, in addition, he does not openly take an active part in the appointment of very senior judges. I suggest that such a position would be a retrograde one, and therefore the amendment is one that the Committee should look upon favourably.
My Lords, I am pleased to follow the noble and learned Lord in the constitutional points that he and others have made in supporting this amendment. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, summed it up very well in his Second Reading speech when he said that if this provision in the Government’s Bill went through, the Lord Chancellor would be in a position of giving advice to himself, which in itself is anomalous, if nothing more.
As other noble Lords have made the constitutional points most effectively, I wonder whether I could raise just an administrative question with the Minister. It seems to me surprising that the Government should propose such a potentially flexibly arrangement for the Lord Chancellor in relation to these very senior appointments as it seems to be the Lord Chancellor’s personal choice whether he takes part in a selection panel or not. As far as I can make out from reading the Bill, this may mean that he decides to sit on appointment body “A” but not on appointment body “B”. A question arises about the consistency of the appointing panel’s approach. There is also the rather bizarre question about what happens if the Lord Chancellor decides that he will not be a member of that panel and the panel has been constituted, as we understand it, in the legislation. Who replaces him, how is that replacement chosen, and to whom is he responsible? For all the reasons that noble Lords have given, I suggest that this is both constitutionally and administratively inappropriate. That is why I would be very happy to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, should he ask the Committee to give an opinion on it today.
I make one further point to reinforce the point which the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, was making about the change in the Lord Chancellor’s position. This was confirmed in the hearings that the Constitution Committee held on this matter by the present office-holder himself, the right honourable Kenneth Clarke, when he said:
“I think that we will have a Lord Chancellor who is not a lawyer. The lawyers that we have, including me, will not be as senior and distinguished as they used to be ... A better understanding of my role would be to describe me as Secretary of State for Justice”.
That seems to underline the points about potential politicisation, which other noble Lords have made.
My Lords, I agree entirely with what has already been said but I wonder whether I might add another point. I refer to a situation where a Lord Chancellor is not a lawyer or a very senior person but perhaps wants to make his mark in the political world and is much more overtly political than the present Lord Chancellor, who is very distinguished in his own right in the law. I ask the Minister to visualise the meeting of the commission. The Lord Chancellor is a member of the commission. He has a role as the Secretary of State for Justice, but he is only a single member among a number of people. Either he is going to be very powerful and he is going to override what everybody else wants, or he is not going to be very powerful, and he is going to be very dissatisfied with not being able to carry the commission with him. Either way would be extraordinarily unsatisfactory for someone who is head of the administration of justice in running the courts and has some responsibility for the judiciary. It is yet another point that leads me to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick.
My Lords, I too wish to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. I see this part of the Bill as being one of those ideas which starts with good intent but has risks attached to it: it is the law of unintended consequences. I can understand that those who have looked at the appointment of senior judiciary and have seen the absence of women, for example, have thought that perhaps if somebody—the Lord Chancellor—were sitting on that panel, he would be able to represent more vociferously public concerns about the way in which appointments are recreating the same people. I can see that that was the intention of giving a role to the Lord Chancellor in the current appointment procedures.
However, we must be very conscious of the risks. We should be concerned about the way in which this could be detrimental to our constitutional arrangements and could be the beginning of a much more politicised role for the Secretary of State as Lord Chancellor sitting on such committees. I say this because, regarding the slide to such things, we always say, “Oh, it could not happen here”. I have just heard the decision made in Europe today that the new judge to be appointed to the European Court of Human Rights will not be the preferred candidate coming forward from Britain. The person appointed was pushed by the Conservatives in Europe and supported by Russia and Serbia. The best candidate, Ben Emmerson, one of our most distinguished human rights lawyers, did not get that role because of politicking of the ugliest kind. He was considered to be too protective of human rights.
We should be ashamed of what has happened in that appointment process and we should be aware of what happens when politics enters the fray in judicial appointments and how it can often lead to unsatisfactory outcomes. I raise this as a warning because it happens all too easily. The best candidate has been lost to the European Court of Human Rights and it has happened because of an ugly form of politicking.
My Lords, I fear that I will be in a minority of one, which is always a rather brave position, but it is important to put another perspective. That is what the House of Lords is very good at, so I rise to put that other perspective.
The Government’s position is essentially about whether the so-called nuclear option is the way forward or, as I would put it, whether the power to reject after the process, or influence, is the right way forward. I should have declared at the outset that I, too, am a member of the Constitution Committee, but I was not a member when its most excellent report on judicial appointments came out earlier this year.
I note the Constitution Committee’s recommendations in this regard. It states that the Lord Chancellor’s inclusion on a selection commission risks politicising the process, an argument which we have heard today. I draw noble Lords’ attention to the text of that report, which shows that the committee’s witnesses were in two camps; it was not a straightforward matter even at the time. There were those who thought that the current system was the only way to preserve the independence of the judiciary and there were those who believed that the political angle was invariably part of the greater balance of considerations. Among those who felt that the Lord Chancellor should have an increased role were Lord Justice Goldring, Jack Straw MP, a former Lord Chancellor, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Hale.
Even when resisting greater involvement, the Constitution Committee states at paragraph 25 of its report that it is important to maintain the connection between Parliament, the Executive and the judiciary partly so that,
“the government cannot entirely wash their hands of what is happening”—
I believe that those were the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf—
“and partly to enable the Lord Chancellor better to defend the judges from attack by taking responsibility for the system which appointed them”,
which I believe were the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer. The issue then is the extent to which the independence of the senior judiciary will be compromised if the Lord Chancellor sits as a non-chairing, non-voting member of the selection commission. We are talking of two instances only. We are talking of the positions of the President of the Supreme Court and the Lord Chief Justice.
Six years to evaluate the current system is a very short time—I am talking about the six years since the Constitutional Reform Act—but, in the longer term, a given Lord Chancellor may wish to exercise the right to reject or ask for reconsideration of a nomination. We also need to remember, in that context, that this Lord Chancellor, whoever he or she may be, will get only one name coming forward. He will not have a choice of three candidates, hierarchically or non-hierarchically ordered, and make a judgment as to which of those two or three might be the best candidate. He will have the very stark choice indeed of exercising the nuclear option—rejection—and I suggest that, as things stand under the Constitutional Reform Act, it would be virtually impossible to exercise that nuclear option. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, himself explained to the House that you have to give your reasons in writing for doing so.
To describe the question of rejection or reconsideration as “the nuclear option” is not really appropriate because it is part of the process. I would use the word influence. In fact, the Lord Chancellor has the opportunity to discuss the process, is consulted at appropriate times during the process and is able to give a view of the kind of person he or she would like. So it is not right to call it a nuclear option. He has the opportunity to be involved and have a say in the process.
I am afraid that, unusually, I have to disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar. It is widely referred to as a nuclear option—we could call it the veto, perhaps, but it is very well known that it is a veto and a very final kind of veto, in that not only does one exercise the veto—if one chooses to do so—but one has to give reasons in writing for arriving at that decision. It is a very tough position to take. The pool from which the candidate would be drawn is so small and so intimately known to one another—the judges of the Supreme Court, for example—that a rejection would be known and would, indeed, indicate a significant level of political interference. It would inevitably get out that a veto had been exercised and people would draw their own inferences as to what had happened. I suggest that that would indicate a huge level of political interference. It would probably leak to the media; there would be wide speculation in and around the legal profession. It would truly be seen, I am afraid, as a nuclear option.
The reality of this provision is that it gives power to several other entities, but not to the individual who is, in the words of the Constitution Committee report, at paragraph 26, responsible and,
“accountable to Parliament for the overall appointments process”.
Taking up what the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, said, as I understand it this is not just a question of a name going to a Lord Chancellor who has no idea what has gone on before. If there was to be the slightest doubt that this candidate was not suitable, there would have been enormous discussions at a much earlier stage. It is almost inconceivable that somebody would go forward who was known to have reasons for not being acceptable and unless those reasons are such that the Lord Chancellor felt that he could say that, they ought to have been known already.
This does not work in isolation; the judges and the Lord Chancellor discuss a large number of matters extremely carefully over quite a long time. There is no isolation of the Lord Chancellor and his team from the senior judiciary and the appointments commission which is discussing this. I think that the noble Baroness is assuming that the Lord Chancellor is in an ivory tower, not knowing anything until the name comes to him. That is not the position.
I say to the noble and learned Baroness that if that non-transparent process that she describes, which sounds like the old game of clubbing together to fix it all up, is indeed accurate, there should be no reason for the amendment. In that case, if it is all so chummy, why not have the Lord Chancellor sit on the panel?
The power to veto seems to contradict Section 3(6)(a) of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, which places a statutory duty on the Lord Chancellor to defend the independence of the judiciary. Not for the first time, one part of an Act—the duty to defend the independence of the judiciary—sits uneasily with the process as defined. Moreover, the process requires the Lord Chancellor to put his reasons in writing. I have already commented on that. It would be far better in increasing transparency and enhancing accountability for the Lord Chancellor to be a member of the selection commission —listening, participating and evaluating the candidate being questioned, without a veto over the appointment—than, after the fact, disagreeing with the selection commission.
In conclusion, I touch on the point made that either a very powerful Lord Chancellor would sit on the commission panel and influence it to go in the direction that he wanted; or, if the Government got their way, that the Lord Chancellor, having sat on the selection panel, could not persuade the panel of his views on an individual candidate and would be deeply dissatisfied because he did not carry the selection panel with him.
I argue that his potential for dissatisfaction would be greater if he had not exercised the veto and was therefore stuck with someone he found it difficult to work with. In fact, it could be said that he would take greater responsibility for working with a candidate with whom he did not entirely agree if he were on the selection panel and had been overruled. He would have been part of the decision-making, he would have been there and heard the argument why the majority of the commission wanted to go in a certain direction and would therefore have to suck it and see. On that basis, I have a lot of sympathy with the Government on the amendment.
My Lords, going back some 25 years, I remember being warned in 1987: “You realise, don’t you, that Mrs Thatcher has never appointed anybody as a High Court judge who has been overtly political?”. I was about to stand for the 1987 election. I stood; I lost for the eighth time; but that did not dissuade me. My point is that then, how the system worked was completely opaque. You did not know what recommendations were being made. You did not know when you had scored a black mark. I recall a close colleague once seeing his file in the Lord Chancellor’s Department, which said in terms that he had fought and lost eight elections as a Liberal candidate—he was so close a colleague that he had been mixed up with me. I am sure that that held him back for a long time from obtaining the appointment that he ultimately did.
I was slightly shocked to hear that we still have a non-transparent system whereby the Lord Chancellor is consulted and becomes involved in the appointment of judges, although there is nothing formal about it. I did not know that. It is opaque. The Bill makes it absolutely transparent that the Lord Chancellor will play a part, and I think it is very good that he should. He should listen to other people who are high in the profession and to what a lay person thinks of a particular appointment. His view may change. I do not think that the Lord Chancellor would necessarily dominate such a selection committee, certainly not if he has a political angle. There may be a toing and froing of views within that committee but we will know that it is happening because he is on it. Consequently it will be a far more satisfactory system than what we have heard is happening now: the Lord Chancellor, without it being in any statute, is involved in some way. That is wrong and I think that the Bill is preferable.
I was rather appalled by the mischaracterisation by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, of what the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, said. My experience as Lord Chancellor, when not making the appointments, was that I remained regularly in touch with the judiciary. If I had not remained regularly in touch with the judiciary on issues such as the funding of courts and the difficulties that the judges were facing, I would have regarded myself as not performing my job as Lord Chancellor correctly. If you are a Lord Chancellor—or now, Secretary of State for Justice—who does not know the leadership of the judiciary, that would be a very bad thing. Indeed this idea expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford—that it is in some way a sort of secret-sounding basis—is wrong. I am sure that his misunderstanding was not deliberate. He was looking back to a time 20 years ago when he was looking for a position.
This side of the Committee supports the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. We earnestly ask the Government to think again about this provision. Perhaps I may explain why we take that view. The basis of the settlement reached and approved in the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 was that the time had come for the appointment of judges to be clearly depoliticised. The justification for the process that then existed was that although the Lord Chancellor was Labour or Tory and appointed by the Prime Minister, he nevertheless had especial independent roles that made it possible for a political appointment to appoint the judiciary.
We in the then Government took the view, supported by the Liberal Democrats and endorsed by both Houses of Parliament, that in a period of time and a generation where people had to have complete confidence that the judiciary was not being appointed on a political basis, there needed to be a structure in which people would have confidence that you were appointed on your merits as a respected judge. That was the basis of the constitutional settlement reached. Those who considered it in detail were of the view—and I agreed with this view—that the state, the Executive, had to have a stake in the appointment of judges so that there was part of the Executive in Parliament that would defend the system and defend the appointments. That is why the Lord Chancellor has the power to veto some appointments and to reject others.
It is incredibly important for the standing of the judiciary and the separation of powers that that essential separation—that essential constitutional settlement—not be affected. The proposal made by the coalition goes right to the heart of that constitutional settlement. Bringing the Secretary of State into the process would not even have the redeeming feature of the old-style Lord Chancellors, which is that they had an independent role as a judge as well as being a politically appointed Minister. What Ken Clarke said about his role—my noble friend Lady Jay has quoted it—exactly reflects what the constitutional settlement envisaged; namely that he should be a member of the Cabinet with a particular statutory duty as imposed in Section 1, but essentially a political Minister without anything else to distinguish him from other Ministers in the Government. The two roles that we are talking about here are the president of the Supreme Court and the Lord Chief Justice. The president of the Supreme Court is probably the most important judge for the whole of the United Kingdom. The Lord Chief Justice is undoubtedly the most important judge for England and Wales.
The proposal envisages that the commission appointing the president of the Supreme Court should consist of one person who is not legally qualified, one judge of the court, one member of the Judicial Appointments Commission for England and Wales, one for Scotland and one from Northern Ireland, and, if he chooses, the Lord Chancellor. I know Ken Clarke well and admire him greatly. I have absolutely no doubt that, in a group such as that, he would have no difficulty in ensuring that his choice was obtained. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, is shaking his head, but I tell noble Lords that Ken Clarke’s choice would prevail. It would not just be a matter of appearance; it would be a matter of actuality. Go forward in time and imagine someone not of the ethical quality and standard of Ken Clarke as Lord Chancellor. For example, there is the example given by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws: “I don’t want the best lawyer; I want the person who is most against the Human Rights Act”. That is a perfectly conceivable position for a Lord Chancellor to take.
The noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, says: “Oh well, let’s make it all more transparent”. She was not listening to the detailed evidence given to the Constitution Committee—actually, she may not have been on the committee, so I withdraw my suggestion that she was not listening—about the occasion when my successor specifically objected to the appointment of a particular head of division where he had a veto. I am not going to go into the detail of the case but it was transparent, and the views of the appointment panel eventually prevailed. What was absolutely clear was that there was an independent process judging who was the best among the candidates, with absolutely no political interference of any sort. The Lord Chancellor expressed a view, there was then a discussion that was recorded in correspondence and the original view prevailed—absolute transparency. The noble Baroness suggests, “Oh, let leaks and newspapers provide the transparency”. Sorry, she disagrees; what was being suggested?
That is absolutely not what I said; that is a mischaracterisation entirely. I said that if a Lord Chancellor exercised a veto and rejected a candidate and, as he would have to, gave his reasons for doing so in writing, given that it is such a small and intimate community, not only would everyone else know that this had happened but inevitably it would leak into the legal papers. That is what I was saying. I was not saying that the transparency would come from the leak but that huge damage would be done by that happening.
Forgive me. I am describing what could potentially happen; I am not saying that that would be transparent. All I am trying to say is that very few vetoes are exercised. There are vetoes in other positions as well—the Prime Minister has the power of veto over several other appointments, for example—but apparently they are seldom used; I could find the figures for the noble and learned Lord. I think that one of the reasons why they are so infrequently used is the damage that it might do if it got out that they had been used.
I think that there is a misunderstanding here. As I understand it, the noble Baroness is saying that when the veto is used it is kept secret. It is not, so there is no question of gossip. The Lord Chancellor is willing to use that veto where appropriate. I have no problem with that and it does not cause difficulty. In the proposed system, there would be no transparency about the role that the political Minister had played; indeed, it would be assumed that he or she was the person who had dominated the process. It would profoundly undermine the settlement. At the moment, I can see no benefit from it. I have not had the pleasure and privilege of reading the letter that was sent to the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar. I have heard the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, which was very persuasive in many respects. However, I am unable at the moment to see the basis for departing from a constitutional settlement that is intended to ensure the sanctity of the process. It is an independent process in which one is judged on one’s merits, and it keeps politics out of it except for the exercise of a transparent veto.
Would the noble and learned Lord not agree that it was not the best moment in the appointment of the judiciary, and that it does appear that political influences were coming into the question of who was to be appointed? Would it not have been better for the difficulties and the problems between the Lord Chancellor and the appointments commission to have been sorted out in a committee, such as that proposed in this Bill?
Game, set and match to this side. As I understand it, the noble Lord is asking whether it is so wrong that people might think that political influences have been brought to bear on the appointment, because the Lord Chancellor, performing a constitutional role, says explicitly “I don’t want”, or “I am thinking of vetoing”, the choice that has been made on legal merits. As I understand it, the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, and the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, are saying, “Let’s keep all the political influences secret”. The noble Lord is shaking his head; I am not sure what he has in mind.
If the Lord Chancellor said “I want this candidate” and persuaded everybody, none of that would have been apparent. People would doubt the independence of the appointment from the political situation, or the political influences on the position. Do not be under any illusion; if the Lord Chancellor proceeds with this proposal, those people who have had dealings with the constitutional settlement will think that he is, without properly understanding it, going against the basis of the constitutional settlement which the noble Lord, Lord McNally, worked so hard to get through. As he said on Monday, the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, was one of the main Liberal Democrat architects of the constitutional settlement, as was, as he also acknowledged on Monday, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf. What on earth is the reason for so undermining the political independence of the judiciary?
For these reasons we support the amendments that are being made. If, as I think is unlikely, they are put to the vote today, we will support them. I earnestly ask that the Minister reconsiders the Government’s position on this, and the Lord Chief Justice’s position. It would be a really bad idea if people thought that a Conservative or Labour Secretary of State for Justice, not the Lord Chancellor, had appointed the Lord Chief Justice and the president of the Supreme Court.
My Lords, I am grateful to those who have taken part in this, which is an interesting and important debate on a very important constitutional issue. I am not sure that I share the analysis of these proposals. As I said before, the Lord Chancellor is determined to defend the separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary. We are committed to the constitutional settlement that was brought in by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, when he was in office. But, as I said earlier, we are making proposals which, with the passage of time, improve on that settlement. The debate today is part of that.
Interestingly enough, I was flicking through Hansard for Monday evening. The noble and learned Lord is always passionate and eloquent, but he was particularly passionate and eloquent then. He was urging us not to take the Executive out of decisions on appointments in the lower courts. Well, that is what it says.
Indeed I was. The noble Lord, Lord McNally, was agreeing with me that the way you do it is to have an independent process of appointment which the Executive must endorse, or not, so that there is somebody responsible in Parliament to defend it. Does the noble Lord agree with that approach?
The noble and learned Lord was saying that the Executive should be kept in the process. The noble and learned Lord is marvellous; he spends half his interventions twisting the words of people who disagree with him, and when anybody tries to put him right, he starts protesting.
Of course the Lord Chancellor is accountable to Parliament. That is central to the settlement. He is responsible to the public for the overall process of judicial appointments and the effective working of the judicial system. It is important, at this very senior level of the judiciary, that as well as possessing first-rate judicial skills, candidates for the leadership roles are alive to the management and administrative issues that affect the administration of justice and are able to work with the Government on developing the system. This is an area where the view of the Lord Chancellor is likely to be of particular importance. This is therefore a legitimate role for the Lord Chancellor to play in the most senior judicial appointment.
I know that the noble and learned Lord has a kind of sense of ownership of the constitutional settlement.
Well, if he is happy to change it, perhaps he will listen to the argument for making just the smallest tweak in the perfect construction that he left for us. That means that it should be balanced appropriately against judicial and lay input into the process. It should respect, as I have said, the independence of the judiciary.
Lay input is how you get management experience, I agree. What is wrong with the non-legally qualified person, the member of the Northern Ireland commission, the member of the Scottish commission and the member of the English commission? There is a quite substantial balance of lay people already.
We had a very vigorous discussion about this when we had a second go in front of the Constitution Committee. Looking at those three top jobs—the presidency, the Lord Chief Justice and the Lord Chancellor—I was struck by the fact that it is not just judicial excellence but a whole fingertip interrelationship that makes those three jobs work. That is why the Lord Chancellor is arguing, and I am convinced of this—it is not just a matter of me saying, “The Government believe”—that an input into the selection process at the selection board—
I speak as one of the three the Minister refers to. Does he not agree that there is a danger of those three being too cosy? That would be in a situation where they do not feel that they can take a separate line from the Lord Chancellor, who controls the resources and is particularly powerful. All I can say is that if he does take that view, he should remember that my very distinguished predecessor, on one particular occasion, refused to see the Home Secretary of the day and the Home Secretary was deeply offended. That was because he did not think much of that sort of cosiness, which I know to the Minister is very attractive. With my experience, I am bound to say that he is wrong. He should listen; there are times to be cosy and times not to be cosy. That is something that needs to be taken into account.
This is my problem as a simple lad dealing with these Silks. I have never used the word “cosy” about the relationship. I have had a chance look at the relationship in the last two years; the last way I would describe the relationship between the Lord Chancellor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips, is “cosy”. It is businesslike; it is working; but it has an interrelationship which I think is important.
Giving the Lord Chancellor a role in these appointments is not new. As has been said, he already has a role in deciding whether to accept or reject the recommendation of a selection panel. The question is, therefore, how should that input be realised? I understand the different views put forward in the debate, but the Government’s view is that, for these two most senior appointments, given their significant role in the administration of justice, the most appropriate way of achieving this input is to allow the Lord Chancellor to sit on the panels. He can then consider the views of other panel members, submit his own views and engage with the panel members in a meaningful discussion about candidates.
The current system allows the Lord Chancellor to veto a selection panel’s recommendations. This is in itself a major role, but may be viewed as something of a nuclear option—that is what it says in my briefing notes. I think that that option is the one that could only be used in exceptional circumstances and with potentially a heavy price for the relationship with the judiciary and perception of political interference. I do not necessarily agree that these perceptions would be justified, but they are certainly factors which would inhibit the use of the veto. In place of the veto, Schedule 12 provides for a more effective engagement.
A fear has been expressed that this would give the Lord Chancellor disproportionate influence and that the present Lord Chancellor would dominate the proceedings. Perish the thought. Being on the panel, or even having that Lord Chancellor on the panel, would not necessarily mean that the Lord Chancellor would ultimately get his way on the individual appointed, but it would mean that he would have the opportunity to be engaged in the process and make his views known to the other panel members. We are talking about a panel of heavy hitters—a lay chair, plus senior members of the judiciary and appointment commissioners who are strong and independent-minded individuals. They will not simply fall into line with the Lord Chancellor of the day. The Lord Chancellor would have an opportunity to make his case but could also be persuaded of a contrary case by other panel members. However, where the Lord Chancellor does make a persuasive case of the merits of a particular candidate, this could be weighed in the balance in the same way by other panel members.
There are, of course, other possible ways of securing the input of the Lord Chancellor, but we do not consider that any are as effective as our proposal. We could, for example, allow the Lord Chancellor to select a candidate from a shortlist, or through some form of parliamentary hearing. However, we consider that the risk of politicisation of the process from these options is far more acute.
Another option would be to consult the Lord Chancellor at the start of the process. There is nothing wrong with that, but we consider that this is not as effective as having the Lord Chancellor be a member of the panel and be able to put forward his views, listen to the views of others and engage with them in a meaningful way.
I wonder whether the Minister could answer a point that he has not yet answered, which has been made by several people. There is a perception that if the Lord Chancellor is on the panel, the appointment will be politicised. For those who do not know the process but see that the Lord Chancellor has been one of those who has appointed the Lord Chief Justice, there will be a perception, certainly among lawyers and much more widely, that the Lord Chancellor has had a very large part to play in making that person the Lord Chief Justice and that it would be the sort of person who would suit him.
I was about to come to the interventions of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar. I do not think that my noble friend Lady Falkner got it wrong at all, despite her being bullied by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer.
I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, who I have never thought of as someone who it was possible to bully. However, if the noble Lord, Lord McNally, was under that impression, that just goes to show how wrong perceptions can develop.
I do not want to go into detail but, as the noble Lord knows, I had the privilege of being involved in some of these selection processes. When a selection panel is set up, there is a proper, transparent way of consulting at the appropriate time. There were no nudges and nods. In my initial submission, I said that I think that the present system works because, if there is a rejection or a reconsideration, it focuses the mind and is done in an open way. It is the inability of the people to be discreet that muddies the water. It is a most gossip-ridden world. In other worlds, when appointments are made, people respect confidentiality. However, the process was very open and transparent. Therefore, there is no question of nudges and nods.
I am a non-lawyer who, I am glad to say, was not part of the constitutional settlement in 2005. If the noble Lord described himself disingenuously as a simple lad, I am even worse as a simple laddess. I am trying to get a vision of this construct that the Minister has explained of either my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer or the present holder of the office of Lord Chancellor, the right honourable Kenneth Clarke, being subdued members of a totally egalitarian panel on which the merits of the candidates are discussed in a constructive and totally relaxed way, and the subdued and reticent Lord Chancellor finds himself in a minority. Should the panel recommend that Judge X becomes a member of the Supreme Court, the Lord Chancellor, having been this subdued and reticent member of the panel, could feel that it is wrong. What, then, are the prospects for effective working between them?
Quite often in politics, in the law and in other parts of life, one finds oneself working with someone whom you do not particularly like. The difference this time is that there would be no political veto to that committee’s decision. It is worth putting on record that this would be a Lord Chancellor withdrawing his veto from those appointments. Yet, with his silken sophistry, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, implies that this is an extension of political power. It is just the opposite of the extension of political interference.
It is simply not true, and anyone who is looking at this sees that it is a move away from a politician being able to exercise a veto to a politician transparently taking part in a process. If the Members of this Committee cannot see that, we will presumably withdraw it or take it back.
I have explained before that this unique triumvirate is very important, and that that is why we have adopted a very distinctive way of making this selection. I am not sure how far I can take the Committee, except perhaps to read from the letter that I wrote to the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, said he had not had the pleasure of sharing. In that letter I said: “At the present the Lord Chancellor decides at the end of the selection process whether to accept or reject the name put forward by the panel or to ask for the panel’s decision to be reconsidered. In practice, under these current arrangements it may be difficult to make use of the veto in these high-profile cases without risking perception of politicisation of the process. This difficulty was acknowledged by Lord Phillips and others in their evidence to your committee”—that is, the committee of the noble Baroness, Lady Jay. “The Government therefore considers that allowing the Lord Chancellor to sit on the panel will enable his accountability to be exercised in a more direct and effective way. You will, of course, be aware that the Lord Chancellor’s involvement as a member of the selection panel was supported in evidence to the Constitutional Committee by both the Lord Chief Justice and the president of the UK Supreme Court”. So I am not isolated in this view.
My Lords, is it not more difficult for the Lord Chancellor to object to someone publicly rather than to discuss the appointment in a group of which he is a member? Does that not mean, therefore, that if the Minister tries to remove the person, he will do so only if there is very strong evidence to show that it is an unsatisfactory appointment, whereas if he is part of a group, the other members of the group might be more likely to go along with what the Minister says at that point?
I have to say that if I was a member of a body charged with selecting a Lord Chief Justice or a president of the Supreme Court, no Lord Chancellor, however strong willed, would make me change my views unless his arguments were extremely persuasive; and I would expect the same respect for my views. We are not talking about a group of pussycats; we are talking about some very senior figures with great experience. I can see that those who have attended this Committee do not agree, but the simple fact is that we consider that our proposals strike the right balance in providing both the legitimate accountability for the executive in these roles and an independent and transparent process. They take away a political veto and put in its place a transparent involvement in a selection. I have set that out very clearly for the Committee.
I am sorry to ask the Minister this, but surely the presence of the Lord Chancellor on a committee of selection is a political statement in itself. It is worrying that the Minister should say that it removes a political presence. It just moves the position from what is a very public veto if, at the end of an independent process, the Lord Chancellor decides that he does not wish to go along with a recommendation to something that is less public but just as political. I find that really worrying, and I know that I am on record as saying that it is a constitutional disgrace.
That is the noble Baroness’s opinion, but, again, she is suggesting words that I never used. I did not say a “political presence”. What I said was that, to me, the political veto was the intrusion into the process. It has been acknowledged by a number of contributors that if the Lord Chancellor is not in this narrow world where the decision and the selections are made, he will be the elephant in the room. This process gives the Lord Chancellor the chance to have an input in a selection but, as opposed to what the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, suggested, he will not have a veto. When the panel makes its decision, there will be no political veto. I should have thought that that would be welcomed by this Committee.
Perhaps I may ask the Minister about one point on which I would like clarification. It has been fascinating to listen to both sides of the argument. The Minister mentioned a lay chairman or chairwoman. From what walk of life would a lay chairman or chairwoman come?
I thank the Minister for giving way. I now want to turn to another point on which I and the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, asked a question. The provision states that the Lord Chancellor “may” sit on the panel. If that is the case, on what basis will he decide to sit on the panel? If he decides to do so, will that not send a different signal? Will it not suggest that there is a reason why he wants to sit on the panel or a reason why he decides not to do so? I think that that will create an unhelpful perception.
The noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, mentioned that I also raised a point on this matter. If the Lord Chancellor decides not to sit on one of these panels, does he not retain the right of veto, and that therefore the disappearance of the veto, on which the Minister has been relying so greatly, is not in fact universal?
No. I am very grateful to the noble Baroness because I should have clarified this point. The Bill says that the Lord Chancellor “may” be a member, but we intend to bring forward regulations setting out that the Lord Chancellor “will” be a member of the panel. This will not be able to be changed other than by a new regulation, which will be subject to affirmative procedures and agreement and to the agreement of the Lord Chief Justice and the president of the Supreme Court.
I shall take that question back. In the mean time, the Government’s case has been set out. The trouble with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, is that he listens only to himself and is then convinced by all the arguments that he hears. I have listened to others in the Committee. We are in the debt of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, for stimulating such a debate. However, if he wants to divide the Committee, I am reasonably confident that he will lose.
My Lords, before the Committee sat I informed the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, that I was fairly relaxed and neutral about his amendment. However, the more I have listened to the argument, the more I have come down on the Government’s side. I recall the very unseemly row when the former Lord Chancellor’s veto was exercised in relation to an appointment, and I believe that I put down a Parliamentary Question. I think that he reversed his decision before I got the Answer, but I certainly tabled a Question about it. There was a furore at the Bar and I was approached by many people to do what I could to defend the reputation of a person who was considered to be the best judge in a particular division. It was extremely unseemly and the Lord Chancellor backed down. What did that say? He had given his veto and then he withdrew it and the appointment went ahead. All these matters should have been sorted out but not in such a public way as to damage the reputation of the person concerned and damage the reputation of the Lord Chancellor, if it needed to be damaged any further. It did not resolve the situation.
I have heard the debate and, as I understand it, the Lord Chancellor does have discussions behind the scenes with the Appointments Commission. That is what was said in terms by the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar. I do not think that that is right. I think we should have an open system. She said that it was open and transparent. It was not—I did not know about it, although I was sufficiently involved to put down a Parliamentary Question about the matter in issue.
The fact that it is happening is transparent. That is where the argument can be held and not in public, which damages people’s reputations. The noble Lord said that the Lord Chancellor will always have his way. What sort of a pushover does he think these people in the commission are that they will simply bow down to a political figure? I do not believe that the chairs of the Judicial Appointments Commission in Northern Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales are going to follow a political lead because the Lord Chancellor does not like someone on political grounds. He may have some knowledge that does not involve the politics of the matter and that would persuade the other members of the commission, but I do not think that he would persuade them on political grounds, which is what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, said. He nods. Perhaps he was a very persuasive Lord Chancellor in private.
Why did he exercise it? We do not know. Did he say so at the time? He did not say, “For political reasons I do not want that person as the head of the division”. He did not give us his reasons. It was not discussed with anybody. He just vetoed that appointment and it was unfairly damaging to the person concerned.
I am grateful to the Minister, who says that he has been listening. I am sure that he has been, and I have listened to what he has said. I will certainly want to reflect, as I am sure the House will, on what the Minister described as a very important debate—and he is right. This goes to the heart of the relationship between the Executive and the judiciary. The Minister said that it is important to keep the Lord Chancellor in the process because the Lord Chancellor is responsible to Parliament and these are appointments at the very apex of the system. The Minister is right and no one disputes that the Lord Chancellor must have a role. The question is whether that role is best fulfilled as a member of the appointments commission.
The Minister and the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, emphasised that the veto is a nuclear option. There are two points to make about the Lord Chancellor’s existing powers. First, the fact that the veto is so difficult to exercise in political terms is highly material to the influence that the Lord Chancellor currently has. We need to be very careful about expanding the political role of the Lord Chancellor, or at least the political potential for involvement, through an appointments commission process. The second point, which has been made very forcefully by noble Lords who know how the system works, is that the Lord Chancellor at present does not just have a veto which is difficult to exercise. He can and does make his views known to the appointments commission during the process of consideration for appointment to these posts. There is nothing improper or secret about that. It is not a question of nudges and winks. It is called consultation. Plainly, the Lord Chancellor is entitled to be consulted by the special appointments commission that is going to appoint to these highly important posts. If the current system has defects, the alternative proposed by the Government is far worse, for all the reasons that have been pointed out, and no more transparent.
I will certainly reflect on this debate and I am sure the whole House will want to reflect on the matter and return to it on Report. I hope that the Government will reconsider this question over the summer and I am sure that if, as we have been told today for the first time, it is the Government’s intention that the Lord Chancellor will sit on the appointments commission, it is highly desirable that the Bill expressly makes that clear so that we all know what the Government intend on this matter of fundamental constitutional concern. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw this amendment.
Amendment 117 withdrawn.
Amendment 118 not moved.
119: Schedule 12, page 169, line 26, leave out “Prime Minister or”
My Lords, I can be relatively brief with this group of amendments as they are essentially technical in nature. Amendment 123 modifies amendments to paragraph 11 of Schedule 12 to the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, which concerns the appointment of the vice-chairman of the Judicial Appointments Commission. As drafted, paragraph 19 of Schedule 12 to the Bill amends the 2005 Act to provide that the Lord Chancellor may, with the agreement of the Lord Chief Justice, make regulations to provide for the appointment of the vice-chairman. On reflection, while we continue to believe that greater flexibility is needed for determining the composition of the Judicial Appointments Commission, provisions about the chairman and vice-chairman are matters which ought to appear in the Constitutional Reform Act 2005. This amendment restores the requirement that the vice-chairman must be a judicial member. As now, the vice-chairman will continue to be the most senior judicial member of the commission. Determining which judge is the most senior will be done by reference to regulations made by the Lord Chancellor with the agreement of the Lord Chief Justice.
Amendment 123 also retains the current restriction that the vice-chairman cannot deputise for the chairman in relation to his or her role on selection panels relating to appointments to the most senior judicial offices. This is because in these instances the role necessitates a lay rather than judicial member. Additionally, the vice-chairman will be unable to exercise the functions of chairman where the function is one specified in regulations to be made by the Lord Chancellor with the agreement of the Lord Chief Justice.
Amendment 124 amends paragraph 27 of Schedule 12 to the Bill so as to add to the list of judicial appointments below the High Court for which responsibility for making a decision on a selection by the Judicial Appointments Commission is to be transferred from the Lord Chancellor to the Lord Chief Justice. The appointments in question are those for a senior district judge or chief magistrate and a deputy senior district judge or chief magistrate. The other amendments in this group, namely Amendments 119, 122, 125 to 130 and 133, make minor and technical changes to the provisions in Schedule 12. I can provide further details of these amendments if needed. I beg to move.
Amendment 119 agreed.
119A: Schedule 12, page 172, line 26, at end insert—
“8A Section 35(3) of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 is repealed.
8B A judge of the Supreme Court shall vacate that office on the day on which he attains the age of 75.”
My Lords, this amendment is in my name and the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Jay of Paddington, and two former Lord Chancellors, the noble and learned Lords, Lord Irvine of Lairg and Lord Mackay of Clashfern. It concerns the retirement age for judges of the Supreme Court. The Judicial Pensions and Retirement Act 1993 lowered the retirement age for the judiciary from 75 to 70, with an exception for those first appointed to judicial office before 31 March 1995. There is a strong case for raising the retirement age back to 75 for Supreme Court judges.
Judges are joining the Bench at a later age than their predecessors. It then takes time for them to rise up the career ladder to reach the Supreme Court, typically in their early to mid-60s. Since those appointed to the Supreme Court are, by definition, the very best of our judges, it is particularly unfortunate that we are disposing of such valuable resources after they have served a short time in office. This argument is specific to the Supreme Court. It is not the case that if the retirement age for Justices of the Supreme Court was to be raised to 75, the same must follow for the magistracy and for all levels of the judiciary in-between. The fact of the matter is that judicial wisdom and experience at the highest level is being lost to our courts, although not to the field of arbitration where retired judges from the Supreme Court are very much in demand for much higher fees than the Lord Chancellor’s department is prepared to pay.
There is no basis for concern that judges tend to lose their mental and physical powers after the age of 70 and up to the age of 75. It is important to recall that these judges are not hearing exhausting witness trials but considering stimulating points of law. Nor is there any basis for concern that a retirement age of 75 in the Supreme Court would result in a court that is less attuned to modern society. Experience is to the contrary. The Appellate Committee of this House and now the Supreme Court are far more innovative than the Court of Appeal, where the average age of the judges tends to be a decade younger.
Nor is there any basis for concern that a retirement age of 75 would hinder the promotion of diversity, an important value that we discussed last Monday. Despite most of the members of the Supreme Court retiring at 75 in recent years—the same was true of the Appellate Committee—there has been a steady flow of vacancies. The appointment of only one woman to the Appellate Committee and to the Supreme Court and of no one from the ethnic minorities, regrettable though that is, has been caused by the perceived lack of suitable candidates and not by any lack of vacancies. Indeed, increasing the age limit to 75 may well enhance the prospects for appointing more women, as so many female judges and lawyers have taken many years out of their careers for family care reasons and may find it more difficult than men to rise to the top by their early 60s.
In our report in March, your Lordships’ Constitution Committee recommended that the retirement age be increased to 75 for Supreme Court judges and for Court of Appeal judges. We advised increasing the retirement age because,
“proven judicial quality and experience are at a premium in the development of the law”.
This amendment focuses only on the Supreme Court because the arguments are especially strong at that level. I look forward to hearing from the Minister the Government’s view on this important topic. I beg to move.
I support the amendment for the reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. I must declare two interests. First, I was a member of the Constitution Committee and heard the evidence and, secondly, some of my best friends are between the ages of 70 and 75. The evidence showed that there was a real risk that we were losing substantial talent from the Supreme Court. There was one particular example of losing someone just at his prime. It would be wrong for the Supreme Court to lose people of enormous proven energy and ability when they have just got into the driving seat of their full power, and to lose talent of that sort when people have risen to that point with only a limited time available to them in the Supreme Court itself.
My Lords, I do not accept my noble friend’s comments. As the noble Lords, Lord Hart of Chilton and Lord Pannick, said, we went into this in some detail in the Constitution Committee. For all the reasons advanced very eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, I support the amendment, particularly because of the potential for increasing diversity both in the Supreme Court and, indeed, further down. Both noble Lords have expressed the potential for opening up more opportunities for people who have come through what is described as the non-conventional career path to reach the top of the profession. I—and many members of the Committee —have a personal interest in the concept that 70 is the new 50, so 75 should be the new 55.
My Lords, if 70 had been the retirement age for Supreme Court judges, particularly the judges in the House of Lords, we would have lost Lord Bingham before he even got to the House of Lords. We would have lost the noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips, the present president of the Supreme Court, who goes at 75. He is almost the last of those who are entitled to stay until 75. The first solicitor to get to the Supreme Court, who was of enormous value to it, left after 18 months because he was caught by being aged 70. He was as valuable as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips, but he went at 70.
The Supreme Court is losing people who cannot even get there, or who get there for 18 months if, as has already been said, we allow time for people to get through the High Court and the Court of Appeal to the Supreme Court. I think only two judges have gone straight through and one judge came straight from the Bar. Normal process means that we are losing people who are extremely valuable. This has been brought up in Question Time on a number of occasions and the Government really should be looking at it. The previous Government were asked to look at it but, if I may say so, they pushed it to one side. It would be very good if this Government would take it up.
This has been a most exhilarating debate. I hope that the Minister will be able to use this experience to talk to other colleagues in government about why, for example, a non-executive director on a board has to have annual re-election once over 70. Recently, an Oxbridge college appointed a principal who is 72 and the articles of association had to be changed. I declare an interest because the late Lord Bingham’s son is the best person who works for me in my professional activity so I am, of course, brainwashed in this regard. I never thought of the Lords as pioneers of radical equality measures but I feel that this debate has great potential for professional groups across the economy and society, and certainly across government.
My Lords, I support the amendment for all the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, gave. However, I would suggest an alternative. If we are not going to go to 75, the alternative is to appoint judges to the Supreme Court who have not gone through the processes of the High Court, the Court of Appeal and so on. We have the power now, apparently, to appoint people to the Supreme Court who have not been in the Court of Appeal. It was interesting that, on Monday, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, said, “Of course, members of the Supreme Court will have come from the Court of Appeal”. I do not think that that is necessary. I think that the pool should be broadened. There are people in academic life and lawyers at the Bar who would be appropriate as members of the Supreme Court. The age of 70 is ridiculously low. If it is to stay at that, people should be appointed in their 50s—early 50s perhaps—to the Supreme Court without having to go through the cursus honorum required at present.
My Lords, I strongly support the amendment for the reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, and the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. It is an important amendment on a matter that is already causing difficulty. The loss of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Collins, from the Supreme Court was a direct result of the reduction in the retiring age. The Government now have an opportunity to do something about that, because this is a legislative opportunity.
My Lords, this is probably the last Chamber on earth where Ministers should be defending a retirement age of 70. I have listened very carefully to what has been said. I understand and sympathise with some of the frustrations. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, just referred to the case where someone comes to senior judicial office for a very short term. I also acknowledge that, in many cases, those judges would be able to continue beyond the age of 70 in terms of their intellectual sharpness. In such cases, they can be a costly loss to the judiciary. I am not sure that I go as far as the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, in advocating no retirement age at all—I have always been a strong supporter of a retirement age for this House. However, that goes into a different issue. I see that the noble Lord is about to come up for air.
I am much obliged to the Minister for making reference to my remarks. All I can say is that I have listened to the debate with great care and I have not heard a single reason put forward for a retirement age for judges. Everyone says 70, 75, 80, 85—just picking figures out of the air. It is a nonsense. I am not a candidate for a position in the Supreme Court, but I see no reason at all why there should be any statutory limit for a candidate aged over 85 like me. Could we have a reason?
As I said, this is hardly the audience for arguing or expecting support for retirement at 70. Indeed, sometimes when the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, tells me about his itinerary for the following week, I realise that his idea of retirement is something quite different from that of most normal people. I am well aware that people can make a contribution.
The amendment is astute in singling out the Supreme Court, as it is in this court—which may be the pinnacle of a long career—where taking up office is more likely to occur when a judge is in his or her 60s. This can give rise to particularly unfortunate individual cases where a judge’s term of office may be rather shorter than we would have liked to see. I understand the arguments and the case that has been made. However, these individual cases need to be balanced against the bigger picture and the advantages of a uniform retirement age of 70 across the whole of the judiciary.
Mandatory retirement ages for judicial office-holders have played an important role in ensuring that the judiciary is, and is seen to be, independent. Quite rightly, once appointed to a salaried position, it is difficult to remove a judge from office before retirement. This, of course, is constitutionally correct and removes any risk of unwarranted interference from the Executive. While many judges may be able to continue to work, and to contribute as fully as ever, beyond the age of 70, that will not always be the case. Without the mandatory retirement age, if a judge beyond 70 insisted on continuing, there would be no way of removing him even where his colleagues considered that he was no longer quite as sharp as he used to be. Therefore, a standard retirement age, set at the right level, is needed. I do not think that anybody disagrees with that principle.
The Government consider that 70 is the right level. Indeed, this is at the higher end of international comparisons. It is also important in this context to consider the impact on public confidence in the justice system. The age of 70 strikes a balance between the desire of judges wishing to serve and the public interest in sustaining a judiciary that is fully effective in discharging its responsibilities. The amendment seeks to make a special case for the Supreme Court, so that the mandatory retirement age should be increased to 75. However, the reasoning for the age of 70 applies to judges of the Supreme Court as it does to other judges. People are people, whichever court they are sitting in. The age of 70 is, in our view, the right one—notwithstanding that it may seem premature in individual cases.
The retirement age also contributes to the need to bring in newer judges. Turnover in the senior judiciary is not significant as many judges remain in post until retirement. Given the statutory limit on the numbers of judges who can sit in senior courts, in particular the Supreme Court which is limited to just 12 judges, the opportunity to promote talented members of the judiciary from the lower courts is limited. Extending the retirement age to 75 in the Supreme Court would further limit movement from the Court of Appeal, which would, in turn, reduce opportunities for promotion to the Court of Appeal and have a trickle-down effect through the courts. This would also have the effect of delaying some of the positive impact on diversity, which that we would otherwise see through promotions from the lower courts.
Furthermore, it would be very difficult in practice to sustain a different retirement age just for the Supreme Court. Court of Appeal judges would be very likely also to make the case for extended retirement. A Court of Appeal judge who considers himself or herself a good candidate for appointment to the Supreme Court may find it difficult to accept that he or she had to retire at 70 if the Supreme Court were made up of judges who would automatically go on for another five years. If the age of retirement for the Court of Appeal were also extended, then why not the High Court and so on? If there is a clear business need, it is still possible for judges to continue to serve over the age of 70. Following retirement, members of the Supreme Court may go on to the supplementary panel. As a member of that panel, they might be asked to act as a judge of the Supreme Court. This enables the court to continue to make use of their experience and knowledge —but on a short-term basis.
I have listened to the contributions of the noble Lords and to the plea of my noble friend Lady Bottomley against ageism. Although the Government will keep this under review, we consider, for the reasons outlined, that the current mandatory retirement age of 70, together with the arrangements for sitting ad hoc after retirement, provide a careful balance between using experience, ensuring that the quality of the judiciary is maintained at all levels and ensuring the advancement of fresh talent. I also consider that differential retirement ages of different courts may be very difficult to sustain. We will keep this under review but, in the mean time, I ask the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for saying that he will keep this matter under review. I hope that that means that it will be actively looked at before we return to the matter, as I am sure that we will, at Report. My answer to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, about why we should have retirement age at all, is to point out the considerable difficulty of saying that someone is past it—particularly if they have tenure in the post. That is an extremely difficult task to perform in relation to individuals sitting on the Bench. That is why we have a mandatory retirement age. I have no difficulty with that. As I indicated, I am concerned that the retirement age of 70 is too high. However, I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, that if he looks at the New York Times of 16 September 2010, he will see that Judge Wesley E Brown was sitting in the United States district court at the age of 103. The article describes how a tube under his nose feeds him oxygen during hearings. Sadly, Judge Brown has since died, but he did continue to an age much greater even than 75.
I do not accept the argument that the retirement age needs to be mandatory across the judiciary. I would hope that we could move to recognising the special position of the Supreme Court for all the reasons given by myself and other noble Lords. I certainly do not accept the argument that public confidence in the judiciary would somehow be undermined were judges to continue to the age of 75. I am not aware of any recent example of the public lacking confidence in our judges on the Appellate Committee—now in the Supreme Court—because they were between the ages of 70 and 75. It has already been indicated that some of the best and most valuable work of those senior judges, led by the late and much lamented Lord Bingham of Cornhill, was done between the ages of 70 and 75. That work would be lost.
Nor do I accept that there is any problem about new talent coming through because there are many vacancies for positions in the Supreme Court. However, the central point is that we are losing the best of our judges at too early an age. I hope that the Minister and the Lord Chancellor will reflect on this matter over the summer, but in the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 119A withdrawn.
Amendment 120 not moved.
121: Schedule 12, page 172, line 41, at end insert—
“In section 64(1) (encouragement of diversity) after “under this Part,” insert “and the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice in performing their functions,”.”
My Lords, Amendment 121 is another amendment arising out of the report of the Constitution Committee. It has been tabled in my name and those of my noble friend Lady Prashar, the noble Baroness, Lady Jay of Paddington, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf. As your Lordships know from our debates on Monday, under Section 64 of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, the Judicial Appointments Commission has a duty to,
“have regard to the need to encourage diversity in the range of persons available for selection for appointments”
to the Bench. As those debates indicated, this is an important provision because it rightly recognises that the high reputation that our judiciary deservedly enjoys may be damaged if we do not do something about the paucity of women and members of the ethnic minorities being appointed to judicial office. The task, as Section 64 recognises, is to identify ways of bringing to the fore the many highly skilled women and members of the ethnic minorities in the legal profession so that they can be considered for appointment on their merits. The point of this amendment is that that vital task should not just be imposed on and performed by the Judicial Appointments Commission.
As your Lordships’ Constitution Committee explained in its report, the Lord Chief Justice and the Lord Chancellor have leadership roles, the former as the head of the judiciary and the latter as the Minister responsible to Parliament for the appointments process. They should each have a statutory duty to promote diversity. This is no criticism of the real efforts made by the current Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice, both of whom take this responsibility seriously. However, they will not always be in post. We are legislating for the future, so it is vital that the legislation should identify the importance of promoting diversity and that all those in leadership roles should have a statutory duty in this respect.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, and the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, have tabled Amendment 121AA. The noble and learned Lord will speak to his amendment, but as I understand it, the amendment has a similar purpose and effect. It is more detailed, and of course I will give it my support.
Amendment 121A, tabled in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Prashar, is simply a probing amendment. It arises out of a concern that on the proper interpretation of Sections 63 and 64 of the Constitutional Reform Act covering appointment on merit and “Encouragement of diversity”, those provisions might apply to the appointment of all other judges, but not to judges of the Supreme Court. The drafting concern is simply that Part 3 of the 2005 Act deals separately with the Supreme Court while Sections 63 and 64 are in Part 4. I would ask someone to give some thought to whether there is any substance in my concern. There may not be and this is only a probing amendment. I am not asking the Minister to deal with this today, so perhaps he may prefer to write to me. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the amendment and that tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, and the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, because this duty should be extended to the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice. I will say at the outset that I strongly refute the comments I have heard elsewhere that this will be perceived as gesture politics. I do not think that it will be, because it is a joint endeavour. Promoting diversity is a matter for the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice as well as the JAC. They have a part to play and they need to take meaningful action, so this duty should be extended to both of them.
What has been the result of this disparity? My experience as the chairman of the JAC was that one heard a lot of warm words, but they were not often followed by purposeful action. Moreover, all the criticism about slow progress was directed at the JAC, which became a convenient fig leaf for senior politicians and interest groups. Too much attention was paid to the selection process. There was an almost forensic examination of each stage of the process, whereas the barriers which were outwith the responsibility of the JAC received very little attention. That left the JAC exposed and some of the structural obstructions were not dealt with as speedily as they should have been. There were endless debates about the JAC’s processes and a disproportionate amount of time was spent on making minor changes to the selection process, which in the long run may not have had a major impact. However, they detracted attention from the other substantial changes for which, as I keep saying, the responsibility lies elsewhere.
If the JAC drew attention to the changes that were needed in order to widen the pool and improve diversity, in my view they were not often given the consideration they deserved. If there was a duty on the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice, they would have been much more focused on them. Perhaps I may give two examples. There is the issue of non-statutory eligibility criteria in vacancy requests. An analysis made by the JAC as early as 2008—I hasten to add that this was done after the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, had left—found that a key factor in limiting the ability of the JAC to make a significant contribution towards improving diversity was the usual requirement for the Lord Chancellor to stipulate in vacancy requests to the JAC that candidates for salaried judicial posts should have had previous fee-paid experience. This was a real barrier to a large number of potential candidates, such as members of the employed Bar and, of course, solicitors. The JAC argued for this factor to be made “desirable” rather than “normally required”. However, there was a reluctance to change. These concerns were formally raised by the JAC in response to the consultation on the Green Paper The Governance of Britain, in 2008, after two years’ experience of working with these requirements, by which time the commission was able to analyse their impact. I give that as an example of something that obstructed progress towards diversity.
Let me give another example. In 2008 an agreement was reached that every post in the circuit Bench selection exercise which the JAC was due to run should be open to part-time working, but potential candidates said that while the commitment was welcome in principle, it was not sufficient to encourage them to apply without an indication of an acceptable part-time working pattern. That is quite important. After considerable discussion, it was agreed that each circuit would make two posts available for part-time working. It took an enormous amount of time to arrive at this arrangement. These were seen as concessions to the JAC, and not a joint effort to promote diversity. The JAC always felt that it was a tiresome body which was constantly asking for concessions. It should have been a joint endeavour. If everyone had been involved and had had the same responsibilities, they would have given closer consideration to the JAC.
Other changes that the JAC proposed were rejected on the grounds of so-called business needs. Business needs always trumped diversity considerations, and the lack of purposeful engagement was frustrating. It was compounded by the fact that all the criticism about the slow process, both by the interest groups and the politicians alike, was directed at the JAC. I could go on because I feel very strongly about the amendment, and totally reject any assertion that this is gesture politics. I very much hope that the Government will consider the amendment.
My Lords, I would like to continue the effort that I have tried to make over past days to ensure that these decisions are not made merely by the legal world itself. I find this debate very peculiar indeed. I cannot think of a business which is worth its salt that does not insist that the chief executive has a responsibility for these matters. I sit as chairman of a number of companies, and in every case I have a personal responsibility for health and safety. I think it is important and I think that I have to take that responsibility. The direct responsibility is for the chief executive.
I know that it hurts many of a traditional kind in the legal profession for me to make comparisons between the Lord Chief Justice or the Lord Chancellor and such mundane people as chairmen and managing directors. However, it seems to me not an unreasonable parallel, and therefore I find this whole debate—as I found a debate in an earlier Session—to be really peculiar indeed. It should be the other way round: one should start off by saying that there are responsibilities of this kind lying on the shoulders of those who direct the whole shebang. One should not go half way down it—I am being rude now—and say, “It does not arrive up here, it comes down somewhere here”. One can repeat it, of course. It is perfectly reasonable to say, “It is also to be done here”, particularly if one has some suspicion that it is not being done lower down quite as well as one would like. However, one really cannot in any reasonable way exclude those who set the tone from issues which are the tone.
I very much accept the noble Baroness’s comment about this not being gesture politics. It is not gesture politics, because we are saying that we need to get rid of the fundamental view that merit is an easily definable thing and that it is terribly easy to say that somebody has got half a point better than somebody else. That is not what happens in business. We all know that when one looks at a number of people, one sees that they have differing contributions to make. One can say, “Yes, I have two people here who, on balance, both have the same contribution to make, as people”. The next question is: what are they making a contribution to? One says, “Let me make an assessment of what they are contributing to”. If, in most cases, they are making a contribution to what I would call a community, a panel or a group, then I might say that they are equal, but that this particular person makes less of a contribution to the whole than the other person, who would do more for the whole. That is the argument behind these elements of the Bill.
This is not a matter of tokenism, but a matter of reality, and it should be seen as such. If it is a matter of reality, it cannot be restricted to people lower down the pecking order. It must start with people at the top. I therefore beg the Government not to come back with the usual civil servant explanation to the effect that, “These people do this anyway, they are of a very high standing. We could not imagine them thinking in any other manner and, my goodness, why could you?”. I would reply that the present Lord Chancellor is an old friend of mine and a man of impeccable standards in this way. However, he still ought to be under the law; it still ought to be part of the way we present it.
It is really important simply to say that this is not a minor matter to be applied to people lower down, but a central matter to be applied from the top, because it is too important to be particularised. The only way not to particularise it is by saying that the chaps or girls in charge must take this responsibility. I very much hope that on this occasion the Government will see that this is a very reasonable amendment, that it could be taken without any difficulty at all, and that it could in fact be seen to be valuable step.
My Lords, just for the sake of the record and having put my name on this amendment, I make it clear that I support it for the reasons so admirably given by those who have spoken, including the noble Lord, Lord Deben. If I may say so, he showed remarkable acuity as somebody who is not a lawyer in contributing to this debate.
My Lords, perhaps I may add to the debate as another non-lawyer. Indeed, I totally agree with the noble Lord, Lord Deben, and I very much hope that the Government will take this on board. I know that the Minister has himself been involved in the judicial diversity task force, of which the Lord Chief Justice and the Lord Chancellor are in fact members. One of the criticisms that the Advisory Panel on Judicial Diversity has made since it reported two years ago is that progress by that task force has in fact been remarkably slow. Although it has met, not a great deal has happened. I know that the Minister feels much the same. It therefore seems to me all the more important that there be a statutory duty on the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice, as well as on the Judicial Appointments Commission, to promote diversity. I really hope that the Government will take that on board.
As a former judge I very strongly support the amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick. I would particularly like to endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Deben, said, with which I entirely agree. It is a very good thing when we get some non-lawyers reminding us, but he can be assured that former senior judges support him on this.
My Lords, like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, I rise really for the sake of the record and because my name is on this amendment. As the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said in introducing the amendment, this was one of the very strong recommendations that the Constitution Committee made in its report on judicial appointments. The Minister has referred to his kindness in coming once again to speak to the Constitution Committee between Second Reading and Committee. He gave a very strong indication —and I do not think I say anything inappropriate—that he was favourably disposed to matters which we suggested counted as leadership matters in the question of diversity. He will remember the remarks he made on Monday when we spoke again about gesture politics in relation to another amendment, where he said that this was not about gesture politics, but about leadership and political leadership. I hope he will be consistent in his reply on this amendment.
My Lords, in 1997 I had the privilege of becoming the Solicitor-General. The first speech I made outside Parliament was in Nottingham, and the person who preceded me on that occasion was Mr John Selwyn Gummer, now Lord Deben. He said in his speech, “We are so lucky to have Charlie Falconer here. He is going to make a speech, it’ll have been written by his officials. It’ll be inspirational, but not so inspirational that you would want either legislative change or any additional expenditure of money”. It was exactly the same point as the noble Lord, Lord Deben, made just now: there is an important point in these amendments, and there needs to be an active and continuing role for the head of the government-end of the story, the Lord Chancellor, and the head of the judicial-end, the Lord Chief Justice, as well as the head of the appointments commission, in looking at the detail of issues and actually taking active steps to ensure the ability to promote diversity.
I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, for giving practical examples of what the Lord Chancellor can do. The Lord Chief Justice is able, for example, to make arrangements for working conditions which will promote diversity. The Judicial Appointments Commission will be actively seeking to promote diversity, all the more so now that the tie-break provision is likely to be in the Bill. The effect of our proposals is that everybody is in it together in promoting diversity. I very much adopt the approach of the noble Lord, Lord Deben: it is a basic requirement for the head of an organisation that is appointing people, whether they be judges or any other group. I hope that the Minister will feel able to embrace the basis of those proposals.
I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said in respect of his Amendment 121A. One hopes that it would apply to Supreme Court judges as well. I do not know what the position is, so I would like to hear what the Minister says in response.
Whereas the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, seeks in his amendment to promote increasing the size of the pool, my amendment states “promote diversity”. I have drafted it in wider terms simply because I think that, in addition to pool issues, there will be issues about individuals. If, for example, one relaxed the requirements or if one were faced with a tie-break situation, one would be promoting diversity in relation to that individual without in any way trying to increase the pool. I am more than happy to hear what the Minister has to say on that.
I have also included in the amendment a requirement for a report to Parliament so that there is transparency about what is going on. I have also stated that the duties should be renewed every five years. I have done so in the hope that diversity will not be the ongoing issue that it is now. Again, however, that is a probing proposal rather than a definite position.
My Lords, Amendment 121, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, would extend the duty in Section 64 of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005. The duty requires the Judicial Appointments Commission to have regard to the need to encourage diversity in the range of persons available for selection for appointments. The amendment would extend this duty so that it applied also to the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice.
Similarly, Amendment 121AA, tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, introduces a new duty on the commission, the Lord Chief Justice and the Lord Chancellor, albeit in slightly different terms. Rather than a duty to encourage diversity in the range of persons available for appointment, the amendment sets out a duty to promote diversity in the judiciary. In addition, it sets out a requirement for an annual report on performance of the duty.
The Government have given a firm commitment to improve diversity within the judiciary. We consider that a diverse judiciary, reflecting modern society, will enhance confidence in the judicial system. However, we do not consider that the extension of the duty to promote diversity in Section 64 of the Constitutional Reform Act, or the new duty suggested by Amendment 121AA, would make any difference in practice.
I understood what the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, meant when she said that these matters should not be turned into gesture politics. Since becoming a Minister, I have made it a personal commitment to attend every meeting of the judicial diversity task force in the hope that my presence will put a little speed into the process that we are trying to carry through.
The Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice, when exercising their public functions—other than those relating to judicial decision-making in the case of the Lord Chief Justice—are already subject to the public sector equality duty under the Equality Act 2010. This means that when either is exercising public functions in relation to the judiciary, the public sector equality duty applies.
I followed the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Deben, and for a time thought that he was on my side in arguing that, where responsibilities already exist, it is not necessary to rewrite them. The duty of the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice is set out in Section 149 of the Equality Act 2010 and provides that a person exercising functions of a public nature must have due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct that is prohibited by the Act; advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not; and foster good relations between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not.
It is true that the Equality Act duties are not in the same terms as the duty in Section 64 of the 2005 Act or the proposed new duty in Amendment 121AA. Parts of Section 149 of the 2010 Act refer to persons with protected characteristics. This does not have any bearing on what steps, for example, we should take to encourage more solicitors to apply for judicial office. However, it is also clear that this duty contains the key elements of advancing equality of opportunity that we are normally concerned with when discussing diversity; that is, issues of gender, race, disability and sexuality.
The duty of course applies to the Lord Chancellor not just in relation to judicial diversity but in any functions of a public nature that he exercises. We consider this general duty to be a better approach than attempting to multiply separate legislative duties on the Lord Chancellor in different areas. This debate has already given an indication of that with the various duties proposed by different amendments.
We are often told by this House that we overlegislate, but there is also a tendency to want to put every specific duty in every Bill. We endorse the Constitution Committee’s comments on the importance of leadership and understand the reasoning behind the amendments, but we believe that the existing duties in the Equality Act 2010 are sufficient to keep us up to the mark in this context. Extending the existing duties to include both the Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice would add nothing of practical value in increasing the diversity of the judiciary. Nor would it add anything to a commitment clearly made and embedded in the Bill.
If it is necessary to state these things in particular for some parts of the system and it is not thought to be otiose, why is it not necessary to do it at the top of the system and thought to be otiose in those circumstances? Either you leave it entirely and rely on the general demand or you apply it to both cases.
I will ponder on that, but I also ask the Committee to ponder on the Pannick amendment. The noble Lord’s proposal to write specific responsibilities into the Bill makes a regular appearance when we are legislating—I think that it is the second time that he has done it anyway and that makes it regular. The argument is usually the same; it is a please-stop-beating-your-wife amendment. These duties are embedded in the Bill and in the roles of both the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice.
The Minister is making some serious points. I am surprised by the proposition that the Equality Act would already require the Lord Chancellor or the Lord Chief Justice, for example, to promote among young people and black and minority-ethnic groups a greater willingness to apply to be lawyers, because that is partly what trying to increase the pool involves. Is the Minister really saying that that obligation, to get more people to apply at a much younger age to learn to be lawyers, is already covered by the Equality Act?
The Equality Act invites the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice to apply the principles of the Equality Act to the job that they are doing, which is the point that I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Deben, was making: that if one is doing a job that is covered by the Equality Act, one should be carrying out the responsibilities in which those duties are embedded. I think that is true.
Amendment 121A also relates to the duty in Section 64 and to Supreme Court appointments. It would ensure that the Section 64 duty to encourage diversity in the range of persons available for selection applied to those appointments. The amendment would also provide that Section 63 of the Constitutional Reform Act should apply to Supreme Court appointments. This would have the effect that those appointments would be solely on merit, that the person should not be selected unless he or she is of good character and that where two persons are of equal merit, one can be selected over the other for the purpose of increasing diversity.
Before turning to the detail of the amendment, I should first say that diversity is, of course, important at all levels of the judiciary, up to and including the Supreme Court. In fact, it is particularly important at the higher levels, as female judges or judges from an ethnic minority can act as powerful role models for those at a more junior level in the judiciary. Indeed, due to their higher public profile, they may also act as a role model for younger people considering a legal or judicial career and may be a powerful symbol to the public at large with regard to the perception of the judiciary reflecting our society. We are supporting diversity at this level in the measures that we are taking in the Bill to enable flexible working arrangements at the highest level, including the Supreme Court.
Turning now to the detail of the amendment, and starting with the application of Section 63, the objective here is to apply the tipping-point provision in these cases. Section 159 of the Equality Act 2010 contains a provision to allow a person to be preferred to another on the basis of a protected characteristic, such as gender or race, when they are equally qualified to be appointed. In relation to judicial appointments in England and Wales, our view is that it is not clear that the tipping-point provision in the Equality Act can apply, because Section 63(2) specifies that selection must be solely on merit. This use of “solely” may be seen as precluding the use of the Equality Act test. That is why the Bill brings forward the new tipping-point provision in Section 63(4) so that it can apply to judicial appointments, selection for which is within the remit of the Judicial Appointments Commission, notwithstanding the use of “solely”.
In relation to appointments to the UK Supreme Court, however, there is no provision that appointment must be “solely” on merit. Section 27(5) of the Constitutional Reform Act specifies that appointment must be on merit. However, other considerations apply, in particular Section 25(8), which specifies that in making a selection the selection panel must ensure that the candidate has knowledge and experience of practice in the law of each part of the United Kingdom. As there is no reference to “solely”, we consider that there is no bar to the Equality Act tipping point applying to Supreme Court appointments without the need for further legislative change.
In relation to the application of Section 64 to the UK Supreme Court, I have already set out the commitment to encouraging diversity in the Supreme Court, but for the reason that I have already outlined in relation to Amendment 74, I do not consider that a statutory duty would add anything to this. In addition, in this case any statutory duty would also need to reflect the UK nature of the Supreme Court, so the current amendment, by placing this duty on the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales and the Judicial Appointments Commission, would not be appropriate.
I understand where the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and other noble Lords are coming from. We have a summer to consider these things, but I also hope that noble Lords who have been involved in legislation will know that these declaratory commitments that overlay existing commitments are not always as helpful as has been suggested. I hope to assuage the concern of the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, by saying that we will look at the case that has been made this evening. As I say, at the moment we are not minded to accept the amendments, but with the promise that this debate will be among my summer reading I invite the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, that is a very disappointing response. Promoting diversity is one of the greatest challenges facing the legal system and it is quite unacceptable that when a statutory duty to promote diversity is already imposed upon the Judicial Appointments Commission, that same duty should not be imposed, as the noble Lord, Lord Deben, puts it, on those who have leadership roles in the legal profession. I am not persuaded at all that there are other statutory duties under the Equality Act, which do not seem to me to cover the same ground. Indeed, if they did it is incomprehensible why there is a specific statutory duty on the JAC under Section 64.
I hear the disappointment in the noble Lord’s voice. I would hate this debate to end with any idea that I personally, and the Government, am not committed absolutely to furthering diversity in the legal profession and the judiciary. I have said that I will take the debate away—I may even take it to the individual noble Lords concerned—and consider what we do when we come back.
I am grateful to the Minister. I was about to say that I do not doubt for a moment the Minister’s personal commitment to diversity. I have heard him speak about it on a number of occasions, and he feels as passionate about it as others. The question is whether the Government’s position can move. I hope, for all the reasons that have been expressed in this debate around the House, that the Lord Chancellor and the Minister will look at this again over the summer and that progress can be made. I have no doubt that if there is no progress, no movement from the Government, the House will return to the matter on Report, but for now I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 121 withdrawn.
Amendments 121A and 121AA not moved.
121AB: Schedule 12, page 173, line 32, at end insert—
“Judicial appointments13A After section 65 of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 insert—
“65A Additional guidance
The Lord Chancellor, after consultation with the Lord Chief Justice, the Treasury Solicitor and the chairman of the Judicial Appointments Commission, shall issue guidance as to the circumstances in which those employed by the Government Legal Service, the Crown Prosecution Service or any other government legal office may apply for any of the judicial office or tribunal posts, which are in the remit of the Judicial Appointments Commission.””
My Lords, this amendment seeks to probe the Government’s attitude to the appointment of judges from the Government Legal Service, the Crown Prosecution Service and any other prosecution body in effect employed by the Government. We suggest in the amendment that the Lord Chancellor issue guidance as to the circumstances in which members of any government legal office may apply for either a judicial office or a tribunal post; those judicial offices and tribunal posts being ones that are covered by, or within the remit of, the Judicial Appointments Commission.
We have in mind two particular thoughts. First, members of the Crown Prosecution Service are limited from applying for judicial office because they cannot sit as recorders because they deal with crime—they cannot sit as recorders anywhere, as we understand it. Are we being deprived, as a result of that perhaps unnecessary limitation? Since members of the Bar and solicitors who practise in the criminal area are well able to sit as recorders, why should the same situation not apply to those employed by the Crown Prosecution Service?
Secondly, I cannot find what, if any, the limitations are that apply to people in the Government Legal Service applying either for part-time or full-time office as a judge. People in the Government Legal Service are a very diverse—in the sense that we have used that word in this debate—group of people of very great talent who make up a pool from whom very good judges could be selected. I would be grateful if the Minister would indicate the Government’s attitude towards appointments to the judiciary from prosecution services and the Government Legal Service and whether they intend to issue new guidance to make the position clear.
My Lords, I strongly support the amendment. If we are serious about promoting diversity on the Bench, this is an area where there is real potential to make substantial progress. That is because there is a pool of highly talented female lawyers and ethnic minority lawyers in government legal service. The Constitution Committee gave the figures at paragraph 126. The figures are striking. In the Treasury Solicitor’s Department, more than 50% of senior civil servants are women and 15% of those at senior Civil Service pay band 1 are from ethnic minorities. In the CPS, women form 75.9% of Crown prosecutors and 63.9% of senior Crown prosecutors. Ethnic minority lawyers form 21.7% of Crown prosecutors and 18.3% of senior Crown prosecutors.
No doubt there are social and economic reasons why so many talented female lawyers and ethnic minority lawyers work not at the independent Bar, although many of them do, but in government legal service. I very much hope that the Government will accept the amendment so that consideration can be given as to how the legal system takes advantage of that pool of talent and ensures that the regrettable statistics of the limited number of women and ethnic minority lawyers on the Bench can be transformed.
I, too, support the amendment. The JAC wrote to the then Lord Chancellor about this in 2008. If we are committed to promoting diversity, it is vital that some movement takes place. There has been no progress on this over the past few years. If the responsibility was taken seriously by the Lord Chancellor, there would have been some movement.
My Lords, I, too, support the amendment. There is an overlooked pool of potential future judges—or of what used to be called chairmen of tribunals, who are now judges. It is time that that group in government service of one form or another was seen as a potential. The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, about the numbers of both women and ethnic minorities is significant. I support the amendment.
My Lords, I am very grateful for the amendment, because it allows me to clarify an important area: those who work in government legal services, the Crown Prosecution Service and other government legal offices. The intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, is extremely helpful, because it puts on record what a rich seam there is to be mined in those public appointments, and counterpoints the point that I have made several times from this Dispatch Box: that the public service has managed to make far more progress in promoting diversity over the past decades than has the private. We may learn lessons from that.
The Government are keen that members of the employed legal professions should take up judicial roles for which they are eligible, as like noble Lords, we are of the view that this could be a useful route to increasing diversity as well as ensuring that the Government can attract the best lawyers.
However, it has been the policy of successive Lord Chancellors that Crown Prosecution Service and other government lawyers when holding judicial office do not sit on cases involving their department. For CPS lawyers, this means that they cannot sit as recorders in the criminal courts, as the overwhelming majority of cases are prosecuted by the CPS.
Under the previous Administration, in 2003 the restrictions on applications by government lawyers were relaxed partially, and CPS lawyers became eligible for appointment as deputy district judges in magistrates’ courts. However, this was still on the basis that they did not sit on CPS-prosecuted cases, and therefore few roles are available.
The policy is based on the need to comply with Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which provides that litigants are entitled to be heard in front of an independent and impartial tribunal. Given those constraints, we need to think more creatively around the concept of a judicial career and how experience in one area can support subsequent appointment to judicial office in another area.
Opportunities are available for government lawyers to apply for judicial office. The published Judicial Appointments Commission programme for 2012-13 includes more than 300 vacancies for fee-paid office, which would be open to government lawyers to apply for. It is therefore important to communicate those opportunities available to government lawyers and to encourage them to take up judicial roles for which they are eligible—not least as this could be another useful route to increase diversity in the judiciary.
I am personally committed to playing a part in raising awareness of these opportunities. I recently met the Treasury Solicitor to discuss the best way to communicate them. I am also happy to consider any suggestions for changes to the current restrictions that apply to government lawyers to see whether we can go any further than the current practice—without, of course, infringing the rights to an independent and fair trial. When I met the Treasury Solicitor, I said that I was willing to write articles, go to seminars, or whatever, to raise the profile and awareness of those opportunities. As this is a probing amendment, I hope that the noble and learned Lord will believe that we are responding in this area and withdraw it.
I will certainly carefully consider what the Minister said. At the moment, he has given no reason why not to publish guidance that Parliament can consider. I invite him to consider whether guidance could be published regularly so that the issue is looked at with much more of a searchlight than at the moment. I will consider what the Minister said, in exchange for him agreeing—he is nodding—to consider what I said. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 121AB withdrawn.
121AC: Schedule 12, page 174, line 11, leave out “not be greater” and insert “be less”
My Lords, this is a short point about the Judicial Appointments Commission. Schedule 12 allows for equality between judicial members of the Judicial Appointments Commission and everyone else. I want to change that to make it clear that the judicial members will always be in the minority. As noble Lords will know, no one holds the judges in more admiration than me. One thing that is clear in the current process is that the judges’ views on appointing judges are very well expressed. Part of the reason for having the Judicial Appointments Commission was to bring in other people to the appointments process. I would like there to be judges on the Judicial Appointments Commission, but I would not want them to be, as it were, a blocking equality. I would be perfectly happy if they were in the most substantial minority. That is what I wish to reflect in the amendment.
Amendment 121AC withdrawn.
Amendments 122 and 123
122: Schedule 12, page 174, line 35, after “3B(2)(a)” insert “, 11”
123: Schedule 12, page 175, line 12, leave out paragraph 19 and insert—
“19 (1) Paragraph 11 (vice-chairman) is amended as follows.
(2) In sub-paragraph (1) (most senior judicial member is vice-chairman) for “Commissioner who is the most senior of the persons appointed as judicial members” substitute “most senior of the holders of judicial office who are Commissioners”.
(3) In sub-paragraph (2) (meaning of seniority for the purposes of sub-paragraph (1)) for the words after “sub-paragraph (1)” substitute “seniority is to be determined in accordance with regulations made by the Lord Chancellor with the agreement of the Lord Chief Justice.”
(4) In sub-paragraph (3) (exercise by vice-chairman of functions of chairman) for the words from “other” to the end substitute “other than—
(a) any functions as a member of a commission convened under section 26(5) or (5A) or of a panel appointed under section 70(1), 75B(1) or 79(1) (including functions of chairing such a commission or panel), and(b) any functions specified in regulations made by the Lord Chancellor with the agreement of the Lord Chief Justice.””
Amendments 122 and 123 agreed.
Amendment 123A not moved.
124: Schedule 12, page 177, line 21, at end insert—
“Senior District Judge (Chief Magistrate) designated under section 23 of that Act
Deputy Senior District Judge (Chief Magistrate) designated under that section
(3A) In Table 1 of Part 1 omit the entries for the following former offices—
Senior District Judge (Chief Magistrate) designated under subsection (2) of section 10A of the Justices of the Peace Act 1997
Deputy Senior District Judge (Chief Magistrate) designated under that subsection”
Amendment 124 agreed.
Amendment 124A not moved.
Amendments 125 and 126
125: Schedule 12, page 178, leave out lines 14 to 18 and insert—
“(b) in paragraph (c) for “(3)(c)” substitute “(3)(d)”.”
126: Schedule 12, page 184, line 29, at end insert—
“(6) In Table 1 of Part 2 omit the entry for the following former office—
Justice of the Peace appointed under section 5 of the Justices of the Peace Act 1997”
Amendments 125 and 126 agreed.
Amendment 126A not moved.
Amendments 127 to 130
127: Schedule 12, page 184, leave out line 40
128: Schedule 12, page 184, leave out line 43
129: Schedule 12, page 186, line 13, at end insert—
“(2A) In paragraph 3(1) (removal from office) before the “or” at the end of paragraph (b) insert—
“(ba) a person who is a deputy judge of the Upper Tribunal (whether by appointment under paragraph 7(1) or as a result of provision under section 31(2)),”.”
130: Schedule 12, page 187, line 15, leave out from “Chancellor” to “and” in line 16 and insert “(and in accordance with paragraph 3),”
Amendments 127 to 130 agreed.
Amendments 131 and 132 not moved.
133: Schedule 12, page 195, line 14, leave out “(4) (subsection (3)” and insert “(5) (subsection (4)”
Amendment 133 agreed.
Schedule 12, as amended, agreed.
Clause 19 : Deployment of the judiciary
134: Clause 19, page 17, line 17, after “tribunals” insert “, and updates references to chairmen of employment tribunals following their being renamed as Employment Judges”
Amendment 134 agreed.
Clause 19, as amended, agreed.