Government and the Judiciary

– in the House of Lords at 11:16 am on 20th October 2005.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Clinton-Davis Lord Clinton-Davis Labour 11:16 am, 20th October 2005

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they are taking to improve the relationship between government and the judiciary.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor

My Lords, we have a strong relationship with the judiciary. I meet regularly with the Lord Chief Justice and those discussions contribute to the maintenance and continuing development of good relations. There is the strongest possible respect in the country for the quality of our judiciary and its independence. That quality and independence must be maintained and defended. The new arrangements set out in the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, making the Lord Chief Justice the head of the judiciary and the Lord Chancellor the guardian of judicial independence within the Executive, ensure that it will be.

Photo of Lord Clinton-Davis Lord Clinton-Davis Labour

My Lords, I am obliged to the Lord Chancellor for that forthright reply. Does he agree that at the moment there is enormous public concern about the so-called rift between the judiciary and the Executive, which has been stimulated falsely by the alleged remarks attributed to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Phillips? Will the Lord Chancellor also take this opportunity to refute the allegation that he, against the will of the Judicial Appointments Commission, insisted on the appointment of Wyn Williams QC as a chancery judge and ensure that that mischievous allegation is refuted?

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor

My Lords, as regards the first point made by my noble friend—namely, the suggestion in the press that there is a rift between the judiciary and the Executive, in particular picking on remarks made by the current Lord Chief Justice—I join with him in saying that that is a grossly inflated account of the position. At the press conference giving rise to the coverage, the Lord Chief Justice said:

"There is one point I would like to make very clear. I am taking up this office at a time when it is said in various quarters that judges are in conflict with government. They are not. Judges are in conflict with no one. The judiciary has a clearly defined role, which is to apply the law as laid down by Parliament".

Hear, hear to that, which is the position of the judiciary.

I appointed Wyn Williams in accordance with the best procedures. I have absolutely no doubt that he was the right person for the job. It is mischievous to say that he was not. I am very glad to say that both myself and the Lord Chief Justice, who has authorised me to say this, believe that he has done a first-class job. I deeply regret allegations to the contrary.

Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Conservative

My Lords, on the appointment of Judge Williams, is it not the case that the Commission for Judicial Appointments suggested that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor had acted inappropriately? Is it not also the case that the local appointments panel said that Judge Williams was not appointable, as he did not have the necessary experience? Given that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor made the appointment against that system, for which he is accountable to Parliament, is it wise to move away from a system where we have the broader criteria that he obviously took into account?

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor

My Lords, the noble Lord is right: that is what the Commission for Judicial Appointments said about the appointment of Wyn Williams. I believe that it was wrong. I believe that the subsequent history shows that it was wrong. I regard my job as Lord Chancellor to be to listen to the advice that I am given, to act on the basis of that advice and then to come to the right conclusion in relation to it. That is what I did as regards Wyn Williams. I have no doubt that we can improve the system over time, although I should make it clear that that does not reflect one jot on Wyn Williams. That is why we are setting up a new system of appointments.

Photo of Lord Ackner Lord Ackner Crossbench

My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord aware of the following facts? First, in 2004, he wrote to the judges promising that the value of judges' pension benefits would not be adversely affected by the new pensions regime established by the Finance Act 2002. Secondly, a judicial pensions Bill was announced in the Queen's Speech. Thirdly, the Judges' Council has worked with DCA officials to consider the draft Bill and that Bill in its present form has been accepted by the Judges' Council as a fair solution to the problem of preserving the position of judges in post on and after 6 April 2006. Finally, that Bill has not been presented to Parliament and the Government will not say when, if ever, it will be presented. Does the noble and learned Lord accept that unless the Bill becomes law prior to 6 April 2006 a significant number of judges who remain in post after that date will suffer a reduction in their total pension package on retirement, which would sour relations between the Government and the judiciary?

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I am aware of all of those facts, but I do not accept the last proposition. May I say that the noble and learned Lord was a brilliant judge, but he was wasted as a judge? I am quite unable to understand why he did not join the Transport and General Workers' Union as a full-time official, putting its members' point of view with the eloquence and force that he has just shown.

Photo of Lord Goodhart Lord Goodhart Shadow Lord Chancellor, Law Officers (Constitutional Affairs), Advisory Team On Legal Matters, Non-Departmental & Cross Departmental Responsibilities

My Lords, we on these Benches feel somewhat differently about this issue from the noble and learned Lord. I am well aware that the personal relationship between the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and senior members of the judiciary is very good, but that is not entirely true of all his colleagues. It is clear that the rule of law is an essential part of the constitution. Will he therefore advise some of his colleagues, including his right honourable friend the Prime Minister, when discussing issues about the rule of law not to speak about there being "the rules of the game"? This is not a game.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor

My Lords, when my right honourable friend the Prime Minister talked about "the rules of the game" he was not talking about the rule of law. He was talking about the extent to which this country would continue to be welcoming to those who sought to plot the downfall of the state. That is a completely different issue from the rule of law, which my right honourable friend the Prime Minister accepts must be upheld by ensuring the independence of the judiciary.

Photo of Lord Taylor of Blackburn Lord Taylor of Blackburn Labour

My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor not agree that if I ask a question in this House relating to something in which I have an interest, I am brought to order and I have to declare that interest? I often find that lawyers can get away with murder in this House in asking questions in which they have pecuniary and other interests? No one ever challenges them about it.

I

What a gem! http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article558154... "Taylor, a former BAE consultant, said he would not table the amendment himself but offered to conduct a “behind the scenes” campaign to persuade ministers and...

Submitted by Ian Brown Continue reading (and 1 more annotation)

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I think it would be unfair to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, to say that he has an interest because, although he is a young and sprightly fellow, he is already taking his judicial pension and it will not be affected by whatever happens in relation to the judicial pensions Bill.