New clause 20 — Lords Justices of Appeal

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Prime Minister – in the House of Commons at 3:30 pm on 4th November 2009.

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Photo of Michael Wills Michael Wills Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice 3:30 pm, 4th November 2009

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, because I was about to come to precisely that point. I would just say that clichés are not really a maxim for constitutional reform, but I shall rephrase that, and say that we should not approach constitutional reform in this country as engineers with a blueprint into which everything has to be shoehorned. If that is what he is saying, I agree with him. He is nodding. We should approach it as physicians, healing what needs to be healed and encouraging preventive medicine. We need to be fit, and constantly to respond to the needs of the people we serve.

The gist of the arguments in favour of the new clauses is that the system was good before, so let's not change it. I agree with the point made by the hon. Members for North-West Norfolk, for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) and for Rugby and Kenilworth that our judiciary has comprised many individuals of surpassing excellence. The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire listed many luminaries of the bench, and we look back on their judgments and see their wisdom, their command of the law and the way in which they developed the common law. Of course, no one could possibly be anything other than full of admiration for the work that they have done over decades and generations. The hon. Gentleman is right about that. So, too, is Mr. Heath when he says that we should not be complacent about these things, however. Just because we have a list of luminaries, that does not mean that the system is perfect. Of course it is not, and we should always strive to do better. That is my response to the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth. The fact that the system was good does not mean that it cannot be better.

I urge hon. Members to focus on this point: the system should not only work but be seen and believed to work in accordance with the fundamental principles of the British people. We have to give the British people confidence in the system. It is not enough that the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire thinks that those judges have been brilliant; the people we serve have to believe it as well.

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