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

But not enough of them. And look at the Supreme Court-there are not enough there! We cannot hold up the current population in the higher levels of the judiciary and say that it reflects modern Britain. However, it is not because of a paucity of candidates that we cannot address that situation, which is why I think it is important to have the judicial appointments system as it currently is.

I agree with the Law Society, which rejects the proposal from the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk. It says:

"The fear must be that there would be a reversion to the old system of secret soundings and appointment by the Lord Chancellor. That would be a wholly retrograde step."

I, too, believe that it would be. I am surprised that the proposal has been put forward, not just because it is so partial-it would abolish the process for only one class of judicial appointment-but because of the effect that it would have in terms of reversion.

On the written test, I am clear that there might be arguments on both sides. Criticisms have been voiced in legal circles about the tests, although some of them sound rather precious-as if there is some indignity involved in taking part in a proper appointments process. Senior appointments in other fields involving written tests, or something similar-presentations and so on-are made every day of the week. Nobody else sees it as an affront to their dignity to apply for a job and go through a proper selection process. Nobody else, whether a head of human resources or of a finance department, when they apply for a job as a chief executive, feels it an indignity to be known to be applying for a job and going through a selection process that might involve tests of some kind.

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