Terms and conditions of appointment

Part of Investigatory Powers Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 12:15 pm ar 28 Ebrill 2016.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Justice and Home Affairs) 12:15, 28 Ebrill 2016

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. Clause 195 deals with the terms and conditions of appointment for judicial commissioners, and amendments 745 and 746 address the term of the appointment. The Bill provides for the judicial commissioners to be appointed for short terms of three years, subject to a potential rolling renewal. The amendments would extend the length of term served to six years and remove the prospect of renewal. The thinking behind that is that secure judicial tenure is designed and recognised as one of the key safeguards of judicial independence.

The provision for the judicial commissioners to be appointed by the Prime Minister and for their terms to be short and subject to renewal only at the discretion of the Prime Minister could pose a significant barrier to the commissioners’ functional or apparent independence. Three years is a very short term, and a judicial commissioner wishing to extend his or her term may be influenced in their behaviour by a desire to please the current Administration. In saying that, I take fully on board the fact that an extremely distinguished English judge, Lord Judge, has said that that is unlikely to happen, but he cannot speak for other judges or the future, just as this Government cannot speak for future Governments. That is why judicial independence is so important.

We may feel complacent about judicial independence at present. I do not mean to be pejorative about the English system, but I like to think we have proper judicial independence in Scotland—as I said earlier, judges are appointed by Her Majesty the Queen on the recommendation of the First Minister after they have consulted the Lord President and after the Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland has made a recommendation. We have judicial independence under the current system in Scotland, but those judges are of course appointed for an indefinite term, until such time as they have to retire. Under the Bill, the plan is to have judges appointed by the Prime Minister. I have heard what the Government say, but without the further safeguards we have just been discussing, judges will be appointed for very short periods of three years, at which time their renewal will come up. If the amendments are made, the term of appointment will be six years, which is probably quite long enough to be doing this sort of important and taxing work, and there will be no renewal thereafter.

The six-year terms would allow the commissioners to develop their expertise and avoid any concerns about stagnation. Importantly, six-year terms would ensure that the judicial commissioners’ tenure does not undermine their crucial independence from the Government, and the perception of their independence from the Government and from the officers, agencies and public bodies they are monitoring.