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.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Naomi Long Naomi Long Alliance 6:00 pm, 14th December 2020

I thank the Members who have commented on the motion. As you know, the draft order is before the House following consultation with and the approval of the Justice Committee and the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Commission (NIJAC). It provides for an increase in the statutory maximum number of High Court judges from 10 to 15. I just want to touch on some of the points that have been made.

I thank the Chair for the Committee's scrutiny of the draft order and, indeed, a number of other orders that have been brought to it over recent months. It is very much appreciated that that has happened in a timely fashion.

There are a number of things that I would like to say about diversity in response to the comments made by Ms Rogan and Mr Allister. First, I want to clarify the rationale, which Mr Allister raised. Creating extra headroom now would allow for any future unforeseen pressures on the High Court bench to be dealt with more efficiently. That quite clearly requires a business case to be made, however, and it would not be automatic. Lifting the threshold to 15 therefore does not mean that we will have 15 High Court judges. It simply means that we will have the capacity to do that without having to return to the Assembly to make legislative change.

As I said, it also allows for the future appointment of part-time judges, who could be added to the potential pool of applicants for the High Court, thereby increasing diversity at that tier. A part-time, pro rata judge would count as one judge within the statutory maximum. Were you therefore to have a part-time judge, that judge would take up a full one of those places. That would require us to have more flexibility were we, for example, to replace one full-time judge with two part-time judges, because they would count as two extra judges.