Maximum Number of Judges Order 2003

– in the House of Lords at 8:59 pm on 5th March 2003.

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Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip 8:59 pm, 5th March 2003

rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 6th February be approved [10th Report from the Joint Committee].

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, this order is made under Section 4(5) of the Supreme Court Act 1981. It raises the statutory ceiling for High Court judges from 106 to 108. This ceiling was last increased from 98 to 106 by the Maximum Number of Judges Order 1999 to meet the anticipated increases in workload following the implementation of the Human Rights Act.

I want to stress that the numbers in post will be increased only if and when the need arises. Putting the statutory instrument in place now will enable the Lord Chancellor to respond almost immediately to a sudden influx of work in high priority areas.

Noble Lords will be aware that the High Court handles a broad range of cases in areas such as crime, family, social exclusion and asylum. It is not always possible accurately to predict patterns in workload. The High Court is already at its full complement and so the power to make the two additional appointments is necessary in order for the court to be able to respond quickly to any increases in workload in any of these areas.

This includes work in the Crown Court. In 1998, High Court judges sat for 3,250 days in the Crown Court; in 2001, they sat for 3,486 days. The Government are committed to tackling crime and this may result in an increase in the amount of work on criminal cases in which High Court judges are involved. The involvement of High Court judges is also required for many high profile inquiries and for chairing or participating in tribunals such as the Employment Appeals Tribunal and parole boards. The nature and amount of this work is harder to predict, and the flexibility that the order would create is necessary again to be able to respond to any changes in workload in these areas.

The Lord Chancellor approved the authorisation of three new deputy High Court judges on 31st December 2002. However, part-time appointments will not provide the long-term flexibility afforded by an increase in the complement. The Lord Chancellor believes that increasing the capacity of the court with two further judges will provide the flexibility needed to make additional appointments if they are required.

In view of the facts and circumstances I have outlined, I commend the order to the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 6th February be approved [10th report from the Joint Committee].—(Lord Bassam of Brighton.)

Photo of Baroness Seccombe Baroness Seccombe Conservative

My Lords, I should declare an interest as my brother is a retired High Court judge. I was brought up on the maxim that justice delayed is justice denied. If the order helps to alleviate that problem, we should go along with it.

I wish to ask the Minister two questions. First, I am intrigued by the order's financial effect. High Court judges are, quite rightly, highly paid. However, the Explanatory Memorandum states that,

"there are no additional costs to the public or the exchequer arising from the instrument".

I should be grateful if the Minister could explain how that is calculated and whether there will be any additional costs in succeeding years.

Secondly, does the Minister expect to come back to the House in the near future with a request for a further increase in the number of judges to reflect the rise in appeals and judicial reviews flowing from the provisions of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002?

Photo of Lord Goodhart Lord Goodhart Liberal Democrat

My Lords, we on these Benches have no objection whatever to the proposal to increase the number of judges. However, I, too, should like to ask a couple of questions.

First, the previous increase in 1999, from 98 to 106, was made in expectation of a greatly increased workload resulting from the Human Rights Act. In fact, the increase in the workload has been substantially less than expected because the number of cases in which bad human rights points have been taken is very small. Whereas in some other countries, such as Canada, there was a sharp increase following the introduction of equivalent legislation, that has not happened here. So the increase in 1999 should have provided some slack which can be taken up.

Secondly, the Minister referred to criminal cases and high profile inquiries. It is not obvious why more cases in the Crown Court should be tried by High Court judges as opposed to Crown Court judges than has been the case in the past. I wonder whether the Government are being entirely frank. Is it not the case that this increase is being made largely as a result of the increased burden from immigration cases? If so, that is nothing to conceal—indeed, it is welcome. Obviously, there need to be sufficient people on the Bench to deal in good time with cases that arise. If it is the case that there has already been a substantial increase in the amount of work resulting from immigration and asylum seekers, this is not simply, as the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, said, a question of looking to the future. It means that the increase is largely caused by those circumstances.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Government Whip, Government Whip

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness and to the noble Lord for their support for the order and also for their questions. I shall be entirely frank with your Lordships' House. Of course we are increasing the number of judges because of the generalised increase in workload, but I would be disingenuous if I did not make it plain that there has been a large increase of work as a direct result of increases in asylum activity.

To put the matter in context, in 2002 asylum-related judicial review applications amounted to 59 per cent of all civil judicial review applications, making it the single largest category of administrative court work. That makes it plain that there has been a significant increase. Of the 5,578 civil judicial review applications received in 2002, some 3,308 were asylum-related and the administrative court received, on average, 276 such cases per month. That is one of the key pressures which has led to our belief that the flexibility that the order will give us is justified so that we can be ahead of the game in the future.

The noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, asked about cost. My understanding is that there will be no additional cost to the Exchequer as a consequence of the order. The intention is that the flexibility afforded by the order will be met within budget.

On Question, Motion agreed to.