Clause 2 - Appointment and removal

Justice (Northern Ireland) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 12:45 pm ar 29 Ionawr 2002.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Derek Conway Derek Conway Ceidwadwyr, Old Bexley and Sidcup

With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 87, in page 2, line 9, at end insert:

'( ) No order under subsection (2)(a) may add an office listed under subsection (1)(a).'

No. 88, in schedule 1, page 70, line 4, leave out:

'judge of the High Court.'

No. 128, in clause 5, page 4, line 4, after 'judicial offices', insert:

'or the office of Judge of the High Court'.

No. 135, in clause 6, page 5, line 31, leave out subsection (10).

No. 136, in clause 7, page 6, line 6, leave out subsection (7).

Photo of Sylvia Hermon Sylvia Hermon Shadow Spokesperson (Women), Shadow Spokesperson (Trade and Industry), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I apologise for a typing error in amendment No. 86: ''or'' should read ''and''.

The amendments relate to the classification of members of the judiciary. The purpose of amendment No. 86 is to approve High Court judges. The number

of judges in Northern Ireland is small compared with the rest of the United Kingdom. We have seven such judges. In the amended clause, High Court judges would be listed and considered with the office of the Lord Chief Justice, and the Lords Justices of Appeal, of which Northern Ireland has three. In clause 2(1)(a) and (b), the offices of the Lord Chief Justice and the Lord Justice of Appeal stand on their own. The offices of the other judicial members are listed in schedule 1. For ease of reference, schedule 1 is on page 70 of the Bill. It is proposed that High Court judges are listed with county court judges and members of the mental health tribunal, but I believe that they should be considered with the Lord Chief Justice and the Lords Justices of Appeal.

Amendments Nos. 88 and 128 are simply paving amendments that are necessitated by my proposed change to clause 2. I want the Minister to consider the reclassification of the High Court judges because of the implications for their appointment and, more importantly, for their removal. The procedure in clause 6(10) does not apply to High Court judges. Instead, High Court judges can be removed under clause 7(2)

''by the First Minister and deputy First Minister, acting jointly.''

Amendments Nos. 135 and 136 seek to delete the reference to the removal of High Court judges in those two clauses. The only way that High Court judges could be listed in clause 2 with the Lord Chief Justice and the Lords Justices of Appeal would be under clause 2(2), which states that the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, acting jointly, may by order add or omit an office to those mentioned in schedule 1. The amendment would provide that clarification, so it is an easy amendment to accept. The seven High Court judges—not a great number—should be classified with the other senior judicial appointments of the Lord Chief Justice and the Lords Justices of Appeal.

Photo of Lembit Öpik Lembit Öpik Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Sir Drefaldwyn

Having listened to the hon. Lady, it seems clear that she and her party are attempting to codify High Court judges in a different way than originally suggested in the Bill. Her rationale convinces me that the proposal is sensible and I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say about it.

Photo of Des Browne Des Browne Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Northern Ireland Office, Parliamentary Secretary (Northern Ireland Office)

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for explaining the amendments to the Committee. I shall endeavour to deal with them in the same order and clarify the Government's position. My interpretation of the amendments generally suggests an inherent inconsistency. If it is accidental, the Government will have the opportunity to instruct Parliamentary Counsel on drafting. Words sometimes creep in. I shall attempt to summarise the hon. Lady's argument and the Government's response. I hope that she will make it clear if she believes that I have misunderstood her.

Amendments Nos. 86 and 88 are designed to include High Court judges within the procedures for appointment to senior judicial office and to remove them from the remit of the Judicial Appointments Commission. If the amendments were accepted, the

Judicial Appointments Commission would have no power to recommend appointments at High Court level.

Amendment No. 128, however, would do the exact opposite. It would require all appointees to the High Court to be recommended by the commission, which is what the Bill provides. If I am wrong, the hon. Lady will point it out, but that seems to be the effect of the amendment. It is important to understand the historical context. Under Stormont, the appointment of High Court judges was reserved to Westminster, and the hon. Lady wants to retain the distinction. Whatever the arguments in the past, we are confident that the structures proposed in the Bill and by the review will prove strong enough to bear the devolution of appointments at this higher level.

Significantly in the UK context, the review's recommendations are exactly in line with what takes place in Scotland, where appointments to the equivalent level are devolved. The hon. Lady will be aware that a Judicial Appointments Commission is currently being appointed, although in a different fashion from what is proposed in the Bill. The Scottish context is similar, and there is merit in consistency with

respect to devolved Administrations. I well know that Scotland is not Northern Ireland because I have travelled between them on more than one occasion. The Government also see merit in consistency within the United Kingdom context in respect of responsibility for appointments.

Amendment No. 87 would prevent the First Minister and Deputy First Minister from using their order-making power under clause 2(2) to bring the offices of Lord Chief Justice and Lord Justice of Appeal into the remit of the Judicial Appointments Commission. The amendment is probably unnecessary. The review made it clear that it was not policy to extend devolution to those posts. Any order under clause 2 would require a cross-community vote under clause 82(2)(a), and require the agreement of the Lord Chief Justice. Surely those are safeguards enough for protecting the policies expressed in the review and accepted by the Government.

The hon. Lady expressed the theoretical possibility of an order—

It being One o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at half-past Four o'clock.