Skip to main content

Maximum Number of Judges Order 2015

Volume 765: debated on Tuesday 27 October 2015

Motion to Consider

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Maximum Number of Judges Order 2015.

Relevant document: 4th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

My Lords, the effect of the draft order is simply to increase the number of Court of Appeal judges by one. That number is set by statute under Section 2 of the Senior Courts Act 1981, which currently provides for a maximum of 38 Court of Appeal judges.

In March 2015 Lord Justice Pitchford, an existing Court of Appeal judge, was appointed by the Home Secretary to lead the inquiry into undercover policing and the operation of the Metropolitan Police’s Special Demonstration Squad. The inquiry, which began on 17 July 2015, was established under the Inquiries Act 2005 and is anticipated to conclude at around the end of 2018. Having been appointed as such, Lord Justice Pitchford remains a Court of Appeal judge and is counted in the current complement of 38. However, he is unable to fulfil any duties in the Court of Appeal while he leads the inquiry.

In order to ensure that the total number of Court of Appeal judges available for deployment remains at current levels, it is necessary to increase their number by one. There is no other method for revising the number of Court of Appeal Judges other than by an order such as this. I therefore commend this draft order to your Lordships and beg to move.

Could the Minister indicate whether it is intended to retain the maximum number at 39? Is it a permanent provision? It would be perfectly sensible if it were, but it is not quite clear to me whether that is the case. Secondly, while he cannot commit himself or those appointing a member of the Court of Appeal, I would hope that whoever makes the decision does not follow the line laid down by Lord Sumption recently about appointing women to the Supreme Court. We could do with more women in the upper and indeed the lower branches of the judiciary, and I hope that this will be an opportunity for those making the appointment to take with as good a grace as possible.

On the noble Lord’s first question, the position is that Lord Justice Pitchford turns 70 in March 2017 and must at that point retire as a Court of Appeal judge. It is anticipated that on his retirement, or at the end of the inquiry, if that is sooner, a similar order to this one will be made, returning the number of judges to the Court of Appeal back to 38.

I turn to the second point made by the noble Lord. He referred to the issue of diversity, which is of course important to the public’s confidence in justice. It is harder to boost diversity in the Court of Appeal in the short term, as the majority of eligible candidates come from the ranks of High Court or deputy High Court judges of at least seven years’ qualifying experience, but the Lord Chief Justice and Lady Justice Hallett are leading work to increase the diversity of applicants at key feeder grades for the higher judiciary—namely, recorders and deputy High Court judges. I am sure that he will welcome the appointment on 22 October, last Thursday, of two female High Court judges, one of whom will be the first Asian woman to sit at this level. When sworn in, they will take the number of women High Court judges to 23 out of 108, which is 21%. The Government are absolutely committed to increasing diversity, and whatever Lord Sumption may or may not have said about the reality, the Government are acutely conscious of the need to do that and are taking steps to ensure that we can realise that ambition.

This is a reasonable amendment, which maintains the complement of Court of Appeal judges when one of their members is engaged, as is Lord Justice Pitchford, in important work elsewhere. I hope that noble Lords will agree the proposed amendment and I beg to move.

Motion agreed.