Clause 2 - Appointment and removal

Part of 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 Des Browne Des Browne Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Northern Ireland Office, Parliamentary Secretary (Northern Ireland Office) 12:45, 29 Ionawr 2002

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.