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Clause 2 - Membership of the Commission

Part of Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:00 am on 25th March 2004.

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Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Shadow Attorney General 10:00 am, 25th March 2004

I beg to move amendment No. 10, in

clause 2, page 1, line 9, at beginning insert—

'( ) In section 3 of the 2002 Act (makeup of the Commission)

(a) in subsection 5(a) for 'five', substitute 'six' and

(b) in subsection 5(c), for 'five', substitute 'four'.

The amendment relates to the composition of the Judicial Appointments Commission. The matter was considered in the other place, where it was argued that it would be wrong to have a majority of lay members on the commission; that the original justification for the structure in the 2002 Act was that it is a political necessity as part of devolution; and that as devolution is not taking place, there is no reason at present to proceed. I heartily endorse those views.

There is no reason why there should be a lay majority on the commission and every reason why the judiciary should be in the majority. A major concern in relation to the judiciary, here and in Northern Ireland, is that it should as far as possible be seen to be wholly depoliticised. In recent years, under the current appointment system, it has rarely, if ever, been suggested that the Northern Ireland judiciary is politically biased. However, there is a real possibility of problems if the composition that the Government propose is maintained. In the other place, my noble Friend Lord Glentoran made the point that it is necessary to provide reassurance to the Ulster Unionist community that the legislation is not simply another device to undermine the Union and the existing structure. In those circumstances, I believe that the amendment has considerable merit as it would be much more sensible to ensure that there is a judicial majority in the appointments commission. I await the Minister's response.