New clause 20 — Lords Justices of Appeal

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 4th November 2009.

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Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Shadow Minister (Justice) 2:30 pm, 4th November 2009

My hon. Friend is 100 per cent. correct, because we have seen a hotchpotch of different reforms. Indeed, they were initially predicated on getting rid of the post of Lord Chancellor and moving the Law Lords out of the House of Lords and into the new Supreme Court. But, as my hon. Friend rightly points out, a decision was taken at the time without any clear idea of how the legislation would be framed, and as a consequence we are picking up different bits of it.

Did the previous system of judicial appointments work? Did it deliver an exceptionally high calibre of judges? The answer is undoubtedly yes, and the system cost virtually nothing. One issue that has been raised at the Bar for as long as I can remember is diversity, but we are looking at it from the wrong direction in terms of judicial appointments. The key point is to look at it from the point of view of access to the professions, because if the most able and competent people, from all backgrounds, are attracted to them and do well at the Bar, for example, as solicitors or in other, linked professions, they will be appointed to the Bench and, I hope, secure judicial appointments.

At the Bar, for example, which is the part of the profession I know most about, the percentage of ethnic minority students at law school and in paid pupillages is far greater than the percentage of ethnic minorities in the population as a whole. The Bar has reached out to schools throughout the country, and explained to schools and universities what a career at the Bar is all about. My hon. Friend Mr. Heald and I virtually had to pay for our pupillages, but now one has paid pupillages.

I pay tribute to those former chairmen of the Bar Council, Geoffrey Voss and Timothy Dutton, who worked incredibly hard on ensuring that the Bar made sterling efforts to reach out to schools throughout the country, and on widening access to the Bar. That work has been continued by Desmond Browne QC, the current chairman of the Bar Council, and he has stated time and again that he is passionate about the issue and feels strongly that the Bar must ensure that access is widened as much as possible. I am sure that the Minister agrees that, on this issue, the Bar sets a glowing example. Law schools are full of overseas students, students from Commonwealth countries, Dominion countries and people who will undoubtedly go on to great success in their own countries.

I remember that when I was at law school, I had a number of fellow pupils from Commonwealth countries, and they have since gone on to high judicial appointments and, indeed, to high political office. In fact, one contemporary has even gone on to become king of a country.

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