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Clause 2 - Membership of the Commission

Part of Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:15 am on 25th March 2004.

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Photo of John Spellar John Spellar The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office 11:15 am, 25th March 2004

I shall have to come back to the hon. Gentleman on that point, because I would stress that the matter properly depends on the use of ''reflective'' rather than ''representative''. We are not talking about a quota system; we are looking at a duty for those responsible for appointments to seek to achieve a reflective body. That body would, therefore, be one that commands the widest possible confidence in the community. I am not sure that people would have redress on the matter, and I am not sure whether they could take action on judicial review. I hope that before the end of my contribution, enlightenment will come to me and I shall be able to respond to the hon. Gentleman's point.

Amendment No. 50 would preclude the commission from establishing a committee to select someone to fill a judicial vacancy. We dealt with that matter at some length. Interestingly enough, the criminal justice review report did not envisage that the commission as a whole would conduct interviews. It would clearly not be practical to have an interview panel comprising 13 people. The functions of the commission in relation to particular appointments would have to be carried out by a body other than the commission in its entirety. Paragraph 6.105 of the review says:

''nor do we believe it necessary that each individual panel should consist only of members of the Commission, although that may well be the case for the more senior appointments.''

The review also recommended that a selection panel should have one lay member and a member of the judiciary at the tier to which the appointment would be made.

As I said during the lengthy exchange with the right hon. Member for Upper Bann, the commission is independent and best placed to decide how it carries out its responsibilities most effectively within the parameters defined by the 2002 Act. With some appointments—for example, to specialist tribunals—the commission might want those making the selection to include someone with detailed knowledge of the tribunal. In those circumstances, it might be necessary to include on the selection panel someone other than a commission member. However, we would expect a different approach when selecting people for

appointment to the High Court and there would be a strong case for saying that only members of the commission should be involved. The Lord Chief Justice, who will chair the commission, has agreed that a committee of the commission—the assessment panel—will be established for High Court appointments. It will be chaired by the Lord Chief Justice or, if he is unavailable, a Lord Justice of Appeal, and will comprise at least two other members of the commission, including a lay member and another judge. Only members of the commission would be on the committee to select a High Court judge.