Judges (Tenure)

Oral Answers to Questions — Industry – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 9th February 1981.

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Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher , Oldham West 12:00 am, 9th February 1981

asked the Attorney-General if he will introduce legislation to set an age limit on the tenure of office of those judges who are not at present covered by age limits.

Photo of Mr Michael Havers Mr Michael Havers , Wimbledon

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer which I gave to him on 9 June last, to which I have nothing to add.

Photo of Michael Meacher Michael Meacher , Oldham West

Will not the right hon. and learned Gentleman accept that there are judges over the age of 80 whose judgments are so regularly eccentric and so idiosyncratically out of touch with modern views that they are constantly having to be overturned at a higher level? Does he not agree that geriatric judges with nineteenth-century social ad political prejudice only bring the rule of law into disrepute? It is reasonable that an age limit of 70 should be imposed.

Photo of Mr Michael Havers Mr Michael Havers , Wimbledon

There is only one judge over 80 at the moment.

Photo of Mr Michael Havers Mr Michael Havers , Wimbledon

He reached his eighty-second birthday last week and I would like to congratulate him on it. It is not for me to comment on individual decisions, some of which may be subject to appeal. In 1959 Parliament decided that a statutory retirement age for judges should be imposed. At the same time, Parliament did not impose that upon those who were already appointed judges.

Photo of Mr Charles Fletcher-Cooke Mr Charles Fletcher-Cooke , Darwen

Is not Lord Denning probably the best-known judge in the world? Are not these attacks on him highly resented by everyone who has had the privilege of appearing before him?

Photo of Mr Michael Havers Mr Michael Havers , Wimbledon

If, indeed, there is to be criticism of a judge, there is a well known, recognised parliamentary process for dealing with that situation.

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

Order. I did not have the knowledge of the Attorney-General that there was only one judge aged over 80, or I would have intervened. The Attorney-General is right. If anyone wishes to criticise a judge in this place, he should first table a motion on the Order Paper and seek to have it debated.

Photo of Mr Jeffrey Thomas Mr Jeffrey Thomas , Abertillery

Bearing in mind the usual rules about the principle of equality under the law, will the Attorney-General advance any good reason why judges should not be subject to the usual retirement age rules?

Photo of Mr Michael Havers Mr Michael Havers , Wimbledon

I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman would be the first to complain if his contract were altered after he had signed it and had acted under it for a period of time. That is what would happen here. Parliament in 1959 decided not to affect the contracts of those who were already appointed.

Photo of Mr Chris Price Mr Chris Price , Lewisham West

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I get it right? Is it the case that under our rules we can say nice things about judges but cannot say nasty things about them?

Photo of Mr George Thomas Mr George Thomas , Cardiff West

That applies to many people.