Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill [HL]
Lord Glentoran (Conservative)
My Lords, we have debated the issue at length and wonder why the Government have changed from their position in 2002. Why should the Lord Chief Justice now be only consulted rather than have to agree with the removal or suspension of a listed judicial official? Perhaps most iniquitous of all is the fact that in the constitutional Bill the Lord Chief Justice must agree—that is, for England and Wales he retains his veto. Removal in England and Wales will be by the Secretary of State with the agreement of the Lord Chief Justice. That was made clear at col. 16 of Hansard on
The Lord Chancellor, the Minister at that time, in his Statement covered his tracks somewhat by saying:
"My responsibilities also extend to Northern Ireland. Consideration will be given to the future handling of my functions that relate to the Northern Ireland judiciary. That process, which is currently under way, will include consultation with the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland and will be based on the same guiding principles as in England and Wales, taking into account any provision already made for Northern Ireland to give effect to the recommendations of the Northern Ireland Criminal Justice Review".—[Official Report, 26/1/04; col. 17.]
This is a very important topic. In fact, nothing is more important in relation to the independence of the judiciary and the prevention of its politicisation than the right of a judge to security of tenure of office. A judge must be able to be confident that party politics will play no part in his selection and appointment and have no influence on his security of tenure. He must be unfettered in his ability to do justice to all without fear or favour, affection or ill will.
The issues and the proposals in the Bill as a whole must be seen not only from the standpoint of how they will be put into effect in practice, but also how they will be perceived by the judiciary themselves. There can be little doubt that a judge in Northern Ireland will feel less secure as a result of this provision and hence less confident in showing robust independence from the powers that be.
What have the Government to fear from maintaining this safeguard, which was so widely inserted when the matter was decided by Parliament less than two years ago? It must be unlikely in the extreme that the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland will refuse his consent to the dismissal of a judge following the adverse decision of a tribunal headed, as it must be, by a Law Lord unless there are very good reasons for him to do so. But by parity of reasoning, if he feels it right to withhold his consent, he will have such reasons.
It may be precisely because he understands in a way which the tribunal does not that the sectarian politics of Northern Ireland, which the judiciary have been astute to avoid to the admiration of all fair-minded observers, has impinged on the case. It must be recognised that the Law Lord heading the tribunal may well not be—indeed, probably will not be—a Law Lord with deep knowledge of Northern Ireland and, unlikely as one hopes it will be, such a situation could arise. In such circumstances, the protection of the Lord Chief Justice's consent would be critical.
In England and Wales, the Government's proposal—the Lord Chief Justice the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, has confirmed this—that the consent of the Lord Chief Justice is essential. It should be the same in Northern Ireland. What possible reason can the Government give for proposing otherwise? I beg to move.