New clause 20 — Lords Justices of Appeal

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 3:15 pm on 4th November 2009.

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Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 3:15 pm, 4th November 2009

I agree entirely, and it showed good co-operation between the two ends of Parliament and with the senior judiciary, who played an important role in achieving a good outcome from inauspicious beginnings. That is not to say that I object to the vast bulk of the proposals as they ended up, because I felt that they were right. They were changes that many of us had advocated for some time, but their genesis was more predicated-as the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk said-on the needs of political management than on the need for reform in good order.

We now have these proposed changes to the proposals that were agreed then. I intervened on the hon. Gentleman to ask him why he felt that it was so important to remove the Judicial Appointments Commission process for the lords justices of appeal but to leave it in place for the other appointments, such as the Lord Chief Justice, the Heads of Division, the puisne judges and other office holders. I am not sure that I received a convincing answer. The argument was that the lords justices of appeal are senior judges, so the process was less appropriate. I would have thought that the Lord Chief Justice and Heads of Division were also fairly senior members of the judiciary, and if the argument held for one it would hold for the other. However, apparently that is not the case.

The principal argument seemed to be that the process was bureaucratic, long and less than efficacious. I do not think there is any evidence that the latter is the case. There has been no serious objection to those who have been appointed lords justices of appeal since the process has been in place, nor has there been any criticism of their performance. So that is not a justified complaint.

In terms of the length of the process, the hon. Gentleman made great play of what the Constitutional Reform Act says. It is a fact that when any sort of process is set out in statutory form, it necessarily sounds more complicated than it actually is. That is how the law works and how statutes look. In fact, it is a very simple process. The Lord Chancellor requests the JAC to fill a vacancy. The JAC appoints a selection panel, which submits a report to the Lord Chancellor about the person it has chosen, and the Lord Chancellor may reject the selection, require it to be reconsidered or accept it. Of course, once he has exhausted the other options, he must accept the JAC's decision. That is not a difficult process. It is the sort of process that any appointment procedure, other than the most archaic or rudimentary, would follow. It is a simple system of setting up a shortlisting process and then accepting the recommendation of the shortlisting committee in due course. I do not accept that it is an unnecessarily prolonged process.

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