Clause 3 — Legal qualifications

Part of Orders of the Day — Constitutional Reform Bill [Lords] — 1st Allotted Day – in the House of Commons at 9:30 pm on 31st January 2005.

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Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 9:30 pm, 31st January 2005

The hon. Gentleman may believe that he has a good understanding of jurisdictional boundaries in England and Wales, but that would have to be seen. If he will hear me out, the jobs get even more complicated.

We should note that the Bill has been complicated because the functions of the Lord Chancellor that do not require consultation with the Lord Chief Justice or his concurrence have been removed by the decision of the other place to retain the office of Lord Chancellor. Furthermore, many aspects remain on which the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice need to work together regularly and closely. Although the Lord Chief Justice is to take over the Lord Chancellor's rule-making powers that are not exercised by rule committees in order to mirror the Lord Chancellor's existing statutory powers to allow or disallow the rules made by rule committees, the Lord Chancellor's agreement to any rules that the Lord Chief Justice makes will be required. I should like Mr. Simon to try that one. We must note that the Lord Chief Justice will assume the Lord Chancellor's functions on making practice directions. Again, that will be with the Lord Chancellor's concurrence.

Earlier, the Under-Secretary said that the number of years that a lawyer has practised does not by itself lead to qualification for the job. I agree to some extent. However, a non-senior lawyer, let alone a non-lawyer, would have a hard if not impossible time as Lord Chancellor, given the requirements of the role. A specific number of years of practice does not make someone eligible, but the job specification makes it unlikely that anyone other than a lawyer could do the job.

When he moved his amendment, Lord Kingsland said that he understood that the Lord Chief Justice supported it. Earlier in the debate, Lord Woolf, Lord Chief Justice and chairman of the Judges Council, summarised the council's position thus:

"At a meeting on 24 November last, the Judges' Council unanimously approved the Bill, subject to the concerns on which I must now address your Lordships. The first concern is that there should be a clear statement on the face of the Bill that the holder of my office will be the head of the judiciary. Without this amendment to the Bill, the Judges' Council is concerned that the retention of the title of Lord Chancellor could send a confusing message as to the role of the holder of my office in the future. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor recognises the validity of that point and is proposing Amendment No. 11 to Clause 3, which of course I support.

Subject to that clarification, the Judges' Council would welcome the retention of an office called "the Lord Chancellor". It would like to see a requirement that the holder should be a lawyer, ideally with similar qualifications to those required before a person can be appointed a High Court judge. The Lord Chancellor will not be a judge, however, and so he should not take the judicial oath . . . there is a proposal for a different form of oath in one of the groups of amendments."—[Hansard, House of Lords, 7 December 2004; Vol. 667, c. 757–8.]

The Bill delivered to us from another place provides a balanced approach to the role of the Lord Chancellor, and plays an important part in guaranteeing the continued independence of the judiciary. We consider a requirement for the Lord Chancellor to be a Member of the House of Lords and a senior lawyer to be part of that balance. That balance was carefully struck in the other place and it is the best formula for us to retain in this place.