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Clause 2 - Membership of the Commission

Part of Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:00 am on 25th March 2004.

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Photo of John Spellar John Spellar The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office 11:00 am, 25th March 2004

I certainly give the right hon. Gentleman that undertaking. The requirement is for the commission to be reflective

''so far as is practicable''.

We do not believe that that would lead to discriminating unlawfully. However, I assure him that I will reflect further on the points that he has raised.

I will return to amendment No. 3 shortly. Amendment No. 30 would require that the First Minister and Deputy First Minister must, as far as possible, ensure that lay members of the commission

''have a sophisticated understanding of legal issues as well as proven experience in selection procedure.''

The amendment would also remove the requirement that the composition of the commission, as far as reasonably practicable, be

''reflective of the community in Northern Ireland.''

Amendment No. 49 would ensure that lay members are

''selected on the basis of the additional value they would bring to the Commission's deliberation''.

It describes qualities such as

''experience of selection processes, the court users' perspective''

and the ability to

''assess the personal qualities of candidates.''

We might have to define ''the court users' perspective'' carefully in that context.

I appreciate hon. Members' concern that the lay members should bring valuable experience to the commission. We obviously want individuals who can make real and meaningful contributions. The qualities set out in both amendments are laudable. Indeed, we hope that lay members could bring such qualities to the commission, but we do not think it necessary to specify in primary legislation what those desirable qualities would be.

I am sure that hon. Members agree that the matter would be best dealt with administratively. Accordingly, I urge that those amendments should not be pressed.

Amendment No. 3 would make specific the matters to be regarded when seeking to secure a commission that is reflective of the community. It is helpful to think about what is meant by the term ''reflective'', and no doubt many of the matters listed in the amendment are relevant to that issue. Having said that, we have always made it clear that political opinion is not a factor in the judicial appointments process, and we do not propose to consider it in relation to appointments to the commission.

We hope that members of the commission will be reflective of the community in terms of their community background, gender, age, ethnicity, disability and the part of Northern Ireland to which they consider themselves most closely associated. We do not think that there would be an advantage in making the Bill prescriptive.

The Government are fully committed to a reflective commission, and it is right and proper that those undertaking such important work should be identifiable with the community they serve. We do not need to go further than the current provisions. I am confident that when the commission is established it will be reflective of the community as far as possible, and will command the confidence of the community