Orders of the Day — Supreme Court of England and Wales

– in the House of Commons at 10:15 pm on 23rd November 1999.

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Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department 10:15 pm, 23rd November 1999

I beg to move, That the draft Maximum Number of Judges Order 1999, which was laid before this House on 1st November, in the last Session of Parliament, be approved. My hon. Friends and comrades who work through the usual channels—[Interruption.]

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. Will the House come to order. The hon. Lady is addressing the House.

Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department

My hon. Friends and comrades who work through the usual channels are keenly interested to find out how quickly I can persuade the House that the draft order should be approved. I assure you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I do not seek to detain the House for too long.

The statutory ceiling for the number of High Court judges in England and Wales was last increased, from 85 to 98, by the Maximum Number of Judges Order 1993. This order will further increase that number to 106.

The High Court faces additional challenges in the coming years. Those will arise principally from the implementation of the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. It has become clear that in the face of those challenges, even with the relief afforded by the implementation of the civil justice reforms in April this year, the High Court Bench will be under severe pressure unless additional judicial court time can be brought on stream as and when required.

This Administration came to office promising to modernise Government and strike a new—and better—balance between the citizen and the state. Incorporating the European convention on human rights is a part of that promise. The Human Rights Act will create and promote a culture of human rights in Britain. It will make citizens more aware of their rights and make it much easier for them to enforce them. It is the fulfilment of the Government's pledge that the rights enshrined in the European convention should be "brought home".

We must ensure that this important component of our programme of reform works effectively. The higher courts will have a key role in that. In particular, all first instance courts will be looking urgently to the judges in the Crown Office list and in the Court of Appeal for lead cases to inform the way in which they are to take decisions. We need to have enough judges to do that quickly so that cases do not build up in the lower courts awaiting the outcomes of leading cases.

The most significant effect on implementation of the 1998 Act is expected to be felt in the divisional court of the Queen's Bench and the Crown Office list. Those courts are the forums for challenging, through judicial review, the actions or decisions of any person or body charged with the performance of public acts and duties. The Human Rights Act imposes a duty on all public authorities to act in accordance with the European convention on human rights. Both court arenas may expect a substantial increase in work load.

The assessment of the Lord Chancellor's Department is that applications for leave to move for judicial review in criminal cases may well double from the 300 received in 1998 to 600 per year. It is anticipated that the vast majority will require a hearing before a single judge. It is further thought that as many as one quarter of the applications may be allowed and would then proceed to the full divisional court for determination.

Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department

I will, but my speech will be relatively short and there will be plenty of opportunity for the right hon. and learned Gentleman to make a speech of his own.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

Will the hon. Lady tell the House how many part-time High Court judges there are? What will be the effect on the number of High Court judges required if the decision on sheriffs in the Scottish courts applies in England?

Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department

I do not have the exact figure in front of me, but I will try to get it before the end of the debate. The Lord Chancellor is considering the decision to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred. At this moment, it is not felt that it will have immediate implications, but those are being considered. A response will be forthcoming in due course.

The assessment of the Department is that applications for leave to move in criminal cases may well double, as I said. It is estimated that between 1,000 and 2,000 additional applications for leave to move for judicial review may be made in immigration cases after implementation of the Human Rights Act. Even if only a quarter were to receive it, it would lead to an increase of 65 per cent., or about 250 cases, in the Crown Office list.

Appeals from magistrates courts by way of cases stated may increase by as much as 70 per cent., particularly in the first two years after implementation of the Human Rights Act. Virtually all those appeals would have to be heard by the divisional court rather than a single judge. Other non-criminal applications for judicial review may increase by up to 20 per cent. The majority of those applications for leave will be taken by a single judge and one third may proceed to hearing before the divisional court.

In the family division, it is anticipated that human rights points will be taken in up to 50 per cent. of cases. The division has already determined that all cases raising such points should be heard at the Royal Courts of Justice, placing additional pressures on the High Court Bench in London.

In the criminal division of the Court of Appeal, implementation of the Human Rights Act is expected to lead to an increase of a third in cases coming to the court on points of law relating to the European convention on human rights. In the civil division of the Court of Appeal, pressure is expected to arise both from the Act and, this year, from appeals testing the recent civil justice reforms.

I have already referred to the expected increase in applications for judicial review in immigration cases. The Administration are committed to providing a firmer, fairer and faster system for dealing with immigration and asylum cases. The number of asylum applications to the Immigration and Nationality Directorate of the Home Office has already undergone a dramatic increase, from 29,600 in 1996 to the number expected for this year, 85,000. That huge increase will inevitably lead to a dramatic increase in the number of appeals. In 1996–97, there were 23,200 asylum appeals. Next year, about 40,000 are expected, but it could be as many as 67,000.

An integral element of the Immigration and Asylum Act is the provision of speedier initial decision making and appeals. It is therefore essential that the courts are ready to meet that challenge. The criminal division of the Court of Appeal and the Queen's Bench divisional court will require additional sittings, both by the High Court Bench and by lords justices to handle the expected influx of human rights and immigration work. The latter requirement will be met by diverting the time of some lords justices from the civil division of the Court of Appeal. That deficit will have to be made good by a commensurate increase in High Court judges.

It is essential that the courts are well prepared to meet additional pressures. The Lord Chancellor has judged that some increases to the High Court Bench need to be made by the beginning of next year.

Photo of Gwyneth Dunwoody Gwyneth Dunwoody Labour, Crewe and Nantwich

Some of us are very concerned about the court system. It appears at one and the same time to be expanding considerably at High Court level while seeking to contract at magistrates court level. Can my hon. Friend assure me that the extra cost of the judges will not be taken from existing budgets? If it is, and many of us are to lose access to magistrates courts because of concentration on the ground of economy, there will be some misunderstanding if at the same time extra people are being appointed at the top of the system.

Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that issue. She will forgive me because I am very new to this brief but as I understand it, the reform for which we are seeking approval tonight will enable the higher courts to meet the increased work load that is the inevitable consequence of various Acts that have already been passed. The work load in the lower courts is not expected to decline, so it is not a cost-saving measure.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell Labour, Linlithgow

On the question of work load, I hesitate to intervene, but it was in Linlithgow sheriff court that the crucial judgment was made in relation to the temporary sheriffs. My hon. Friend cannot be expected to do this tonight, but as the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) said, some reference should be made to the chaotic situation that has been created in Scotland.

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. I point out to the hon. Gentleman that this is an order relating to the Supreme Court of England and Wales.

Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department

I am searching for the advice that I could give to my hon. Friend. The issue is straightforward. The decision in the Scottish court was a decision for the Scottish courts. I cannot answer for decisions in the Scottish courts. However, the implications of that decision are being considered by the Lord Chancellor, who will in due course make a response to it.

I am seeking to draw my comments to a conclusion—not in order to avoid further interventions. I hope that the House will forgive my taking these few minutes to explain why the order is necessary. I commend it to the House.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath 10:26 pm, 23rd November 1999

I congratulate the Minister on the accuracy with which she read out pretty well word for word the first seven paragraphs of what Lord Bach said when the order was debated in another place. Having said that, may I turn to some interesting points that arise from the order? Has the Minister considered the implications of the Human Rights Act 1998 and the compliance cost assessments that were put to the House on that Act and the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, as they have to be submitted in relation to all Acts of Parliament? On further reflection, in the light of what Lord Bach said in another place and the Minister has repeated tonight, do those compliance cost assessments need to be corrected and does some kind of apology need to be given for perhaps an underestimate of the extra costs that those pieces of Government legislation would bring about?

The Minister is talking about some fairly major changes in the work load according to her own assessment. Even if only a quarter of the applications are allowed and proceed to the divisional court for determination, 1,000 to 2,000 additional applications will be made for leave to move in immigration cases after implementation of the Human Rights Act. That is a substantial increase. While it is recognised that the Government have to reflect on the consequences of their legislation, I should like to raise some further specific issues. I ask the Minister to comment on them in her reply.

In another place Lord Kingsland asked Lord Bach what saving in judicial time the Department expected as a result of the Woolf reforms—the reforms to the civil courts. Lord Bach said: I am not in a position to be able to give any real estimate as to the number of Court of Appeal judges that may be required as a consequence of the extra work involved. However, I promise the noble Lord— the shadow Lord Chancellor, Lord Kingsland— that I will take this back to the Department. I shall ensure that research is carried out and that a letter is sent to the noble Lord, a copy of which will be placed in the Library at the same time."— [Official Report, House of Lords, 10 November 1999; Vol. 606, c. 1389.] That debate in another place took place almost a fortnight ago, yet when I checked in the Library half an hour before the Division I was told that no copy of any such letter had been placed in the Library. I am sure that the Minister will recognise that almost two weeks is rather a long time for a letter to be placed in the Library of the House—one on which Lord Bach gave a solemn undertaking. Will the Minister comment on that matter? Will she ensure that the sending of the letter is expedited, as it does not appear to have taken place?

Will the Minister comment on the concerns expressed in a book entitled "The New Judiciary: The effects of expansion and activism"? The foreword is by Lord Justice Sedley, and the book was written by an academic at the London school of economics—Kate Malleson. She writes about the development of judicial review over the past 30 to 40 years—something that has certainly led to a need for further judicial appointments. She states: The publication of a guide to civil servants in 1987 and updated in 1995 entitled "The Judge over your shoulder" illustrates the extent to which judges have come to oversee the work of government in its broadest sense. This process of increasing judicial activism is about to enter a new phase with the passing of the Human Rights Act, incorporating the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic law. The exact effects of the change are still very much open to debate, but few doubt that one result, in the short term at least, will be to fuel the growth of judicial activism. Does the Minister feel that, as a result of that increase in judicial activism, even the maximum number of judges she proposes will be insufficient? Kate Malleson continues: This expansion of judicial power is redefining the role of the judges in ways which are only just starting to emerge. As well as raising implications for the political system at a general level, the changes have particular consequences for the structure of the judiciary and the processes by which it operates. Some indication of the likely direction of these trends can be gleaned by reviewing the experience of the judiciaries of other countries since the developments in judicial activism in England and Wales are mirrored by strikingly similar changes world-wide. If the consequences of the provisions in the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Immigration and Asylum Act cause the pressure outlined by the Minister this evening and by her noble Friend Lord Bach in another place, will that not lead to yet more of what the academic author described as "judicial activism"? Should we not be extremely concerned about that in this House, where we have always been conscious of the preservation of the separation of powers doctrine? When the Minister sums up this important debate, I hope that she will give us some answers on the consequences—perhaps not fully thought through—of the measures that the Government introduced in the previous Session, which have led to the need for extra judges. I hope that she will also comment on the dangers of greater judicial activism.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon 10:33 pm, 23rd November 1999

May I take this opportunity to congratulate my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary on her appointment? It is the first chance that I have had to do so. She is probably aware that I have more than a passing interest in the judiciary. While maintaining standards, it is important that we do all that we can to ensure that the expansion of the bench that is proposed is more representative of the wider community—especially in improving ethnic and gender balance—that the judiciary is seen to be impartial and independent, and that public confidence in the judiciary, which has taken a real knocking, is restored.

That is especially important because one of the main reasons for the expansion given by my hon. Friend in her introduction is the expected increase in work as a consequence of the passing of human rights legislation. To that extent, I agree with the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) that the judiciary will increasingly be seen as having a political role when deciding cases on human rights, as well as, for example, those on devolution matters and on European law more generally.

On 18 November, research was published by the Nuffield Foundation which showed how out of touch people believed the judiciary to be. An article on the research stated that people saw judges as old, white and male, reflecting the values and biases of a privileged elite… Two out of three thought judges were out of touch with ordinary people's lives. It was particularly worrying that, as the report stated of those who were subject to the survey: There were virtually no significant differences in the response to this question (whether judges are out of touch) depending on age, education, employment status, problem type, previous experience of legal advice, or involvement in legal proceedings. At a press conference, Lord Woolf responded to the survey by simply blaming irresponsible media reporting of judges. However, that is not the answer. I believe that the problem is more deep-rooted. That research supports the argument that, when opportunities arise to increase the number of judges, steps must be taken to start dealing with the crisis of confidence in the judiciary.

I am sure that, at this late hour, it will come as a relief to the Parliamentary Secretary and other hon. Members that I do not propose to make detailed arguments against secret soundings, or for reform of court dress, or for a judicial appointments commission, or for a register of interests for judges. My principled arguments have been made on previous occasions.

However, I will say that the secret soundings system plumbs the depths of private prejudice. It permits the unfettered exercise of byzantine power by the inner cabals of the legal and judicial establishment, as that establishment continues to clone itself, ensuring that the bench remains the unrepresentative bastion of privilege that it has been for centuries.

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. The hon. Gentleman is straying rather wide of the mark. Will he come back to the quite narrow confines of the number of judges to be appointed?

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

When we are considering increasing the number of judges in the High Court, we must do something to address the appalling imbalance of race and gender, because at the moment only seven of 98—

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. That is not what we are here to discuss this evening.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

I take on board your constraints, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Photo of Gwyneth Dunwoody Gwyneth Dunwoody Labour, Crewe and Nantwich

Is it not important that, of the new judges that are appointed, many are women and many are from ethnic groups that are not represented? Is it not important that the Department takes the responsibility for looking at the judges that we do have before it takes on even more?

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. She is absolutely right. Of the 98 High Court judges, only seven are women and all are white. I regret to say that, of the additional appointments that have been made since the general election, the situation has got worse, if anything, in that, of the 85 judges of all ranks appointed, less than 10 per cent.—only seven—were women, and none were from the ethnic minorities.

The Lord Chancellor is to be congratulated on setting up, during the summer, the review by Sir Len Peach of the judicial appointments procedures, building on some of the reforms already instituted, but I regret that he did not have the opportunity to consider the issue of secret soundings, especially bearing in mind the large number of organisations that have taken objection to, and withdrawn from, the secret soundings system.

Nevertheless, having met Sir Len, I am sure that he will come up with some very worthwhile ideas and proposals to improve the present very flawed system. I therefore ask my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, in the context of trying to make the existing procedures a little more open and accessible, to attempt to restore some public confidence. Assuming that the order is approved tonight, will she publish the Peach report before any vacancies are advertised, and will the way in which any appointments under the order are made take account of the recommendations of Sir Len Peach?

Those are very important questions, and it is important that, when we are considering increasing the number of judges, we do something about redressing those imbalances and try to appoint them by a much more open and fair procedure. I hope that that is what Sir Len Peach comes up with. I hope that my hon. Friend will respond positively to those points.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham 10:38 pm, 23rd November 1999

I shall confine myself to two remarks.

First, it is plain to me that the increase in numbers from 98 to 106 is inadequate to meet the demand that we shall shortly see. There are two reasons for that increase in demand. One is the advanced increase of litigation that will flow from the incorporation of the European convention into municipal law. I favour the incorporation of that convention into municipal law, but it will increase the amount of domestic litigation very substantially, and, as it will go to the High Court, it will require a substantial increase in the number of High Court judges.

Secondly, I take up the point made by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). What was said in the Scottish courts as regards the validity of the appointment of temporary sheriffs has a very powerful implication for the status of judges in England and Wales, because deputy High Court judges have exactly the same status as deputy sheriffs, and if we are going to discover that deputy High Court judges do not have the character of independence required by the convention, we shall find that there is an enormous shortfall in the number of judges required in the High Court bench. For that reason also, we shall find that the increase from 98 to 106 is quite inadequate.

The inevitable consequence of both of those facts—the first is certain and the second is possible—is that we shall have to bring forward further orders that will substantially increase the number of High Court judges.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell Labour, Linlithgow 10:40 pm, 23rd November 1999

Following the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), I firmly place myself in order by saying that the Minister said that the Lord Chancellor was considering what had happened in Scotland concerning temporary sheriffs.

I should be candid with the House and state that Jim Keegan, the lawyer who brought the test case in the High Court, is a close personal friend of mine, and I ought to say that my daughter worked for four years in his law firm in a junior capacity.

The important point is that there has been chaos in the Linlithgow sheriff court as a result of that ruling—

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. Before the hon. Gentleman goes any further, I must remind him that we are talking specifically about an increase in the number of judges in England and Wales.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell Labour, Linlithgow

The Minister said, and I think that she will confirm it, that my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor was considering the very matter of the effect of the ruling in the Scottish court, so, if I am considered to be out of order, I think that I am entitled to ask what on earth a Lord Chancellor is doing reviewing a decision in the Scottish court? What exactly are the terms of the Lord Chancellor's review, and why is he involved? I must confess that I am slightly surprised that he is involved, and I was surprised by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary's statement—I neither praise nor criticise it. However, in the devolved world that we now inhabit, it seems a matter for explanation that an English Lord Chancellor should be reviewing that particular matter.

I shall be succinct. The full impact of the ruling, which outlawed the use of temporary sheriffs, was felt on Wednesday 17 November, in the Linlithgow sheriff court, when—

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. The hon. Gentleman is an experienced Member of the House. He is now straying well wide of the increase in the number of judges in England and Wales, which is what we are here specifically to discuss.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell Labour, Linlithgow

I am obedient to the Chair, as always, so I shall simply say that I imagine that the whole issue of the procurator fiscal and her dilemma in the Scottish courts will be considered by the English Lord Chancellor. I ask my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to explain exactly what are the Lord Chancellor's terms of reference in the matter. I am fascinated.

Photo of Mr John Burnett Mr John Burnett Liberal Democrat, Torridge and West Devon 10:43 pm, 23rd November 1999

I do not think that the order will cause massive ructions in the House tonight, but it raises important issues. As many have said, the order will increase the number of High Court judges from 98 to 106.

The Human Rights Act 1998 will impose further duties and burdens on the judiciary, as will the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 and the Woolf reforms. It is important that the courts are prepared for those additional pressures.

I want to address a few points that arise from the order. Several right hon. and hon. Members have referred to the case of Starrs v. the procurator fiscal for Linlithgow, which was reported in The Times on 17 November 1999. By an odd coincidence, the lead judgment was given by Lord Reed, who I gather was formerly a junior to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell). The judgment is important, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because it has persuasive authority in England and Wales.

The case held that, under article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, an individual charged with a crime is entitled to a hearing before an independent and impartial tribunal. It held further that a judge who had no security of tenure and whose appointment was subject to annual renewal was not independent within the meaning of article 6. It was, therefore, unlawful for the Crown in Scotland to prosecute an individual before such a judge. The case is therefore persuasive in England and Wales.

The Minister has already told the House that, rightly, the Lord Chancellor is considering the judgment. Will she give some idea of when he is likely to come up with proposals arising from such consideration? Do the Government propose to make any changes to the process of appointment of assistant recorders and deputy judges in England and Wales as a result of this important decision? Will the decision mean that Ministers will have to come back to Parliament again in the near future further to increase the number of High Court judges in England and Wales? Does the Minister believe that the increase will lead to additional pressures in the Court of Appeal? Do the Government believe that additional judges should be appointed to that court?

We want justice that is open to all. It must be scrupulously impartial and fair. It must also be swift. We support the order.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell Labour, Linlithgow

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My curiosity overcomes me. Why, in a highly pertinent, relevant and important speech, can the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Burnett) get away with commenting on what happens in my constituency, but I am shut up? By what reasoning did that happen?

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

It is because the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Burnett) related his remarks much more directly to the case in England and Wales, which is before the House.

Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department 10:46 pm, 23rd November 1999

To be sure that I am in order, I seek the leave of the House to respond to the debate—although I am not entirely sure that it is necessary.

This is an important debate, and I am grateful for the points that have been raised. I shall start by responding to those made by the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), who was the first to ask me about the impact of the Scottish decision. The issue impacts on the English and Welsh jurisdiction, but there is no fixed number of deputy High Court judges. Any qualified person can be appointed temporarily by the Lord Chancellor. Therefore, the figure that he asked me for cannot be simply given.

Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department

I hope that I shall have that answer before I finish my speech. If I cannot get it, I shall write to the right hon. and learned Gentleman.

I shall address the issue of temporary sheriffs and the Scottish decision before quickly dealing with points raised by various hon. Members. If I misled my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), I apologise to him. Of course the Lord Chancellor is not reviewing the decision of the Scottish court. He has no power to do so. However, he is considering its effects on English part-time judges—deputy district judges. In that sense, the decision will have an effect. I am not in a position to answer the question put to me by the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Burnett) about exactly when the Lord Chancellor will respond to such consideration, although it is urgent.

The hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) raised three issues with me. I shall respond to them with as much charm as I am able—perhaps to make up for his lack of it. [Interruption.] It has been four and a half years since I have been free to rise to my feet to speak in the House, so I might be a little rocky.

When the hon. Gentleman asked me about the implications of the compliance cost assessment, I had at first absolutely no idea what he was referring to. I believe that he is means the compliance cost assessment for each Bill. At this stage, I am unable to answer his detailed question and I could not answer on behalf of the Departments who took through the Bills to which he referred.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about the information requested by the shadow Lord Chancellor in the other place. Lord Bach has written to Lord Kingsland and the letter was sent on 17 November. I undertake to ensure that a copy of the letter is placed in the Library, as promised.

On the issue of judicial review, it is true that there has been an enormous increase in its use. The Human Rights Act will, by its very nature, generate more use of judicial review: as people become more aware of their rights and seek to exercise them, we expect an exponential growth in the use of judicial review. In the short term, there will be more such cases, but, as the system gets used to the operation of the Act, we expect the flow to steady as public authorities become used to considering human rights issues as they conduct their business.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) raised several important points; he has developed a reputation in respect of these issues, and I commend his diligence. The system of consultation on the appointment of judges is referred to as "secret soundings", but assessments are sought against specific criteria and information on those who are consulted is publicly available. The assessments are given in confidence, but many candidates take up the offer of feedback, which includes the substance of the assessments received but does not reveal the source.

I cannot anticipate Sir Leonard Peach's report. Whatever its recommendations, the Lord Chancellor will consider that report with care before making any announcement. Because of their infrequency, individual High Court vacancies have never been advertised: applications have been invited from those interested in appointment to the High Court bench. We do not want appointments to the new positions that we are creating through the order to be delayed for any reason, especially by a process whose outcome we cannot predict. In addition, the Peach inquiry will initially examine the lower courts, not the High Court.

Photo of Andrew Dismore Andrew Dismore Labour, Hendon

My understanding of Sir Leonard Peach's terms of reference is that he is to consider judicial appointments across the board, including those to the High Court. As for secret soundings, they are called that because the person who is affected—the applicant—has no knowledge, except in the most general terms, of what comments have been made about him or her before or after a refusal. That is why they are roundly condemned by many in the profession.

Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department

My hon. Friend returns to the point with his usual diligence. All I can say is that we shall await the publication of the Peach report and consider the recommendations carefully. I cannot ask the House to accept the imposition of delay on the implementation of the order by having to wait for the findings of that inquiry.

My hon. Friend mentioned the imbalance in the proportion of women and members of ethnic minorities who are represented in the judiciary. The Lord Chancellor takes no satisfaction in that imbalance and has taken several steps to redress it. We believe that, as more women and members of ethnic minorities enter the legal profession, their numbers in the judiciary will continue to show a steady increase. However, there is no room for complacency. The Lord Chancellor will continue to encourage applications from all eligible candidates, especially from those who are currently under-represented on the Bench.

Photo of Michael Jabez Foster Michael Jabez Foster Labour, Hastings and Rye

My hon. Friend said that the reason for non-advertisement was that the positions were infrequently available. Given that, on this occasion, there is a job lot, is this not an opportunity for her to suggest to the Lord Chancellor that, on this occasion, the positions may be advertised?

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. Before the Minister responds to that intervention, perhaps I can help her. We are not discussing how judges are selected. We are talking precisely about why we need more judges in England and Wales.

Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for that pointer.

If the increase in the number of High Court judges is inadequate, as suggested by the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), there can be further increases. As there is no power to reduce the number, the Lord Chancellor must err on the side of caution.

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

I hope that, before the Minister resumes her seat, she will address the question raised by the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr. Burnett) on the impact on the Court of Appeal of the European convention and the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. By what number does she anticipate that the Court of Appeal will have to be increased? She will bear in mind that Court of Appeal judges are drawn from the puisne Bench. That being so, more judges in the Court of Appeal will mean more judges to the puisne Bench, and we need to know how many.

Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department

The Access to Justice Act 1999 allows us to divert from the Court of Appeal those cases that, by their nature, do not require the attention of the most senior judges. I cannot give a figure to the House today but I shall seek—[Interruption.]

Photo of Jane Kennedy Jane Kennedy Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department

I do not have a figure for the number of judges, but the impact that the Human Rights Act 1998 will have on the work load of the court service has been estimated by drawing on the experience of other countries that have implemented similar human rights legislation. We expect the impact to be felt in a series of ways. Committals for trials are expected to increase by 2,575 cases a year. I could give more figures if the House wanted them. Appeals are predicted to rise by 25 per cent. in each of the first two years and by 10 per cent. per annum thereafter. However, none of those figures relate to the effect that there will be on the number of judges in the higher courts. I am not able to give the right hon. and learned Gentleman that figure.

I can tell the House that the average hearing time for a trial is predicted to increase by 12 per cent. per annum for the first two years and 10 per cent. thereafter. I have already given the right hon. and learned Gentleman those figures. The average hearing time for an appeal is predicted to increase by half an hour for the first two years and by 15 minutes thereafter.

I am grateful for the direction and assistance that you have given me, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am grateful for the support of some hon. Members, although I have obviously not been able to please most of those Members who have contributed to the debate. Approval of the instrument will enable the High Court to meet the challenges arising on implementation of the Human Rights Act and the Immigration and Asylum Act and to ensure the efficient and timely disposal of court business, and I hope that the House will approve it.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,That the draft Maximum Number of Judges Order 1999, which was laid before this House on 1st November, in the last Session of Parliament, be approved.