Terms and conditions of appointment

Part of Investigatory Powers Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 12:30 pm ar 28 Ebrill 2016.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Solicitor-General 12:30, 28 Ebrill 2016

Once again, the hon and learned Lady puts her argument succinctly and clearly. I am sure she will forgive me for characterising her as a guardian of independence of the judiciary. Although that is an admirable position to take, I do not think it is necessary in this instance.

I will deal first with the length of appointment. My hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle put it very well and I do not need to improve upon the argument. We need a relatively significant term—three years—to attract serving High Court judges, but not a term of such length that it would be difficult for them to return to High Court work in the normal course of events. That is why we think three years is an appropriate period. For retired High Court judges, we have to remember the constraints that we are under. A three-year period, with that renewal term, strikes the correct balance. The renewal term is there because this will be technical role, and knowledge and expertise will be developed by the commissioners. Allowing a reappointment will retain that expertise in a balanced and fair way. A six-year period would just be too long, bearing in mind the quality that we want to attract to fill these important and sensitive posts.

I will deal with the question of unfitness. I am sympathetic to the intention behind the amendments, but it might be argued that the proposed wording gave too much discretion to the Prime Minister to remove a commissioner. The conditions listed in clause 195 for removal from office are precisely the same as those for which a High Court judge can be removed from post. Since having held the position of a High Court judge is the qualification for office as a judicial commissioner, the reasons for removal from the two posts should be precisely the same. If a commissioner is demonstrably unfit to perform the role, he or she can still be removed from post if the Prime Minister and, importantly, both Houses of Parliament agree to the removal. That is an admirable check and balance, which deals with the point of competence and fitness to which the hon. and learned Lady quite properly points us.

On the need to consult the judiciary and others concerned in the appointment of commissioners before removing them, I do not think that is necessary because there are only two ways in which a commissioner could be removed from office: first, because the individual had failed to meet the standards expected of a High Court judge; and secondly, via the mechanism of Prime Minister and Parliament agreeing that that person is no longer fit. Those are adequate safeguards that stop the mischief of a commissioner being removed from post on the whim of the Prime Minister alone. I strongly reassure the hon. and learned Lady that there is absolutely no power for the Government—any Government—to remove a judicial commissioner just because they disagree with that commissioner’s views. I can say a Government would not do that, but I am able to go further and say that, on the basis of this framework, the Government simply cannot do that. That is absolutely right and fulfils the objectives that the hon. and learned Lady wishes to achieve through her amendment. On that basis, I urge her to withdraw it.