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

I think that they are excellent appointments, but they could have taken place under the old system anyway without the need for this extremely costly bureaucracy.

Section 64 of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005-my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire spoke eloquently on it at the time-is headed, "Encouragement of diversity". It states:

"The Commission, in performing its functions under this Part, must have regard to the need to encourage diversity in the range of persons available for selection for appointments."

It then says in subsection (2):

"This section is subject to section 63", which stresses that the appointment

"must be solely on merit."

That is meaningless window-dressing and tokenism. We need to get coming into the professions, from an early stage, more people from ethnic minorities, more women, and more people who are enthused by the idea of a career in the law, either as solicitors or as barristers. We will do that by widening access to those professions. The chairman of the Bar Council feels incredibly strongly about that, as do I.

The JAC is incredibly bureaucratic, and it is growing in size. I think that its annual running costs are £8.5 million; the Minister may well correct me, as he probably has the figures directly to hand. That may not seem a vast amount of money. However, we should look at it in the context of the changes that his Department is making to the legal aid budget, or the changes being made to the family law advocacy scheme, which has caused a huge amount of anger among barristers. The initiative to introduce best-value tendering for police station work will have a significant impact on several smaller firms. Yet the savings that will be made through those changes to the legal aid budget involve sums that are sub-£10 million. That is why the £8.5 million cost of the JAC, an organisation that is doing work that cost virtually nothing before, is significant.

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