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

There is an awful lot wrong with ministerial appointments, but let us not divert ourselves by discussing what is wrong with those. The hon. Gentleman might well be right-but there we are!

In any case, the sort of person who will be put off by the process is the sort of person whom I am not sure I want as a judge, because it suggests that they have such high regard for their own dignity that they perhaps could not do the job as I, and many others-I think-would want them to do it. I note again the partiality of the new clause. In this case, it deals only with the selection procedure for puisne judges, and not other selections that the JAC makes. They alone would not have the written test.

There is another point here, and it is the exact opposite of what the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk said. He argued, I think, that the written tests will present an obstacle to diversity in the appointment of judges. That is the reverse, of course, of what the Law Society thinks. It says that they will be an assistance, and I think that they probably will be too. They will be an assistance to people who do not fit what has been-and I hope is no longer-the conventional view of what a judge ought to look like, because they provide an objective way for candidates to demonstrate that, whatever the preconceptions of those making the appointment, they have the technical ability, the level of judgment and the facility to perform in the way required of a judicial appointment. There is clear evidence that that process is helping well qualified, able and meritorious candidates to make progress in this area when otherwise they would not.

But does that mean that the procedures cannot be improved? I am sure that if I had the ability, I could look at the written tests and see areas where they could be improved. Indeed, it would be remarkable if they could not be. However, I cannot see it as an affront to a well qualified barrister to ask them to go through a simple process before appointment or candidacy as a judge. I do not see engaging in such a process as below their self-esteem; indeed, for some candidates it is a benefit and helps to assess people who might otherwise not be considered as suitable for judicial appointment.

On the basis of both those arguments, I am not persuaded by the case put forward by the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk. I fear that he seeks to take us backwards, to an era when the magic circle did everything, when everything was decided by nudges and winks, and when what emerged was the same old type of person, who conformed in every way to the same old image of a judge. That is exactly what this House has been trying to avoid in the legislation that it has put in place over recent years.

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