Maximum Number of Judges Order 2003

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

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Photo of Lord Goodhart Lord Goodhart Liberal Democrat 8:59 pm, 5th March 2003

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.