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Schedule 2

Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:30 am on 15th March 2007.

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Judges and other members of the First-tier Tribunal

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Shadow Minister (Justice)

I beg to move amendment No. 5, in schedule 2, page 118, line 20, at end insert ‘or’.

Photo of Joan Humble Joan Humble Labour, Blackpool North and Fleetwood

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 6, in schedule 2, page 118, line 22, leave out from ‘standing’ to end of line 25.

No. 8, in schedule 3, page 122, line 18, at end insert ‘or’.

No. 9, in schedule 3, page 122, line 20, leave out from ‘standing’ to end of line 23.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Shadow Minister (Justice) 9:45 am, 15th March 2007

We are looking at paragraph 1(2) of schedule 2 and the power to appoint judges of first-tier tribunals. This is a probing amendment. Would the Minister tell us the meaning of this sub-paragraph:

“A person is eligible for appointment under sub-paragraph (1) only if the person...(d) in the Lord Chancellor’s opinion, has gained experience in law which makes the person as suitable for appointment as if the person satisfied any of paragraphs (a)to (c).”

Paragraph 1(2)(a) to (c) refers to people with legal qualifications. What kind of influence will the Lord Chancellor bring to bear on his decision under that provision? What kind of legal experience would make that person suitable for an appointment? Of course, the Lord Chancellor’s views in this regard will not appear to be totally subjective. I would be grateful if the Minister filled the Committee in on what sort of considerations the Lord Chancellor will have.

Will the Minister comment on whether that provision runs counter to the philosophy in the Constitutional Reform Act 2005? Have Ministers had discussions with Baroness Prashar, who has done a superb job with the Judicial Appointments Commission? Has she had any   input into the thinking behind how those appointments are going to be made, particularly for those people who do not have a legal background but who may have a great deal to offer? We do not want to preclude them being appointed but we would like some more detailed information. Therefore, it is a probing amendment.

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs

We are talking not about appointments but about widening the pool of eligibility. The provision does not run counter to the separation of powers or the principles of the Constitutional Reform Act. If we accepted the amendments, which we will not do, we would limit the Lord Chancellor’s power to extend eligibility for judicial office, and limit the ability to appoint someone who has the necessary skills and knowledge but who does not have a professional UK qualification.

The hon. Gentleman asked me what sort of person that might be. It is most likely to be a legal academic or someone qualified in Europe or in a Commonwealth jurisdiction. In a different statute, these provisions have already enabled a small number of appointments to the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal and to the Mental Health Review Tribunal, which already have these eligibility requirements in place. We see no reason why they should not be extended to the new first-tier and upper tribunals in recognition of the specialised fields in which those tribunals operate. Having particular skills or experience in a specialised area can be invaluable to the operation of the tribunal.

As I said, it is important to remember that the extension of eligibility is being proposed, not suitability. All applicants will continue to have to meet the rigorous assessment and the demanding criteria set by Baroness Prashar, and I join the hon. Gentleman in praising her and lauding her highly. Rigorous criteria are set, which will be applied. Merit and merit only will be the criteria on any recommendation for appointment. I hope that he is reassured and that he will be able to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Shadow Minister (Justice)

The Minister has a very reassuring manner and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 2 agreed to.