Terms and conditions of appointment

Part of Investigatory Powers Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:30 pm on 28 April 2016.

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Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Justice and Home Affairs) 12:30, 28 April 2016

I hear what the hon. Lady is saying. Initially, I thought she was going to suggest that it would be for judges who were at the end of their judicial careers and would be coming up against retirement anyway. Her point gives me a difficultly with the six-year amendment, but not with the non-renewal amendment. If judicial commissioners are appointed only for three years with a renewal at the end, my fear pertains in so far as they would be there for a very short period of time. They would probably be anxious to stay on for longer, and could well tailor their decision making to guarantee a longer stay. That may not be a concern at present, as I have taken trouble to say, but that does not mean that it could not be a concern for the future.

The oversight of some of the most intrusive and far-reaching powers of the state is important work. Therefore, in tailoring the provisions for the appointment of the judges, we should look not so much to what might be convenient for judges, but to what is necessary to secure proper independence in the eyes of the public. That is about as much as I can say about amendments 745 and 746.

I am pleased to say that amendments 860 and 861 were suggested to the Scottish National party by the Law Society of Scotland, and we have decided to table them because we think they would improve the Bill. They deal with the circumstances in which a judicial commissioner may be removed from office. At present, clause 195 allows for the removal of a judicial commissioner who is bankrupt, disqualified as a company director or convicted of an offence. The clause does not permit the removal of the commissioner for being unfit by reason of inability, neglect of duty or misbehaviour. It is important, in the eyes of the Law Society of Scotland—I endorse its views—that the possibilities of unfitness for office by reason of inability, neglect of duty or misbehaviour are provided for in the Bill.

Very regrettably, it sometimes happens in Scotland—this has happened in my lifetime—that a judge, albeit of the lower courts, has to be removed for reasons of inability, neglect of duty or misbehaviour. I realise that we are dealing with judges at the very senior end of the spectrum, and I very much hope that such steps would never be necessary, but there is no harm in providing for such steps to be taken. Would it not be a very serious matter if a judicial commissioner dealing with the oversight of such far-reaching and intrusive laws were unfit for office by reason of his or her inability, neglect of duty or misbehaviour? We would want to be rid of them, in the best interests of everybody. I commend that aspect of the Law Society of Scotland’s amendments.

If amendment 861 were made, before removing a judicial commissioner the Prime Minister would be required to consult the Lord Chief Justice in England and Wales, the Lord President of the Court of Session in Scotland, the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, the Scottish Ministers and the First Minister and Deputy First Minister in Northern Ireland. That additional safeguard of consultation with the heads of the UK jurisdictional judiciaries and the devolved Administrations would provide a check on unjustified attempts to remove the judicial commissioner.

The purpose of the amendments is to prevent unjustified attempts to remove the judicial commissioners and to add grounds for their removal if they were unfit for office by reason of inability, neglect of duty or misbehaviour. I am interested to hear what the Solicitor General has to say about the amendments.