The Maximum Number of Judges Order (Northern Ireland) 2020

Part of Executive Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 6:00 pm on 14th December 2020.

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Photo of Jim Allister Jim Allister Traditional Unionist Voice 6:00 pm, 14th December 2020

The Minister points out that the order increases the saving but not the number of appointments. I presume that the situation will prevail that, for any additional judges above 10, a business case will need to be approved by the Department. However, an increase of 50% is substantial.

I did not follow the Minister when she said that it would enable the appointment of part-time judges. Back in January, we appointed, I think, eight or 10 part-time judges, so that facility exists. What is the juxtaposition between the order and the appointment of extra part-time judges?

Some of the legacy issues giving rise to increased pressure are being dealt with by County Court judges. Is the Minister minded to increase the number of appointments in that domain and, if so, to what extent?

The Minister mentioned diversity. That causes me to draw attention to the composition of the Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland. It is permitted to have four holders: the Lord Chief Justice and three Lords Justices. At present, there is a vacancy. However, at present, the court, in its community background, is exclusive to the Catholic community. If that situation existed in reverse, there would be uproar from some quarters. There would be cries of "Sectarianism", cries about human rights and cries of "Imbalance". Yet, we have a situation where, in our Court of Appeal, there is not one member — it is the highest court in this jurisdiction, subject only to the Supreme Court — from the Protestant community. We talk about diversity, but does the Minister have a view about that? If my information about the vacancy is correct, the appointment that is to be made — I am not faulting the person at all professionally — will mean that there are four persons from the Catholic community and none from the unionist, Protestant community. Is that healthy in terms of ensuring respect across the community? If diversity applies, why does it not apply in the Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland? All of that is said without questioning the professionalism or dedication of the members; it is said in the context that this is a divided society and there is therefore a legitimate expectation that the Court of Appeal should reflect the entire community.