New clause 20 — Lords Justices of Appeal

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 2:45 pm on 4th November 2009.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Shadow Minister (Justice) 2:45 pm, 4th November 2009

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point, because it leads me on to a briefing that I have received from the Law Society. I was staggered by what it said:

"The written tests are proving to be an invaluable method of screening applicants. According to the JAC they are...a good indicator".

Of course the JAC would say that. It continued:

"Another beneficial result of the use of written tests is that more women, ethnic minority and solicitor candidates are progressing through to interview and eventual appointment."

I put it to the Law Society and my hon. Friend that most top QCs and senior solicitors are used to dealing with complex paperwork day in, day out. Most of them have top degrees from top universities, and they have the self-confidence and ability to flourish in a written test. However, we are trying to encourage people to apply who are not as fortunate in their background but have ample ability and may well be ideal people to be considered for a judicial appointment, and they may well fall at that first hurdle. As he has said, that puts an unnecessary obstacle in the way of such candidates and may well put them off applying in the first place.

I do not know whether the Minister has had a chance to look at the JAC's website or examine some of the tests, but some of them are Alice in Wonderland scenarios. We are asking senior people of his type of age, maturity and ability to take a written test in which they have to devise some imaginary legislative scenario and then work out cases based on it and deliberate upon them. They are not law students; they are top QCs, barristers and academics. The test is demeaning and completely unnecessary, and I have not yet met a single person who thinks it a good idea, apart from a few people on the JAC and the Law Society, which appears to regurgitate exactly what the JAC has said. If one speaks to any barrister or anyone who has been through the test, they say that it is completely unnecessary.

Will the Minister tell the Committee what percentage of the £8.5 million a year costs of the JAC go into the running the tests? It must be expensive to devise the papers, put together the panels that write them, bring in outside consultants and expertise, book the halls where the tests take place, supervise the tests and put in place the necessary security. It is an incredibly expensive and bureaucratic exercise. The Minister talks about streamlining the system and making it simpler and easier. We have an idea for him: get rid of those tests, which are completely unnecessary.

It seems to me that the JAC has found itself in new, uncharted territory, and of course any new organisation or commission will want to build an empire. The JAC is building its own little empire and wants to embed it, and what better way than to put in place something as bureaucratic as the written test procedure, which obviously means more work for people and more jobs?

As I said to the Minister a moment ago, his budget is under huge pressure. Looking at the Red Book and the roll-forward of the Ministry of Justice budget, we see that he will be looking for cuts across the piece. There will be substantial cost cuts in prisons, in the Courts Service, maybe in legal aid, in the administration of the Legal Services Commission and in every other part of the MOJ because of what the Treasury has done to his Budget. Well, we are giving him a very good suggestion for reducing costs. At the same time, we are proposing the measures not just to reduce costs, but because we want a better system for judicial appointments. On that basis, I hope new clauses 20 and 22 will command the support not only of Opposition Members, but of the Minister and Labour Members.

Embed this video

Copy and paste this code on your website