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

If my hon. Friend asked me, "Is the JAC working?", I would say that it is not doing a bad job. However, we should put our hands on our hearts and think to ourselves that this is a time when this country's public finances are in an horrendously vulnerable state. The country will probably be spending about 10 per cent. of gross domestic product on the interest on our national debt. Bearing in mind that the figure in 1976, when the then Chancellor went off to the IMF, was 9.5 per cent., we are moving into Argentine or Guatemalan territory. That is why we must look at every single item of expenditure and ask ourselves, "Is this organisation doing a good job?" The answer is that it is not doing a bad job. If we ask, "Is it necessary? Was the previous system inadequate and not delivering?", the answer is that it certainly was delivering. That is why we must look at how much money it costs.

Going back to the point made by my hon. Friend Mr. Timpson, one of the problems with the JAC is that because it is so bureaucratic, incredibly cumbersome, very costly and an empire that is growing the whole time, it is moving very slowly. I have heard similar stories to him about judicial appointments that are not being filled. The JAC is not conducting its affairs as efficiently as it should be. The competitions for different types of judicial appointment are not being run as speedily or efficiently as they should be. I have been round several combined courts over the past year or so, and I have had compelling stories put to me by presiding judges who are concerned about the speed at which these appointments are being made and the impact that that is having on their ability to conduct justice and to deliver the services that Ministers rightly expect presiding judges to deliver in their combined courts. The JAC must look into that.

We realise that the JAC cannot be changed overnight, and if we win the next election we are not going to take an axe to it. However, we could certainly make some important initial changes and thereby reduce its cost and make it more efficient and streamlined. The Minister talked about these constitutional reforms having to be more streamlined. Well, we have a good idea in our new clause; let us see the Government support it.

Why do we want to put new clause 20 on to the statute book? The answer is simple. Sections 76 to 84 of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, which relate to the appointment of Lord Justices of Appeal, are unbelievably cumbersome and bureaucratic. Section 78(1) states:

"The Lord Chancellor may make a request to the Commission for a person to be selected for a recommendation for appointment as a Lord Justice of Appeal."

Subsection (2) says that the Lord Chancellor

"must consult the Lord Chief Justice"; of course, he would have done that anyway. Section 79 states that

"the Commission must appoint a selection panel" and says what the panel must do. It goes on to say that the

"selection panel is a committee of the Commission".

Section 80 states that the "first member" of the panel

"is the Lord Chief Justice"- well, he would have been anyway-"or his nominee." Under section 81, the selection panel has to report and

"state who has been selected".

For goodness' sake, it would have done that anyway; it does not have to be specified in legislation. The report must

"contain any other information required by the Lord Chancellor."

Section 82 gives a number of options for the Lord Chancellor. That system is incredibly bureaucratic, ridiculously prescriptive, absurdly cumbersome, and very expensive. It requires a number of bureaucrats who are putting together a huge amount of paperwork, looking at that legislation and having to pinpoint each particular subsection.

Let me return to the Minister's point about the appointment of Lord Justices of Appeal. I agree that they are excellent appointments, but they probably would have been made under the old system anyway. The key point is that all those appointments to the Court of Appeal came from the High Court. I may be wrong about that; if so perhaps the Minister will correct me. Any High Court judge or senior judge is, in any event, going to be someone who has gone through a major threshold in terms of his qualifying period in his career, and there will have been intense oversight and analysis of how he has done on the High Court bench. Of course, from time to time those High Court judges will make judgments that are taken to the Court of Appeal. So who better to analyse and assess the ability of those High Court judges as a possible Court of Appeal judge than the Court of Appeal judges who, time and again, are sitting in judgment, on appeal, on the judgments made by the High Court judges? We do not need a bureaucratic system of appointments under the JAC to appoint this particular type of judge. I put it to the Minister that for the sake of obsession with the new process and with constitutional reforms, a cumbersome operation is being put in place that is costing a great deal and is totally unnecessary.

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