The draft order will amend section 2(1) of the Judicature (Northern Ireland) Act 1978 to increase the statutory limit of High Court judges from 10 to 15. That legislative change will not, by itself, increase the number of judges who sit on the High Court bench. The draft order is, however, intended to allow for the future appointment of part-time judges and to create sufficient headroom for the addition of judges should pressures emerge.
A primary duty of my Department is to ensure that the High Court is, at all times, properly resourced to be able to meet its business needs. Both the Historical Institutional Abuse Redress Board and the newly constituted victims' payment board have appointed members of the High Court bench as presidents. That will inevitably impact on the availability of High Court judges to deal with High Court business. The Lord Chief Justice will want to make a case for additional High Court appointments to meet the capacity need. Allowing for that possibility requires an increase in the overall maximum. Creating sufficient headroom within the statutory limit will also allow for changes to the High Court complement to be made more efficiently without the need for repeated draft orders. It is also hoped that increasing the overall complement will more readily allow for future creation of part-time positions on the bench, adding to the potential pool of applicants for the High Court. Ideally, that will further increase diversity at that tier. Any increase in the actual High Court judicial complement will still have to be supported by individual business cases, taking into account the overall volume of High Court business whilst ensuring that funding is available for the additional salaries and pensions.
I thank the Justice Committee for its careful consideration of the draft order, and it is with the Committee's support that I bring this before you today. I commend the draft order to the House.