WEDNESDAY 23 JANUARY 2001
  
                               _________
  
                           Members present:
              Mr Gerald Howarth
              Mr Martin Linton
              Mr Humfrey Malins
              Mr Marsha Singh
              Mr Paul Stinchcombe
              Mr David Winnick
  
                               _________
  
  (In the absence of the Chairman, Mr David Winnick was called to the Chair)
  
                 THE RT HON LORD IRVINE OF LAIRG, QC, a Member of the House of Lords,
           attending by leave of that House, Lord Chancellor, and SIR HAYDEN
           PHILLIPS, KCB, Permanent Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department,
           examined.
  
  
                              Mr Winnick
        1.    Lord Chancellor, Sir Hayden, good morning and thank you very much
  for coming along, we are always pleased to see you both.  Apologies from the
  Chair of the Committee.  Unfortunately, Robin Corbett has not been able to
  come along today due to illness and he had been looking forward to chairing
  this session for a great while.  I understand, Lord Irvine, that you want to
  make a statement.  We have had a paper circulated.  Could I just ask insofar
  as it is possible if you could make it as briefly as possible.
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Chairman, I am content not to make it at
  all if you just wish to read it.  The purpose of it was simply to draw to your
  attention important issues that are in prospect but may not yet have gone on
  to your radar because naturally you will be more concerned with contemporary
  and current issues.  What I really wanted to point out is that we will be
  receiving two major reports shortly both of which I think will be of very
  great interest to this Committee.  The first you probably know a certain
  amount about, the second not much is known about.  Lord Justice Auld is
  conducting the first ever review of the criminal courts system from end to
  end.  It was clear from his published interim report which he put on the
  Internet in October that he had in mind very radical changes.  Things he was
  looking at include: a unified criminal court with common rules of evidence and
  procedure; a reassessment of the level of trial required for charges of
  varying seriousness; a thorough going analysis of the jury system; the
  codification (a very large project) of the whole of criminal law; and an
  assessment of the law of evidence to ensure that there was a fair balance
  between the interests of the prosecution, the defence and victims.  The
  second, which I think very much less is known about, is a report from a
  retired Court of Appeal Judge Sir Andrew Leggatt on administrative justice and
  this is on the vast array of administrative tribunals.  Tribunals have not
  been examined thoroughly since Oliver Franks' Royal Commission in 1957.  The
  number has increased very substantially, it is now 91.  The workload is
  amazing and it is larger than the whole of the civil courts put together.  It
  includes employment, immigration, social security, education.  It handles
  about one million cases year and there are about 15,500 members and staff. 
  So it actually handles more business than the civil courts which handle about
  750,000 a year.  It is a disparate, diverse system which has grown like topsy
  in which responsibility for different tribunals is spread across a number of
  government departments and in which responsibility for appointments is divided
  between me for judicial members and other government Ministers for lay
  members, and that creates problems.  Staff also are capable of suffering from
  not working in a large unified organisation with greater career opportunities,
  and economies of scale in accommodation are obviously not capable of being
  realised because administrative justice is not unified.  I just thought I
  would flag that up for you because it is a big future issue.  I hope that by
  March I will be able to announce the appointment of the First Judicial
  Appointments Commissioner - and maybe you will want to ask me questions about
  it - and he will be entitled to investigate every appointment, every piece of
  paper, every assessment, every opinion, attend all or any interviews he
  chooses and attend the meetings that I have on appointments with the most
  senior judiciary.  Then on 1 April two new organisations come into effect: 
  CAFCASS, the Children and Family Courts Advisory and Support Service; and then
  the Public Guardianship Office, succeeding the PTO.  So both of these are big
  business and I wanted to flag them up.  I will say no more because I
  appreciate the purpose of my being here is to answer your questions.
        2.    Thank you very much, Lord Chancellor, and undoubtedly some of the
  matters which you have raised will be the subject of questioning.  Can I ask
  first regarding part II of the Family Law Act 1996, as I understand it, it was
  decided to drop the no-fault divorce changes.  That is the position, is it?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     The consequence certainly will be that
  the no-fault provisions will not be introduced.  The way I would prefer to put
  it, however, is that we took a decision not to implement part II of the Family
  Law Act because we believed that it would be ineffective.
        3.    It would be?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Ineffective to achieve its purposes.  A
  large part of its purpose was to try to give people information through
  information meetings about how to save their marriages and, on the other hand,
  about how to divorce if they wanted to divorce and therefore the information
  meetings were set up to achieve, if you like, two conflicting purposes.  But
  all the evidence was that it simply did not work and I can give you details
  about it if you wish.
        4.    No doubt you can circulate a paper to us if you wish.  The point
  that perhaps has been made arising from the decision is that the difficulty
  was over compulsory mediation and that element, compulsory mediation, was put
  in because, if you like to use the phrase, the anti-divorce lobby felt it was
  necessary.  Would you like to comment on that?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     It was not compulsory mediation, and
  mediation was never going to be compulsory, but you are right in the sense
  that it was hoped that the information meetings would result in more
  mediation.  The facts are, however, that information meetings generally came
  too late to save marriages and the evidence was they tended to tip into
  divorce those who were even uncertain about whether to divorce.  But on your
  specific point about mediation, only seven per cent of attendees went on to
  use mediation in the seven months following the information meeting compared
  to an expectation before the research that as many as 40 per cent of couples
  would be diverted into mediation.  In contrast, 55 per cent went to a
  solicitor in the same period.  The other thing I can say is, and I have
  already mentioned it, that there was consistent tension between presenting in
  one and the same meeting information about marriage saving and information
  about how to handle a divorce.  The other point that I think is quite
  interesting, again it is directly on your question on the promotion of
  mediation, only 42 per cent of attendees were in favour of mandatory meetings
  although attendees at these pilots were volunteers and not conscripts as they
  would be if part II had come into effect and mediation had become mandatory. 
  I think all the information that we as a Government derived from these
  information meetings is that they were pretty bitterly resented as the "nanny
  state" in action.
        5.    Could it not be said, Lord Chancellor, that however much it is
  unfortunate, it is a fact of life that when marriages break down the
  likelihood is, with all the bitterness that unfortunately accompanies a
  breakdown of the closest possible bond between two people after childhood,
  that the chance of mediation being successful was always a remote possibility? 
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     I think that is fair and the architects
  of part II obviously hoped otherwise.  It was a perfectly pious and
  responsible hope, but it simply has turned out the other way.  You might be
  interested, if I could just read to you something that one of the attendees
  wrote complaining about the rigid and impersonal structure of the meeting. 
  One of the attendees is quoted in the research as saying this: "I am very glad
  that I received the information pack but the meeting was an absolute disaster. 
  It was not what I was expecting.  Its time limit was strictly adhered to so
  there was no time for my own concerns.  I was not able to make any comments
  about my own situation.  The presenter told me, 'You have no idea the number
  of people who go away absolutely furious because their expectations have not
  been met.'  I thought, 'How can they do this to me when I am very vulnerable
  and could do with some help?'"  That is not a straw in the wind, there were
  many such responses.
        6.    Some of us have been through it.  Just as a matter of interest,
  I was reading only in the last fortnight Evelyn Waugh's novel, A Handful of
  Dust, which deals, as you may know, with divorce - a brilliant piece of
  writing - and it gives an indication in the 1930s of how difficult it was for
  a divorce to take place.  The next question that I would like to ask, if I
  may, is do you feel, Lord Chancellor, the decision of the Employment Tribunal
  last week vindicated your appointment of a special adviser?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     I have always abstained from commenting
  about this decision when it went against me in the Employment Tribunal and I
  think I should really continue to abstain from comment when it has gone in my
  favour.  The two applicants concerned got leave to appeal.  The case may well
  go to the Court of Appeal.  I think I would probably be very wise to say
  nothing.  But I do really think that there is a point of commonsense here
  which I hope will engage the sympathy of the Committee.  The relationship
  between any Cabinet Minister and his special adviser is really one of very
  considerable trust and confidence because of the access that that special
  adviser naturally has to the inner most workings of government, and that is
  true of special advisers generally.  And the view that before you appoint
  someone he or she must be someone whom you have known for a very long time or
  a substantial period of time and have trust and confidence in, I think does
  command sympathy and understanding and, indeed,  agreement by the overwhelming
  majority of people.  Beyond that I do not really want to say anything about
  the niceties of the case.
        7.    We will not press you on personalities and indeed I would be very
  reluctant if any member of this Committee does so, although I understand Mr
  Howarth wants to ask a question or two in a moment.  Leaving aside
  personalities, it is said that you were the first Lord Chancellor - perhaps
  this is not so -  to have a special adviser.  Is that the position? 
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     I believe that that is so, yes.
        8.    Why did you need a special adviser when your predecessors seem
  to have been able to get along without one?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     I am sure that it has been noticed by
  some people that I have got quite heavy burdens in government and during my
  Lord Chancellorship I have had responsibilities which have been given to me
  across a very broad area of policy.  In a sense I have been lucky because I
  think that if there had been a major programme of constitutional reform under
  any of the predecessor governments post-War of whatever political party, the
  probability is that the Lord Chancellor of the day would have been asked to
  chair the Cabinet committees concerned with the development of policy and, of
  course, everything that lies behind such Cabinet committees and seeking
  consensus within government.  But it was unique for me and I think that it
  therefore gave a greater breadth to the office and a greater political
  dimension which made it entirely appropriate to have a special adviser.
        9.    Did you work at all on the basis that senior Ministers, certainly
  in the previous government as well as the present one, have special advisers,
  and there is no controversy, as I understand it, about that and therefore you
  said, "With my burden of work" - which you have just mentioned to us - "there
  is no reason why I should not have one?"  Was that your reasoning?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     It was certainly not like that.  It was
  because I felt I could gain from the wisdom and experience of this particular
  special adviser in accepting important duties.
        10.      I said we would not discuss personalities, but when it came to
  the appointment you did not think it should be an open one?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     No, and no special adviser across
  Whitehall is appointed by means of an open competition.
        Mr Winnick: That is indeed so.  Mr Howarth?
        Mr Howarth: I am sorry to disappoint you but I would like to say I
  agree entirely with what you have said, Lord Chancellor, about the nature of
  the appointment.
        Mr Winnick: That does not necessarily mean that you are wrong! 
  
                              Mr Howarth
        11.      I did not interrupt you, Chairman!  It is one thing for a Lord
  Chancellor to have a special adviser but if it is accepted that he should, for
  the reasons you have given, have a special adviser, then it seems to me that
  that special adviser should be your appointment for all the reasons you have
  given.  Personally, and you may or may not comment as you wish, I think it is
  absolutely outrageous that some tribunal should try to second-guess your
  choice and your judgment for the very reasons you have given.  I do not know
  if you want to respond.  I would like to take you back to family issues if I
  may ---
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     I am not going to complain about an
  Employment Tribunal that chose to find against me.
        12.      But I think it is important in the wider debate to make the point
  that the relationship between a Minister and a special adviser is much like
  the relationship between a Member of Parliament and their researcher or
  secretary, and it is of a personal nature where there must be total trust
  otherwise you cannot do the job.
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     I can agree with all of that.
        13.      Lord Chancellor, I would like to go back to family policy, if I
  may, and take you slightly beyond the narrow issue of divorce to the debate
  which was initiated by Baroness Young in your House last week.  Can I put it
  to you that there clearly is, if not chaos, certainly complete inconsistency
  in the Government's view on marriage and family policy.  If I can put it to
  you, you said: "A loving marriage between two parties of the opposite sex
  provides, for the overwhelming majority in our country, the best assurance of
  a happy personal life and provides the surest foundation upon which to raise
  a successful family", words which effectively mirror the Government document
  Supporting Families where the Government says: "We do share the belief of the
  majority of people that marriage provides the most reliable framework for
  raising children."  How do you square that with the remarks by the so-called
  Minister for Women, Tessa Jowell who said that: "Marriage could not be
  regarded as the best framework in which to bring up children, but simply as
  one of a series of equally valid alternative lifestyles." 
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     I am not going to comment on the way
  that Tessa Jowell chose to put it.  I certainly heard in that debate she had
  put it that way.  I have not read any account of what she said but I think it
  is so important in this area not to sermonise.  As I said in the debate,
  Christ himself never found words to condemn any loving relationship, he
  reserved his strongest language for the self-righteous, and I think we should
  not be self-righteous on this subject.
        14.      It is not a question of being self-righteous.  It is a question
  of the government having responsibility for framing laws in this country which
  do impinge on personal life and one has a choice, does one not, as to whether
  those laws will be based on the Christian code - and the marriage ceremony
  makes it absolutely clear that it is supposed to be a life-long commitment -
  and it just seems to me that you cannot simply dismiss Tessa Jowell's remarks
  by saying, "I have not read them."  I think you ought to read them because
  these views are sending out conflicting signals to the public.
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     I would not myself condemn any loving
  and stable relationship.  I have affirmed my own view that marriage is the
  best and securest basis for bringing up children, and that is my view.  If you
  want me to be even more direct about it, I regard marriage as best for me but
  I am not going to lecture others about what is best for them, and no matter
  how many different ways you put the question that is what I am going to say.
        15.      If you regard it, as Lord Chancellor of England, as being the
  best foundation, and that is what you have said and that is the Government's
  policy in the supporting documents, if you recognise that every single report
  that has been produced examining this issue has shown conclusively,
  incontrovertibly that marriage provides the best framework for bringing up
  children in terms of health, in terms of social well-being, in terms of crime,
  how can the Government sit on its hands when, frankly, we are descending into
  social disorder in this country, where by the year 2020 it has been suggested
  that less than half the population will be living in married households?  Is
  this not a recipe for disaster? 
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     I am not going to condemn the people who
  choose to live together without marrying and provide stable homes for
  children.  So - I repeat - any form of this question that you ask me will
  receive the same answer, and that is that I regard marriage as best but I am
  not going to condemn those who choose a different lifestyle.  My Department
  provides funding of 4 million towards marriage support and we have increased
  these figures recently.  That is clear evidence of support for marriage, but
  I am not going to condemn people who choose an alternative mode of life.
        Mr Howarth: Can I just finish this point.
  
                              Mr Winnick
        16.      I am going to quote what the Lord Chancellor said on 17 January. 
  You quoted Nigel Evans, a front bench spokesperson ---
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     That was a spot of fun.
        17.      You did quote him in a pamphlet which he launched when he said,
  'Conservatives should therefore support: an equal age of consent, the
  abolition of Clause 28, and the right of Gay marriage.'
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     That is what I quoted and I asked
  Baroness Young if she could confirm (I think Nigel Evans is a Vice Chairman
  of the Conservative Party) that that was the Conservative position when she
  came to reply but she did not cover that.
  
                              Mr Howarth
        18.      Perhaps I could assist the Lord Chancellor.  It is my
  understanding that this somewhat eccentric view does not represent in any way
  official Conservative Party policy and I think the Lord Chancellor knows that
  perfectly well, as he was good enough to tell the Committee that he was having
  a spot of fun. 
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     I do think it does show, when dealing
  with someone as senior as Nigel Evans is, that on this subject the
  Conservative Party is a broad church.
        19.      Can I take you on because this is a serious issue, and I am not
  trying to score partisan points because I chair something called the Lords'
  and Commons' Family Protection Group, as you probably know, and I have a
  genuine concern, as do many people, particularly Christian groups in this
  country, that marriage is being undermined constantly.
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     I do not question your sincerity and I
  hope you are not questioning mine.
        20.      I am not questioning your sincerity, Lord Chancellor.  All I am
  saying is that your Party is in government and there is a clear confusion, in
  my view, as to what your policy is.  If I can take you back to the point you
  made about 4 million for Relate and other organisations seeking to protect
  marriage, can I draw attention to the report I chaired last September The Cost
  of Family Breakdown.  We have itemised and identified 15,000 million of
  identifiable costs attributable to marriage and family breakdown and we
  believe that the true figure is double that so, basically, Lord Chancellor,
  4 million is peanuts by comparison.
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Yes, but if the suggestion is that there
  is a correlation between the cost of marriage breaking down and the amount
  government pays for marriage counselling and marriage support, there is no
  correlation at all.  Marriages do break down, they break down to a distressing
  extent and, no doubt, there are costs associated with that but the co-relation
  does not exist.
        Mr Winnick: I think we must make some progress.  Marsha Singh wants
  to ask some questions on immigration appeal charges which has been the subject
  of some welcome change.  Mr Singh?
  
                               Mr Singh
        21.      Lord Chancellor, the principle underlying tribunals, I believe,
  is the principle of free access.  Why was it thought necessary to break that
  principle in the case of family visit appeals?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     First of all, and of course I speak on
  behalf of the Government, you do appreciate that the fees for family visa
  applications are set by the Home Office and not by the Lord Chancellor's
  Department.  There is a principle of full cost recovery which applies
  throughout the whole of the court system and throughout the whole of the
  judicial system and the figures that were originally fixed on a full cost
  recovery basis, I accept, looked very, very high.  They were 280 ---
        22.      Lord Chancellor, I will come onto that but I would like to pick
  up one point of principle.  You said the full recovery of cost principle
  applies across the justice system.  If I were to go to an employment tribunal,
  an immigration tribunal or a social security tribunal I would not be expected
  to pay a fee to get access to that tribunal, and yet you said --- 
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     I think the reason for this is that
  these were appeals against refusals to grant a visa administratively to a
  judicial tier, that is to say to the adjudicators, then to the immigration
  appeal authority and then, if necessary, by way of judicial review to the
  court, which are very intensive of judicial time and it was thought that they
  should attract fees on the same basis as court proceedings generally.  I take
  your point but that is the answer.
        23.      Would you agree with me that many people were disappointed in
  that although the Labour Party - my Party - made a commitment to restore
  visitor appeals, no mention was made at that point of any fees for such
  appeals?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     I have read the debate in the House of
  Commons where the Home Secretary was tasked about this, from behind as well
  as across the Chamber, and of course I recognise the depth of feeling and that
  is why there was a response, and from 280 on paper and 580 oral it is now
  50 paper and 125 oral.  That is a very, very significant reduction.  I
  appreciate that if you are opposed to any charge in principle this will not
  satisfy you, but this is a very major reduction, in response very
  substantially to pressure from the Government's own supporters.
        24.      One of the things that was heard on the grapevine was in fact
  that this was a cock-up between the Home Office and your Department in that
  no money was asked for from the Chancellor in order to cover the cost of this
  appeal system and consequently a fee had to be put in place to cover those
  costs.  Is there any truth in that?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     I certainly cannot confirm that, no.
        25.      Let us go on to the actual levels of fees.  I understand that
  originally the costs were proposed to be 280 for a paper appeal and 580 for
  an oral appeal.  What assumptions gave rise to that first assessment and what
  were the factors that later led to the reduced fees of 50 paper and 125
  oral? 
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     There was a lesser volume of this work
  than was anticipated.  An initial decision had been taken to set a fee.  That
  was a decision taken by the Home Office.  It was the Home Office's policy to
  allow an appeal both to an adjudicator and to the tribunal, that is the
  Immigration Appeal Authority.  That was what was driving the high fee levels. 
  A decision was taken, largely because of the reduction in volume of business
  (so that demands upon the resources of the system were not going to be as
  great as it was anticipated they would be) that the fees could be
  significantly lowered within the context of full cost recovery overall.
        26.      I would not at all like to comment on the intelligence of those
  who advise on the level of fees, Lord Chancellor, but surely it does not take
  an Einstein or a genius to figure out that if you put the fee at 500 (or
  originally 580) there is going to be a drop in anticipated take-up?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Yes, and it will be interesting to see
  if that point is made good by evidence and that there is an increase in the
  take-up, but these figures are now set and that is that.
        27.      Fine.  If there is no increase in take-up, is it proposed that
  your Department picks up the full cost of this appeal system?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     No.  As I say, by statute the
  responsibility for setting these fees is with the Home Office and not with my
  Department.
        28.      The point I am making is we have reduced appeals to 50 for paper
  and 125 for oral and if there is no increased take up of those appeals, the
  appeal system is still there, established, so who will pay the cost of that
  system given the principle of recovery of full cost to pay for it?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     My Department is responsible within its
  financial settlement to run all the judicial elements, that is to say the
  adjudicator level and the Immigration Appeal Authority level, for considering
  these appeals.
        29.      If there is no increased take-up you will continue to pay the
  costs for administering the system which has been established? 
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Yes, these fees have been set - I cannot
  say that they will never be altered but they have been set for the foreseeable
  future - and whether or not there is an increase in this volume of business
  should not affect that fee structure.  I cannot be clearer than that.
        30.      I understand that your Department, Lord Chancellor, charges the
  fee but if an applicant is successful the fee for the amount is refunded by
  the Home Office.  Is there any mechanism for your Department then to reimburse
  the Home Office for their reimbursing the applicant?
        (Sir Hayden Phillips)      May I explain my understanding of how
  this is operating.  One of the reasons why it is possible within a policy of
  full cost recovery to lower the fees is in the course of the refunding
  mechanism the Home Office judged that within its own budget it can afford to
  support us in this level of subsidy for the fee.  That is my understanding.
        31.      Is that support already built into their estimates or will they
  be cutting elsewhere in order to provide that support?
        (Sir Hayden Phillips)      As I understand it, it is already built
  into their estimates of the total costing operation for this particular area
  of work.
        Mr Singh:   I would just finally like to say, Chairman, that I do welcome
  the reduction in fees, Lord Chancellor.
        Mr Winnick: I am sure that is appreciated.  Mr Malins?
  
                               Mr Malins
        32.      Lord Chancellor, I welcome that reduction as well.  You may know
  that I founded the Immigration Advisory Service about eight years ago which
  does a great deal of work in this connection.  We were at the forefront of
  lobbying for these fees to come down.  Given that the preponderance of family
  appeals visits might relate to the Indian sub-Continent where there is extra
  poverty, the Immigration Appeals Service thinks there is a slight
  immigrational disadvantage for people on that sub-Continent in relation to
  appeals compared to elsewhere; what do you think? 
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     I think it is very difficult to assess
  the comparative means of people from various parts of the world who are
  applying for family visit visas.  I think that to designate parts of the world
  as very poor and other parts of the world as not so poor and to have some kind
  of sliding scale would probably cause more offence than relief, frankly.
        33.      I take your point.  Originally, did Jane Kennedy not say that she
  expected about 9,500 appeals per year?  My understanding is that the appeals
  that have been lodged so far are very, very few in number - very few.  Have
  you any figures on that or thoughts on that?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     I do not have them readily to hand, I do
  not recognise the figure that you quote from Jane Kennedy.  I can confirm that
  the volume of business is very much less than anticipated but at that level
  of detail I cannot help you at the moment.
        34.      It might be helpful to know what was expected by way of appeals
  and what we are getting and to link that up in a sense with fees charged or
  fees potentially to be charged and at the same time link up the issue of fewer
  appeals with lower fees and the question of whether we will get full recovery. 
  I think there is a little to be looked at that in this area.
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     I had not anticipated, and I apologise,
  questions at that level of detail on this issue.  I make no complaint at all
  and I will ensure that I will write to you with as much detail as I can
  achieve in a short space of time.  I entirely understand the worry.
  
                              Mr Winnick
        35.      You will have read the debate, of course, with the Home Secretary
  when he was asking for approval for the system of immigration appeals and the
  strength of feeling certainly on the Government benches.  The Home Secretary,
  as you know, towards the end of that debate said he would review the charges,
  which he has done.  Presumably you have read that debate and understand the
  strength of feeling?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Undoubtedly I read it at the time.  I
  cannot say I have a detailed recollection of it but I have a clear impression
  of it certainly.
        36.      Arising from that debate, as you know, the Home Secretary decided
  to review those charges, which he has done.
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     He did and we discussed it together and
  we took the view that this reduction was right.
        Mr Winnick: Mr Stinchcombe wants to ask you about the supervision of
  solicitors.  Can I remind colleagues that if they have any interest to declare
  obviously they must do so, as in the Chamber.  Mr Stinchcombe?
  
                            Mr Stinchcombe
        37.      Lord Irvine, I declare an interest, albeit as a member of a
  different strand of the profession to solicitors, having started 18 years ago
  in your chambers as a pupil.
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     I remember it well.
        38.      I thought you might.  You have expressed concerns previously, as
  have many others, about the capacity of the Office for the Supervision of
  Solicitors properly and effectively and efficiently to consider complaints
  made against solicitors and, indeed, have previously set targets that they
  determine a given percentage of complaints within three months and within five
  months, otherwise powers to appoint a Legal Services Complaints Commissioner
  might be invoked.  What is the latest figure you have about the percentage of
  complaints processed by the Office of Supervision of Solicitors in the three
  month and five month period?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     I want to walk quite a narrow road here
  because I do not want to demoralise in particular the new government of the
  Law Society, if I may put it that way, which is trying very, very hard to
  improve services at the OSS.  First of all, the Government accepts that the
  OSS has made real progress in 2000 and we are grateful for the strong
  commitments to improving service by the new President Michael Napier, and the
  last thing I want to do is to demoralise people when they are trying to
  improve and, with excessive threats.  But the core problem with complaints
  against solicitors is that complaints are still running at the rate of one
  complaint for every five lawyers per year to the OSS.  The basic point that
  I want to make is that the handling of complaints will only improve when a
  culture of client care pervades throughout the legal profession.  What I have
  really in mind, and I think perhaps I am using language that I used when I
  last appeared in front of you, the trouble with solicitors is that when they
  fall out with their client they treat the management of the client's complaint
  against them as if it was litigation by another means instead of trying to
  arrive at an understanding.  In the past year there has been an excessive
  focus in the OSS on reducing the numbers of backlog cases and there has not
  been a sufficient focus on improving the quality of the decisions.  To be
  fair, the OSS achieved the numbers target of reducing outstanding complaints
  down to 6,000 by 31 December 2000, so that is good news, but they failed on
  the quality target and they failed on the speed of processing new complaints. 
  David Lock, who is my junior Minister with delegated responsibility in this
  area, set out a range of targets for the OSS to achieve in 2001 and both the
  Government and the Law Society consider that they are tough but achievable
  targets.  I can tell you what they are but I think that would be excessive
  detail.  What we are doing is we are receiving monthly information from the
  OSS concerning progress and we will be looking at this very, very closely over
  the next six months.  So although there has been some improvement and one must
  give credit where it is due to this new administration, the jury is really out
  on whether the Law Society has the capacity to handle complaints against
  solicitors in the long term effectively.  If I were forced to generalise, I
  would say that the performance between July 1999 and December 2000 was overall
  disappointing but there is considerable evidence of improvement in the latter
  stages as well as a strong political commitment within the Law Society's
  current Presidency to improve complaints handling.  So there it is.  The Law
  Society has itself issued a consultation paper to its members.  Basically the
  purpose of the proposals in that consultation paper is to deal properly with
  many more cases, as it were, domestically, so that they do not get to the OSS,
  so that the OSS case load is less.  They are also proposing a Standards Board
  and a lay Commissioner for Complaints.  I welcome the introduction of a lay
  Commissioner - but I have to say that it has not happened yet.  They have
  proposed that there would be a Commissioner to head a service complaints
  redress scheme.  They have proposed there will be funding provided by the Law
  Society for a new Standards Directorate partly on the "polluter pays"
  principle, and an overall cultural shift towards a better customer focus.  I
  have to say that I am disappointed that decisions on these proposals were not
  taken by the Council of the Law Society at its last meeting, but I also
  understand that they have to consider a great deal of detail about how this
  will work in practice.  I am going use this opportunity of answering your
  question to say that I hope that these issues come back in front of the Law
  Society's Council with the least possible delay and that there is a positive
  outcome.
        39.      Has the OSS ever achieved a target set for it by your Department
  in 1999 to process 90 per cent of its complaints within three months and all
  of them within five months?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     No.
        40.      So it has not achieved the quantitative targets set for 1990 and
  you say ---
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Well, it did get its numbers target of
  reducing outstanding complaints down to 6,000 by 31 December 2000.  It did
  achieve that.
        41.      It achieved the target of reducing the number of outstanding
  complaints, the backlog.  It has not achieved the timescale targets within
  which new complaints are processed ---
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Standards have been set which they have
  accepted and really what one has got to look at now is the new targets and
  whether these new targets are achieved.  Let us take one illustration - and
  it is turn round times, you are absolutely right - if you take service and
  conduct cases, they should be aiming for determination of all service and
  conduct cases within a 12-month period but what we have agreed in the shorter
  term is 50 per cent within three months, 80 per cent within six months, 90 per
  cent within 12 months, and 100 per cent within 18 months.  Now these are the
  new targets.  One of the things that I will have to look at, enormously
  cursorily, having had this chance, is whether they deliver on these targets. 
  I do say that I am perfectly willing to consider more radical solutions. 
        42.      Those new targets you have just given, are they analogous, and
  therefore relaxations of the targets given in 1999, processing 90 per cent of
  complaints within three months and 100 per cent within five months?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)      I think they are, yes.
        43.      We have relaxed those targets that were there set and you have
  also told us that you are happy with the quality of the decisions.
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Yes, I have, yes.
        44.      Given that the Government has assumed for itself the power to
  appoint a Legal Services Complaints Commissioner, if the OSS fails to come up
  with the goods in terms of both quantity and quality, when will that power be
  invoked?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     I am not going to say obviously when it
  will be invoked but obviously the gravity of the situation which the Law
  Society finds itself in is very, very well known to us and self-regulation is
  a privilege, it is not a right. I think that self-regulation must be exercised
  in the interests of the public, not in the interests of the profession. I
  hesitate always to say that this is the Law Society's last chance, I hesitate
  to say that, but I do say that the gravity of the situation that faces them
  is very clear to the current leadership.  I do not wish to discourage it from
  the efforts that it is making to transform the attitude to customer care in
  the solicitors' profession. You are far better sticking with self-regulation,
  if you can, but at some point because Government's patience will run out.
        45.      But you do have a hope that under the current leadership those
  targets you set can be fulfilled?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Yes, of course.
  
                              Mr Winnick
        46.      If we move on to one or two questions on modernising the courts. 
  Lord Chancellor, what is the position at the moment over the possibility of
  some court cases being televised?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Well, what I would say about that is
  this: that you have to distinguish very, very closely between trials and in
  particular criminal trials and, let us say, appellate proceedings. There is,
  of course, a statutory ban on photographing or televising court proceedings.
  But I am sure that many in this room will remember the Louise Woodward trial
  in 1997, and I have to say that I expressed then a view - which I repeat to
  the Committee today - that I am hostile to the televising of trial proceedings
  in this country. Let me tell you why. There is a great, great risk that the
  behaviour and the judgment of the lawyers, the witnesses and, indeed, the jury
  itself might be affected by the knowledge that these parties are participating
  in a live media event. Even more serious than that is the risk that the
  witnesses, particularly in criminal cases, might be influenced in the evidence
  that they give, or find themselves subject within their own communities to
  undue pressure as a consequence of live coverage. Indeed, I go further, that
  televising criminal trial proceedings would risk the post-trial punishment of
  witnesses and perhaps also their intimidation in future cases. You can take
  it that is the position of the Government in relation to trials, and in
  particular criminal trials. Now as far as appellate proceedings go, if I felt
  that there was any interest or demand for it, certainly I would be willing to
  consult with the higher judiciary on the feasibility, on a pilot basis, of
  televising appellate proceedings of particular public interest so that the
  public could be better informed about the nature of the judicial process. We
  can think of many cases recently where there would be a very valuable
  educative effect potentially in that, for example the Siamese twins case, for
  example perhaps even the Pinochet case.
        47.      I was going to mention that one.
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Yes. Now then I think if that proposal
  was made, the pilot could not be broadcast because there is a statutory ban
  that would reach that but you could certainly pilot it and assess the quality
  of what the media did to see whether there would be any change. Now, of
  course, there would be some who would oppose that on the basis that it would
  be the thin end of the wedge and appellate proceedings would go first and that
  would feed an appetite for trial proceedings, but I hope that I have made it
  absolutely plain that a line in the sand has been firmly drawn as far as trial
  proceedings go.
        48.      You have made a very powerful argument and one which it would be
  difficult, I would imagine, to counter about criminal cases.  You mentioned
  the Pinochet case.  Without going to the merit or otherwise of the case
  itself, I listened to some of the proceedings in the Lords and I could not for
  the life of me see what harm would come, as far as justice was concerned, if
  it was televised.  So you are not closing the door by any means?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     No, certainly. I intended to indicate
  that.
        49.      Yes. Do you think that there is any possibility that, along the
  very limited lines that you have mentioned, we will see in the next five years
  such televising?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     I doubt it if one is talking about
  televising and broadcasting but certainly I have not closed my mind, if there
  is demand and a request for it, to piloting the televising of appellate
  proceedings. I have to say, although I may be proved wrong, it is a matter for
  the media really to say whether this is something that they would be
  interested in. I think the principal media appetite obviously would be for
  trials because of their dramatic quality but if I was satisfied that there was
  a demand, if I was satisfied that we could set up pilots in appropriate
  places, I would discuss it with the higher judiciary and I do not set my face
  against it.
        50.      Have the media actually approached you in any way to discuss it?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     No.
        51.      Not at all?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     No.
  
                            Mr Stinchcombe
        52.      Directly on this point. You have said that you have not set your
  face against certain kinds of televising of certain kinds of trial or
  appellate proceedings, at least. Obviously you are not going to promote it.
  You have said you will be willing to respond to media requests.
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Yes. It is not an issue that is very
  high on a crowded agenda for me but what I am making absolutely plain is that
  if there is a demand for it, and there is a responsible proposal, I would look
  at it very carefully.
        53.      That, therefore, would be, in some respects, an invitation to the
  media to approach you as to the kinds of proceedings, appellate proceedings,
  that they might wish to try and televise.  You can then consult upon it.
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     My door is always open.
        Mr Winnick: We see your special adviser.
  
                            Mr Stinchcombe
        54.      The appellate proceedings and those other proceedings which would
  involve pure points of law but would not necessarily involve witnesses might
  not be restricted to the very highest courts, the House of Lords and the Court
  of Appeal. 
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     No.
        55.      It might be below that. For example, the High Court Divisional
  level on a case from the magistrates.
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Yes. I used appellate proceedings
  because of their considerable public interest in particular cases but I could
  see that the same principle could apply to any case which simply involved
  legal argument, if you like, at whatever level between the judge and the
  lawyer in court. 
        56.      First instance judicial review.
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     For example, yes.
  
                               Mr Linton
        57.      Can I just say to start with, Lord Chancellor, you are being
  televised at the moment. I hope that is not influencing what you are saying.
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     I am sorry you reminded me of that
  because it has made me more self-conscious.
        58.      I am sure it does not. I just wanted to ask a question about
  information technology.  We have a list here of the various pilot projects in
  information technology, on e-mail, on video conferencing, on websites.  I am
  a little bit alarmed that the legal system finds it necessary to have a pilot
  project on the use of e-mail.  Are you worried that it might not catch on?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     I think it is always wise really to
  pilot anything that is new.  Since you cannot be doing everything all of the
  time, you want to be able to assess, I would have thought, wherever there is
  demand where the greatest demand is, it seems to me to make sense.
        59.      To have a pilot project on e-mail in one county court implies
  that all the other county courts do not have it or have it later. Is it not
  self-evident enough now that things like websites or video conferencing or e-
  mail are a part of normal business methods of any business that it could be
  introduced everywhere at the same time?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     It seems to me that there are a whole
  range of future possibilities arising out of IT. You can have virtual hearings
  where parties resolve their disputes online. You can have electronic case
  files where parties can file documents in court. You can have streamlined
  administration of small claims. There is a whole range of things, all of which
  are set out in our document Modernising the Civil Courts. I know that you can
  say "Well, it is pretty obvious that this one is going to work" but I do not,
  for myself, object to piloting to test demand. My instinct is, of course, to
  agree with you.  If it is good in one place you would infer that it would be
  good elsewhere.
        60.      Do you feel confident that the legal system is making rapid
  enough progress in using information technology?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     I think we are doing quite well. You
  would always wish that you could do better. I think we are making good
  progress, yes.
  
                               Mr Malins
        61.      Lord Chancellor, a couple of questions about courts. I should
  declare an interest, as you know, as a part-time member of the judiciary.
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Quite.
        62.      First on security.  I am sure you will have been as shocked as
  the rest of us to have read recently about the incident involving Judge Ann
  Goddard at the Old Bailey which highlights that there is a potential problem
  which will not go away and is going to be around.
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Yes.
        63.      I wondered if you had got any general thoughts arising out of
  that as to perhaps any way forward or any conclusions?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     I have a great deal of thoughts about
  it, as you might imagine. In fact, I spoke to Judge Goddard at her home on the
  evening of the quite deplorable attack on her. I would like to take the
  opportunity of this Committee to say how much she really is to be admired.
  
                              Mr Winnick
        64.      Hear! Hear!
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     She took a day off work, when many might
  have taken a lot longer, and was immediately back sitting as a judge. It was
  a very nasty attack on her indeed. Now the facts of the Judge Goddard attack
  I would not conceal from you are worrying.  In all courts the security of the
  prisoner in the dock is the responsibility of the Prison Service, you will
  appreciate, not the Court Service, for which I am responsible. Now there were
  three professional security guards in the dock, still the defendant escaped,
  still he succeeded in attacking the judge. It was a court clerk who pulled him
  off but not before injury had been done to the judge, closely followed by a
  detective constable who was in court. So, unsurprisingly, I have commissioned
  a departmental security inquiry which, among other things, will have to
  consider how these three security guards did not react successfully to the
  emergency. I am looking for, and will receive, a report within a matter of
  weeks.
  
                               Mr Malins
        65.      Thank you. Lastly, on courts, locality. It is quite topical.
  There is an increasing worry, is there not, that some courts in remote areas
  are being closed and people have to travel quite large distances now for
  access to civil and criminal justice?  Whilst we understand the financial
  constraints that can be a problem, can it not?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Oh, yes, obviously. 
        66.      I hope you are aware of that and have your finger on the pulse.
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Certainly. Of course you want courts
  that provide the totality of services that people require, whether they be
  victims, whether they be witnesses, whether they be women with children. You
  cannot always keep open the local court which people naturally have love and
  affection for because it has been there for a long time but I certainly
  recognise what you say. On the previous subject, we will really, I think, have
  to think very, very fundamentally about security in courts. There are about
  420 guards, they are not responsible for the dock but there are about 420
  guards in courts across the country, 160 in the crown court, 200 in the
  combined courts and 60 in the county courts.  We are aware that an increasing
  area of tension, quite obviously, is in the family hearing centres because of
  the sensitivity of the issues and the deep emotions that they give rise to.
  I am not ruling out anything here. One fundamental proposal that is around is
  that either the former routine uniform police presence should be reinstated
  or - and this would be a very long term venture - that a new uniform service
  should be established by the court service to provide security in courts. I
  have asked my officials, quite apart from a report into the incident on Judge
  Goddard, which I am not in the least surprised was the incident with which you
  started, to report within three months on the adequacy of the existing
  arrangements around the country and on the feasibility of more fundamental
  proposals. There is also, I would not conceal from you, a real problem in the
  district courts where district judges have to administer what is - I must not
  say summary civil justice because it is not summary in that sense - civil
  justice robustly and expeditiously and there you have to be concerned about
  the security of the district judges as well. I am very, very alive to it.
  
                              Mr Winnick
        67.      Perhaps it would be possible, Lord Chancellor, for either you or
  Sir Hayden to pass on to Judge Goddard our deep sympathy with what happened
  but, moreover, her dedication to her duties. It was indeed an example of a
  judge determined to carry on her responsibilities and duties regardless of
  what had occurred.  We much admired her for that. 
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     We will certainly pass that on.
        Mr Winnick: I am going to ask Mr Howarth to ask you a few questions
  on what might be somewhat more controversial, the Human Rights Act.
  
                              Mr Howarth
        68.      Lord Chancellor, the Human Rights Act, of course, has been in
  force now for just about three months, coming into force on 2 October last
  year.
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Yes.
        69.      I understand your Department has introduced arrangements to
  survey cases through data collection systems in the magistrates courts and the
  courts service to see how it is working. Inevitably you will not be able to
  give us a full report on the effect so far, but can you tell us whether you
  have learnt any lessons from this Act to date? In particular perhaps you can
  tell us about the expenditure of 60 million a year for the costs of
  implementing it, how that is working out?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Well, I do not recognise that figure at
  all. What has been set aside for Human Rights Act implementation is 21
  million for additional court time plus 39 million against the possibility of
  an increased Legal Aid bill, and that is where the 60 million comes from. I
  would say really quite frankly that the implementation of the Human Rights Act
  has proved to be a triumph and that all the press reports of chaos in the
  courts are completely misconceived and that, unsurprisingly, our courts, who
  have had two years to prepare for the implementation of the Human Rights Act,
  are dealing with the matter with remarkable efficiency. I am looking at a
  Financial Times editorial of 27 December in which they say - and I can confirm
  it by the amplus detail - "The Human Rights Act, which became law in October,
  was condemned by many who claimed it would create a legal nightmare - jamming
  the courts with worthless cases and rendering centuries old British traditions
  illegal. But such predictions have proved to be wide of the mark. Judges have
  shown a commendable willingness to throw out bad cases while expediting more
  serious claims".  Then tribute is paid to the smooth transition to the new
  rights based culture, which reflected careful preparation in Whitehall over
  a period of two years, training of all judges right down to every magistrate.
  The results have been excellent.  There is no chaos in the courts and I can
  give you chapter and verse for it if you wish.
        70.      Lord Chancellor, I am sure the Financial Times is daily reading
  in your household, I am not certain it is daily reading in every household in
  the country and I am not sure you would be well advised, therefore, to base
  your case on the editorial writers of the Financial Times.
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     What I would say to you, quite clearly,
  is that since what the Financial Times says is absolutely correct, and I know
  the full detail to back it up, on this occasion the Financial Times has been
  both objective and correct.
        71.      As you know, Lord Chancellor, the fact is that there are a great
  many people who believe that this law does represent a very substantial and,
  indeed, unacceptable shift in power from Parliament to the courts. I would
  like just to take up two points here, if I may.
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     I do not agree that many people think
  that at all. I think that the overwhelming body of opinion in this country,
  if it was ever to be tested on this single issue, would take the view that the
  human rights, which every country in Western Europe enjoys, and which are
  directly enforceable through the ordinary courts of every other major Western
  European country, should also be enjoyed by people in this country in their
  own courts without having to beat the lonely and expensive road to Strasbourg. 
  On the contrary, I believe that over time the Human Rights Act will prove to
  be a much appreciated and highly valued piece of legislation which this
  Government has passed. 
        72.      There are also a lot of people in this country who are rightly
  coming to the conclusion that this Government is an authoritarian government,
  that it has contempt for Parliament.  The Prime Minister, as you know, is
  seldom here and ---
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     That point does not, if I may say so,
  appear to relate to the previous point which was about the popularity or
  otherwise of the Human Rights Act.
        Mr Winnick: One at a time, please.  Let the Lord Chancellor respond,
  Mr Howarth, and then you can continue your questioning.
        Mr Howarth: I was finishing my point which is that this Human Rights
  Act in the view of many does represent a shift of power away from Parliament. 
  If I can cite one example ---
        Mr Winnick: No.  By way of a question, if you please, Mr Howarth, the
  same way that I would ask any other Member of this Committee, not a statement,
  by way of a question, please.
  
                              Mr Howarth
        73.      Chairman, I do not think I need instruction on how to ask a
  question of the Lord Chancellor.  May I put it to the Lord Chancellor that
  when the Lord Chief Justice stated in an article in The New Statesman - not
  known to be an impartial organ - that he thought it was wrong for the Home
  Secretary to have the power to determine the tariff for adult murderers and
  that if the matter came before the courts it was likely that that power would
  go, surely that is an example the Lord Chief Justice should not be seeking to
  make that sort of policy?  These are issues which should be determined by this
  democratically elected Parliament or certainly by the democratically elected
  House of Commons.
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Judges have always given public lectures
  and written articles which have been controversial. This is not the
  consequence of the Human Rights Act. The real issue is whether the Human
  Rights Act is good or bad. I have given you the reasons why I think it is
  good. Ultimately sovereignty remains with Parliament. We have not even had a
  declaration of incompatibility other than in the planning area under this Act.
  There will be precious few over time because our laws do generally conform
  with the European Convention. We were substantially the architects of it. Our
  laws are substantially compliant.  Of course, with any new system of
  legislation bad arguments are raised from time to time in the courts and they
  have been dealt with robustly by the higher courts. This will become part of
  the democratic furniture of this country which people will applaud.
        74.      May I just ask you a further question about a case which took
  place in Scotland where, of course, the Act has been in operation for, I
  think, two years longer than it has been here. You will know that there was
  a case there involving the Proceeds of Crime Act where drug traffickers had
  their assets seized, as Parliament had ruled should happen, and, indeed, that
  has been in force since 1986, and the Court of Criminal Appeal in Edinburgh
  ruled that confiscated assets of convicted drug traffickers breached European
  Human Rights law. May I put it to you, Lord Chancellor, people in this country
  generally see drugs as being a major problem and drug traffickers as being the
  most odious people that there are in this country. They find it astonishing
  -let me put it that way - that the courts should place the rights of the
  trafficker over the democratically determined view of Parliament.  Surely that
  is the way these issues should be judged?  Are we not going to see more cases
  like that which appeared in Scotland as the Act progresses in England?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     You seem to be unaware that in a similar
  case in England the Court of Appeal Criminal Division has ruled that the
  legislation concerning confiscation orders is not incompatible.  The case may
  or may not go to the House of Lords. I have to say that if you look at it over
  the whole sphere, if you look at it over, so far, confiscation orders, breach
  of bail, any of the range of cases that have come up, the courts are reacting
  sensibly and proportionately. Let me quote from Lord Bingham, the senior Law
  Lord, when addressing magistrates: "You will hear many arguments based on the
  Human Rights Act. Some of those arguments no doubt will be good, many will be
  bad. You must of course listen to the argument, take advice from your clerk
  and make up your own minds but I would, if I may, recommend a measure of
  suspicion.  Do not be too ready to accept that we have been doing everything
  wrong all these years.  As a society we have on the whole been very respectful
  of Human Rights, we developed many of them. We have taken steps since the Act
  was passed to rectify some obvious deficiencies.  So I would commend a measure
  of caution. If you conclude there is no breach, it will always be open to a
  higher court to review your decision and reach a different conclusion". I can
  tell you that you can take it that the senior judiciary from the senior Law
  Lord, the Lord Chief Justice, the Master of the Rolls, right down have all
  these considerations well in mind.
        75.      How would you react, Lord Chancellor, if the Countryside Alliance
  were to claim their rights to go hunting and not to be criminalised, as is the
  plan of the overwhelming number of members of your party, if they were to seek
  to exercise their human right and if the court upheld it was their right along
  with those of anglers and shooters?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     The Human Rights Act will apply to all
  future legislation of whatever character. If anyone invokes the Human Rights
  Act successfully then what they are doing is their right.  I have to remind
  you that the Human Rights Act was passed by Parliament. It is now part of the
  law of the land and people have their rights under the Human Rights Act until
  it is changed.
        76.      Of course there are a number of Acts passed by this Government
  which do not enjoy the wholehearted consent of Parliament, as you will
  appreciate, as many Acts passed by the Conservative Government did not enjoy
  the same unanimous support. Let me put this point to you further, Lord
  Chancellor.  The Prime Minister's wife who, you know, is a partner in a
  special firm of barristers set up specifically ---
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     She is a member of a set of chambers
  called Matrix Chambers.
        77.      --- in order to exploit the new body of law that is likely to
  come in, said in an article that it is not enough for public authorities to
  refrain from violating rights themselves, of course the other thing is we are
  looking at establishing an investigation into racism at the moment
  effectively.  What Martin Myers, the former President of the Law Society,
  pointed out - a very great man he is indeed - is one has to co-operate to
  investigate effectively.
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     I am not going to comment on a straight
  quote which I am quite unable to verify from Miss Booth ---
        78.      It was in The Daily Telegraph.
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     --- be it in The Daily Telegraph, a
  newspaper which I read avidly every day, or whatever, I am not going to
  comment on that, but of course there are people who practise in judicial
  review, as Miss Booth does, who will now be practising in the human rights'
  area as well. One of the most interesting things about the Human Rights Act,
  you know, is that it has scarcely generated any new cases. The prophets of
  doom who are progressively being proved wrong said there will be an enormous
  influx of new business into the courts and the courts will grind to a halt.
  In fact, the truth is that almost all the Human Rights Act points are being
  raised in existing cases so it is just an added dimension to an existing case
  and there is no evidence whatsoever of the courts being overwhelmed, on the
  contrary.
        79.      If I could just put it to you, Lord Chancellor, the jury is still
  out in the sense that I am sure you will accept this is a new development. I
  do not wish to challenge that point which has just been made.  Can I just come
  back to the figure you mentioned about the 39 million being set aside for
  Legal Aid.
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     I think that is the right figure. I said
  that off the top of my head.
        80.      That is the figure I have got, so we are not disputing it.
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     If you have it, it must be right.
        81.      Thank you, Lord Chancellor. I might put that in my election
  address. If I can ask you this question.  How do you see that figure squaring
  away now after three and a half months of operation of the Act?  Is it within
  budget or are you likely to have to revise it?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     It is absolutely impossible to predict.
  Since there is no evidence of any significant increase in the number of
  judicial reviews or of criminal appeals, since hardly any points, contrary to
  expectation, have been raised in the magistrates courts, although we trained
  the magistrates thoroughly to be able to deal with them, I am sanguine about
  the adequacy of these figures which have been preserved in the budget for this
  purpose.
        82.      Lord Chancellor, I hope you will not misinterpret it if I leave
  now. I have a constituency engagement, it is nothing to do with the answers
  you have given me.
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Not at all. Have a safe journey.
        Mr Winnick: You are not walking out in disgust.
        Mr Howarth: I am not Disgusted from Aldershot.  Not that I agree with
  much of what the Lord Chancellor has said.
  
                               Mr Malins
        83.      Lord Chancellor, I tend to agree with you that in our
  magistrates' courts and crown courts human rights points are not cropping up
  very much.
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Certainly.
        84.      I think that is the burden of what you are saying.  I think I
  rather agree with that. However, there is another area where I think they are
  cropping up quite a lot, immigration appeals. I think there is a much higher
  proportion of take up points on human rights in immigration appeals cases. 
  That is only anecdotal. Do you think that is likely and does that give you any
  cause for worry?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     It is perfectly possible that that may
  be so but I have no evidence of any significant trend in that area.
        85.      I have no evidence, it is just anecdotal.  It is not something
  which at the moment has caused you any concern?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     None at all.
        86.      About the efficacy of those hearings?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Certainly not.
        87.      It is something to perhaps bear in mind if problems come up.
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Yes. I think one very important point to
  remember is that the judiciary was thoroughly trained at every level for this.
        88.      I can confirm that.
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Which you will be able to confirm.  In
  many ways we learned from the experience of New Zealand because New Zealand
  passed its Human Rights Act and almost immediately implemented it. They had
  many more teething problems than we have had. In my view we have had virtually
  none. The reason is two fold, that the judges down to every magistrate were
  trained to respond sensibly to Human Rights Act points and trained in Human
  Rights jurisprudence, but also there was a massive exercise across the whole
  of Whitehall addressing really every rule, every principle, every practice,
  every procedure, to see that it was compatible.  So Whitehall at the same time
  did a great deal of preparation and preparation has, in my view, borne fruit.
  
                            Mr Stinchcombe
        89.      Just a few questions, Lord Irvine, following from those of my
  colleague, Mr Howarth. The Human Rights Act simply incorporated into domestic
  law the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights save for
  Article 13.
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Yes.
        90.      Before the incorporation into domestic law was that European
  Convention for the Protection of Human Rights capable of protecting British
  citizens if their rights were violated?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     You know as well as I do the various
  classes of case where the courts did have regard to the Convention pre
  incorporation.
        91.      As a matter of international law, was the Government bound to
  observe the requirements of the Convention prior to incorporation?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     We are signed up to the Strasbourg
  Court.  Our citizens have a right of access to that court. We have invariably,
  when the Strasbourg Court has ruled against us, changed the law, the domestic
  British law, to be compliant.  But all this is a thing of the past now
  because, much more sensibly, people can enforce the Human Rights in British
  courts.  How the Convention was indirectly enforceable before is history
  really.
        92.      Does that mean then, Lord Irvine, that the substantive rights
  have not changed, it is simply that they are now enforceable here quicker and
  cheaper?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Absolutely.  Exactly so. There will be
  more intensive enforcement of human rights in our own courts with greater
  access by our people to our own courts.
        93.      Rather than treading that lonely and expensive path to
  Strasbourg.
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Which could sometimes take five or six
  years.
        Mr Stinchcombe:            Right.
        Mr Winnick: We are going on now to the Public Trust Office and Mr
  Linton has one or two questions to put to you.
  
                               Mr Linton
        94.      I just want to ask you about the future of what I appreciate is
  a little known part of the Lord Chancellor's Department which is due to be
  abolished on April 1st and to be replaced by a new body. Can I first of all
  congratulate you on the modifications of your original proposals which you
  mentioned in your opening statement.  As I understand it there is a new name
  now, the Public Guardianship Office.
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Yes.
        95.      Which is a big improvement on the original proposal on the Mental
  Incapacity Support Unit.
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Yes. I am not proud of that. I am much
  prouder of the Public Guardianship Office.
        96.      Secondly, the accounts collection is not to be handed over to the
  Inland Revenue, which is a change for the good.  
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Yes.
        97.      The first one you mention there is going to maintain a visiting
  service. Do I understand that is what is currently known as the Receivership
  Division of the Public Trust Office?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     No, not as such.  We have recruited ten
  visitors bringing the total to 16 and we are on course to achieve 4,000 visits
  to clients by April 2001, double the number of visits made last year.
        98.      Very good. There are still one or two parts which seem a trifle
  unclear.  The Office is still due to be relocated but as far as I know it is
  not yet known exactly where or what the budget is for the relocation?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     I can tell you about that.  There is
  really a quite urgent need to find improved accommodation. Stewart House,
  where it is at present, is just not conducive to a modern working environment. 
  We did consider refurbishment.  We rejected it as not a viable option. The
  estimated costs were 20 million. The level of refurbishment involved would
  have caused a major disruption and a need to decamp to temporary premises and
  there is an urgent need to find here and now improved accommodation for the
  PTO. We looked at three possible areas. We looked at Milton Keynes, Greater
  London, Croydon. We took the view that Milton Keynes was too far removed from
  the London area, Croydon not sufficiently accessible and we selected Archway
  Tower.  Nothing is ideal but I think it is a good outcome.
        99.      Certainly I think it is preferable because, as I understand it,
  a lot of people have to come from all over the country to the Public Trust
  Office.
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Yes.
        100.     Its location in reasonably central London is a great
  advantage to the people who have to visit it.
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Yes.
        101.     Stewart House is to be sold, is it? It is quite a prime
  building.
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     During the course of this year.
        102.     Is it still on course to open as a new office on April 1st?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Yes.  Certainly the Act got Royal Assent
  a little bit later than we might have hoped but the position is it will start
  on 1st April.
        103.     Has there been any attempt to canvass the opinions of the
  actual users of the service, the clients of the Receivership Division, about
  how they feel about the changes?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     I believe, so I do not want this to be
  taken as gospel, I set out the proposals in the document Making Changes: the
  future of the PTO, which was published in April 2000.  The responses of the
  clients and stakeholders who had commented were summarised in that paper. So
  the answer is yes.
        (Sir Hayden Phillips)      Perhaps I can just add, Lord Chancellor. 
  This was one of the most extensive acts of consultation and involvement the
  Department has ever done with all those who were involved. It has been a very
  important way to go about it.
  
                              Mr Winnick
        104.     We are going to go on now, Lord Chancellor, to the
  appointment of judges and QCs. You have already told us you are going to have,
  I think it is called, the first Judicial Appointments Commissioner.
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Commission for Judicial Appointments
  actually.
        105.     That appointment will be in place no later than March.
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     We still aim to have the appointment
  made by March.
        106.     Then there will be other commissioners.
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Other commissioners, yes.
        107.     When are they likely to be appointed?
        (Sir Hayden Phillips)      We want to engage the new first
  Commissioner in the process.  This is why we are waiting for that. I suspect
  over the next six to nine months we will appoint the number the Lord
  Chancellor wants.
        108.     The Commission will be up and running by the end of the year?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     I would hope the Commissioner will be up
  and running earlier than that.  
        (Sir Hayden Phillips)      The Commissioner will be up and running
  and starting work. I would hope the Commission, if we can do it, will be up
  and running fully in the autumn.
        109.     Let us get it quite clear, Lord Chancellor, what the
  Commission will do. As I understand it, correct me if I am wrong, it will
  provide an ongoing monitoring of judicial appointments and act as an ombudsman
  for complaints.  It is not going to advise you - this is a question - on
  individual appointments?  Have I got that right?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     That is essentially right. May I make a
  qualification?
        110.     Please do.
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     It is essentially right. What the
  commissioners will do is they will attend all or any judicial appointment
  sifts that they choose. They can attend interviews to scrutinise the
  procedures applied and the fairness of it. I can also ask them to investigate
  any matter in the appointments process which I want to have examined but, more
  importantly to your question, and this is the slight qualification, is that
  complaints may be made by individuals, usually properly disappointed
  candidates, or by an organisation on their behalf, then the complaint would
  probably - it is not fully worked out yet - be allocated to one or more of the
  deputy commissioners for detailed investigation or the first Commissioner
  could handle it. In the course of investigating that complaint every single
  piece of paper, every note, every record, that is kept on that particular
  candidate will be open and made available to the Commissioner. Now if he found
  a complaint to be justified he would be entitled to say that the candidate be
  reconsidered automatically the next time that a vacancy arises. He could also
  amend or expunge any part of the record which he thought was unfair and unjust
  to the applicant in the future. If he thought that anything else should be
  done he could make a recommendation to me. It will be fantastically open. He
  will report to me annually and I will include ---
        111.     He?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     He or she, the first Commissioner.
        112.     There is a possibility it will be a she?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Certainly.  
        113.     I was not sure if you were using "he" in a general way or
  otherwise?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     No, no, the masculine includes the
  feminine and vice versa.  Whoever the first Commissioner is will be able to
  attend any meeting. If you take it at a high level, the succession planning
  meetings that I have on a regular basis to discuss very senior appointments
  with the heads of a division, he or she ---
        114.     He or she.
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     --- he or she can sit in and listen to
  the whole of the discussion. There is nothing whatever which is a closed book
  and he or she will publish an annual report and that will form part of my own
  Judicial Appointments Annual Report to Parliament.
        115.     You are going to make the appointment of the Commissioner?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Well, I will formally make the
  appointment but of course there is an open competition. There will be ---
        116.     Let us get this quite clear. You said there will be open
  competition.
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Yes.
        (Sir Hayden Phillips)      Could I just explain this?
        117.     It would be very useful.
        (Sir Hayden Phillips)      Indeed, today I can say that I am
  engaged in some of the interviews for the selection process. We openly
  advertised the post as well as using Executive Search headhunters to help us.
  We have a large number of applicants from all sorts of backgrounds and we are
  now settling down in the next week to conduct the interviews and we will then
  make recommendations to the Lord Chancellor.
        118.     Who will make the final appointment?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     I will make the final appointment.
        119.     This is quite a new departure, is it not?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     I think it is a major departure, yes.
        120.     What would you say to the argument that this is really a sort
  of sop?  Not necessarily my view, I want to make clear, I believe it is a
  serious new departure, I welcome it. What do you say to those who say it is
  a sort of sop to the alternative which at one stage the Labour Party was
  committed to and that was a fully independent Judicial Appointments
  Commission?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     First of all, it is not a sop. It is an
  expression of confidence in the fairness of the existing system which I think
  is of a quite remarkable character if you are willing to open up as complex
  and as detailed an appointments procedure as this to the most thorough
  scrutiny.  I think, Chairman, you implied that you accepted that because it
  is a very serious change.  Of course it is not the same as a Judicial
  Appointments Commission, that is true.  A Judicial Appointments Commission
  could be appointed, it could make the appointment or it could be advisory as
  to who should be appointed, but the point is that we have in this country a
  system where we wish to appoint people on the basis of merit only, the merit
  principle underpins everything that is done, and the new Commissioner for
  Judicial Appointments will be well able to say whether there is any principle
  other than merit which applies to these appointments.
        121.     Is there a possibility - it may not be within their remit -
  that the Commission recommends at some stage there should be a different form
  of appointment?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     I have always made it absolutely plain
  that I have not a closed mind on a Judicial Appointment.
        122.     You have not ruled it out?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Certainly I have not ruled it out, nor
  have I ruled out going out to consultation on it at some time. It is, of
  course, highly controversial because there are some who think - and I am not
  putting myself in any camp - the merit principle would be diminished by the
  compromises that would be implicit in an Appointments Commission and the
  seeking of something called representativeness as distinct from merit. Now I
  am not expressing any views on this. I made it absolutely plain, and I made
  it plain I believe to this Committee before and to other Committees of the
  House of Commons, that I have not in any sense ruled it out.  I think that
  public understanding will be much greater, the public will be much more fully
  informed about the quality of the existing system after the first Commissioner
  has reported for the first time.  
        123.     I am sure we all look forward to seeing how that actually
  works in practice. Lord Chancellor, there is a proposal, is there not, for an
  assessment centre whereby those going on the first step of the judicial ladder
  will be invited to come to a place to be interviewed and various tests will
  be made, is that correct?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     That is right. The Permanent Secretary
  probably knows more about the detail of this than I do but there is going to
  be a pilot later this year, I think at Deputy District Judge level, to test
  out the feasibility of an assessment centre, assessing judicial aptitude for
  judicial appointment.
        124.     Psychological tests as well?
        (Sir Hayden Phillips)      The process is now being designed and we
  will look at a variety of assessment centres which have worked in the past and
  see which ones we think best for the sort of job we are seeking.
        125.     The sort of test, interview by whom and what?
        (Sir Hayden Phillips)      There will be a mixture of interview.
  There will be some sorts, I am sure, of psychological or temperamental
  assessment.  There will probably be some actual work that has to be done in
  a sort of mock up situation and so on.
        126.     While this is a pilot, it is intended, I take it, Lord
  Chancellor, it should become a permanent feature of any first step judicial
  appointment?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Not necessarily, it depends upon the
  outcome.
        127.     What about those being promoted, one already on the judicial
  ladder who will be promoted to a more senior position?  Is it being suggested
  that perhaps in the future they should attend a one day assessment centre?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     There is no such suggestion.
        128.     No. You rule that out?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     No, but there is no such suggestion.
        129.     Before one of my colleagues asks about the appointment of
  silks, if we look at the table which has been circulated to us on judges and
  lay magistrates in post. I am looking at 1st April 1999 and 1st April 2000 if
  you have it.
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     You are looking at?
        130.     The table for judicial appointments, the annual report. 
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Thank you.
        131.     I am comparing the figures from April 1999 to April last
  year. When it comes to Lords of Appeal in Ordinary we remain, do we not, 12
  men, no women whites, blacks, Asians or others.
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Yes.
        132.     On Head of Division, including the Lord Chancellor, three
  men, one female, so there has been some progress here.
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Yes, 25 per cent.
        133.     Colour four, no blacks, Asians or others.  Lord Justices of
  Appeal, that has remained the same, has it not?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Well, no, not quite. I appointed ---
        134.     The figure I have April 2000, Lord Justices of Appeal, 34
  men, one female.
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Yes, well that is not up to date. I
  appointed Brenda Hale in October 1999 and Mary Arden in October 2000, so they
  are two lady Justices of Appeal appointed by me. If you include Elizabeth
  Butler-Sloss, the President of the Family Division, that is three women at
  appellate level. 
        135.     It does not change the position on colour, I assume.  High
  court judges, the next figure I have, 93 men, nine females, no blacks, Asians
  or others, correct?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     That is true, but can I just say this. 
  Things are changing now. In 1999 to 2000 I made seven appointments to the High
  Court bench, three out of seven were women.  Heather Hallett in April 1999,
  Gill Black in October 1999, Ann Raffetty in February 2000. Now I am not
  exuding complacency at that but these are good outcomes based on merit and you
  may also have noticed that recently Mrs Justice Janet Smith has been entrusted
  with a very great public inquiry, the Shipman Inquiry.  If I may say so, the
  comparison that is made between the proportions of women in the profession
  today and the proportion of women at senior judicial level is a false
  comparison. The reason is that you do not become a judge at that level until
  you have been a lawyer of over 20 years' experience and perhaps well over 20
  years' experience. If you take, for example, that as being the relevant pool
  then only 11.6 per cent of barristers and 9.8 per cent of solicitors of more
  than 20 years' standing are women and that is the relevant comparison. I have
  got no doubt that over the fullness of time on merit, and merit only, women
  will punch their weight equally with men. That is why I went out of my way to
  mention these names to you which are really significant progress.
        136.     You used the phrase "fullness of time", it is a question of
  how long it will be before there is any kind of equality of gender on the
  bench?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Unless the proposition is that we have
  an entirely different form of judiciary in our country, a judiciary which is
  drawn from highly experienced ranks of professional lawyers who have been in
  substantial practice for 20 to 25 years, unless you are going to change that,
  until the pools become equal as between the sexes of lawyers of that seniority
  you are going to have a disparity.
        137.     That applies to ethnic minorities?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Yes, it does.
        138.     We need not be too optimistic about substantial progress in
  the near future?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     I regard the progress that I mentioned
  to you, three out of seven of the appointments to the High Court bench in the
  last complete year have been women, and I hope that the Committee will regard
  that as an encouraging point ahead.
        139.     One also has to look at the overall position. Can I ask you
  as a layman the position over solicitors? Do I take it the solicitors are
  excluded necessarily from any of the most senior appointments?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Certainly not. I appointed the first
  solicitor to the High Court bench, Laurence Collins.
        140.     That was the first appointment of its kind?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     That was the first appointment. We do
  have solicitor High Court judges who started off as circuit judges and have
  been promoted to the High Court bench but Mr Justice Laurence Collins, who was
  appointed to the Chancery Division by me, was the first solicitor to be
  appointed to the High Court bench direct from the profession, yes.
        141.     Are we unique in this country in having a division between
  the two branches of the legal service?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     No. You have it up to a point in New
  Zealand and in Australia but the point is that it is not something which the
  Government as such has a policy on.  It is a question for the profession to
  decide how it wishes to organise itself. If I can respond. In 1990, when
  solicitors were given, by statute, the right to acquire higher court rights
  of audience - and it was absolutely correct that they should do so because it
  was a restrictive practice to disallow them - a very, very small proportion,
  I cannot remember the figure but I think there were about 80 or 90,000
  solicitors in the country - I will be corrected if I am wrong - probably
  nearer 90,000 and I think that the figure of solicitors who took up higher
  court rights of audience was only about 800 in all. Now, of course, I
  certainly do not think that advocacy skills are the sole skills which are
  required to be a good judge. I do not think that for a second. I just give you
  that fact to illustrate how comparatively rigid the divisions between the two
  professions are, even when bars are removed.
        Mr Winnick: I am going to ask Mr Stinchcombe if he will ask the next
  questions regarding the appointment of QCs.
  
                            Mr Stinchcombe
        142.     Lord Irvine, the Joint Working Party suggested, as I
  understand it, that the earnings of individuals applying for silk should be
  removed from the list of relevant considerations for appointments. That was
  a recommendation that you rejected, is that right?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Earnings are of very, very little
  importance. Let me put it in perspective and if there are any misperceptions
  about it then I will obviously make it my business to correct them. Size of
  income is a very, very rough guide to size of practice but it is only rough
  because there are certain categories of work which attract much more reward
  than others. I think that the Legal Aid work attracts much less reward.  Pro
  bono work attracts no reward at all. Certain categories of work, for example
  in the planning sphere, if you appear for a developer who is willing to pay
  high fees you get a lot more money than if you appear for a local authority
  which is not able to do the same. All these considerations are very, very well
  known to me and I would be very concerned if there was any notion around that
  people in order to heighten their opportunities for silk have to go for
  maximising their income.
        143.     I am obliged. These are issues that I covered with your
  colleague, Sir Hayden, last time. Given that, why do we, nonetheless, still
  continue to include the income in the list of answers that applicants have to
  give?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     I have difficulty in saying that it is
  irrelevant. For example, if you have got two practitioners who are practising
  in the same sphere of law with the same sort of portfolio of clients, which
  happens in many, many areas, then the income is a rough guide to size of
  practice but it is not something which I give any great weight to at all.  You
  could have somebody who wants, for the best of reasons, to devote a
  significant amount of time to pro bono work. You could have a lawyer who for
  very good reasons wants to take time out from practice to do a certain amount
  of teaching at a university or even do what solicitors do, but barristers very
  rarely do, take a sabbatical for a few months abroad. I can absolutely assure
  you that there is no significant adherence to a pecking order based on
  earnings.  
        144.     All of which is extremely welcome and extremely helpful. To
  what extent are those other possibilities - that a barrister or a solicitor
  has chosen to work for local authorities or public authorities where their
  earnings are perhaps less, or chosen to offer services pro bono to an action
  group or chosen to take a sabbatical or to go into academia - capable of being
  properly reflected in the applications?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     I think they are.  I think you have a
  good point here.  One does not want to give a false impression you see either.
  I think, as you recognise, it is all about perception and there are many false
  perceptions around across the world, if I may say so, which have no
  relationship to the reality at all. You do not want to compel people to do pro
  bono work to heighten their chances, that would not be right either, but what
  you do want, you do want to know if people are doing pro bono work because
  that will explain why they might have a lesser profile in the higher courts
  for argument sake.  I have a very, very open mind to improving this form in
  any way I can. I devote an enormous amount of personal attention and time to
  looking at these applications and any suggestion to me that there is anything
  about the form or the information that is unfair I would consider and if there
  are any misperceptions around it is my duty to try to dispel them.
        Mr Winnick: You may or may not be relieved, Lord Chancellor, to know
  that we are coming to the last series of questions on magistrates.  I am going
  to ask Mr Singh to ask you one or two questions.
  
                               Mr Singh
        145.     Thank you, Chairman.  Lord Chancellor, over the summer I was
  fortunate enough to spend some time with the chairman and representatives of
  the bench in Bradford and I was very impressed with their commitment and their
  dedication to their job and the experience that they obviously had.  They were
  quite openly concerned about their future as a lay magistracy and I would like
  to ask you whether you can allay their fears in terms of those concerns and
  if there are changes to be proposed, what the nature of those changes might
  be?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     First of all, let me say that there is
  no stronger advocate or supporter of the lay magistracy than I.  I have a
  very, very high regard for them.  It is true that there was a great amount of
  media speculation, I think it was at the time that you are referring to, which
  was suggesting that the days of the lay magistracy were numbered and that they
  were all going to be replaced by stipendiary magistrates.  There was no truth
  in it, there is no truth in it, if you consider this about the lay magistracy,
  that they are a first class example of quality citizenship in action.  They
  give their time for no reward, they reflect the community that they serve,
  there is great public confidence in them and they represent par excellence a
  principle of government which this Government promotes, which is the promotion
  of volunteering.  I feel very, very strongly about this.  There was a research
  report published recently which was jointly prepared under the aegis of the
  Home Office and my Department by Rod Morgan and it was called Judiciary in the
  Magistrates' Court.  Let me quote what I said on publication and let me quote
  what the Home Secretary said.  I said:  "The report concludes that eliminating
  or greatly diminishing the role of lay magistrates would not be widely
  understood or supported.  At no stage was it suggested to the researchers that
  in most respects the magistrates' courts do not work well or fail to command
  general confidence.  Lay magistrates represent civic engagement in the justice
  system and Government has no intention of removing that."  The Home Secretary
  said:  "The unpaid work of the lay magistracy is greatly valued by the
  Government and we are committed to ensuring that they continue to play a
  significant part in the criminal justice system."  So I hope the opportunity
  that you have given me in this question to repeat that gives it some currency
  in the media.
        146.     I am very glad to hear that, Lord Chancellor.  I think it
  would be a great shame if we did anything else.  Magistrates provide a direct
  link from the community into justice, they represent that community and in a
  way they are as near to being judged by your peers, apart from the jury
  system, as I think you can get.
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     I agree with that.  In our way our
  country allows a quite remarkable lay involvement in the system of justice. 
  You are quite right, the lay magistracy typify it, the jury typifies it, and
  I think our justice system is better for it.
        147.     One of the things the lay magistracy has been very good at it
  is reflecting local communities in terms of gender balance or ethnic balance.
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Yes.
        148.     In terms of ethnic balance I believe they are slightly ahead
  of the total representation of the population and 50 per cent of the lay
  magistracy are women.
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     That is correct.
        149.     In that sense, and we have been discussing the higher
  judicial appointments, they are doing extremely well.  However, the basic
  principle of what they represent was, and still is I believe, a political
  balance.
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Yes.
        150.     I understand that you believe that no longer should be the
  criterion on which we draw the magistrates, is that correct?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Successive Royal Commissions, but they
  are very old, down the century, the 20th Century, have regarded political
  balance as a proxy for social balance.  I took the view that how you vote is
  old-fashioned today and the notion that you come in a particular social
  category if you vote Labour, Conservative or vote Lib Dem is just not correct
  today.  I had a review consider at great length whether we could find some
  other criterion than political balance as a proxy for social balance.  I am
  sorry to say that they failed, they did not come up with anything, so we do
  continue to use political balance.  It does ensure in a sense that the bench
  is politically representative of the neighbourhood it serves, but I would
  agree that it is not a sure yardstick of social balance.  If anyone here can
  tell me what the sure defining test is, I will look at it with the very
  greatest of care.
        Mr Singh:   It causes me some concern because I believe that the
  membership of the Conservative Party is quite aged now. 
        Mr Malins:  Speak for yourself.
  
                               Mr Singh
        151.     Thank you for your answers.  I can tell my local bench that
  it is thumbs up from you?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Yes.
        Mr Singh:   Thank you.
        Mr Winnick: Lord Chancellor, I said that was the last of the series
  of questions but I understand, however, Mr Linton and possibly one other
  Member would like to ask briefly about access to justice.
        Mr Malins:  Nothing from me.
  
                               Mr Linton
        152.     A couple of questions on the Community Legal Service.  If the
  Community Legal Service is to have 100 per cent coverage, do you think there
  should be a statutory duty on local authorities to fund the law centres?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     We did look at it at the time that the
  Community Legal Service was set up.  We took the view that in order to
  establish the Community Legal Service concept and the Community Legal
  Partnerships, which are essentially partnerships, as you know, between local
  authorities, between advice services, between lawyers, that we should proceed
  voluntarily.  It has been such a huge success.  CLS Partnerships now cover 74
  per cent of the population of England and Wales, substantially ahead of my
  expectation at the time we embarked on the venture.  Therefore, if funding
  problems do not emerge, if the local authorities, as they are doing up and
  down the country, continue to support these voluntary bodies which are working
  so well, then I would leave it there but, of course, nothing is excluded. 
  This is, in fact, a very good news story, the Community Legal Service.
        153.     My local authority does not fund law centres and I do not
  think ever will unless it is made compulsory.  One of the purposes of this
  reform was to refocus spending on social welfare law.
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Yes.
        154.     I do not know how that fits in with the reduction of, I
  think, 124 million in spending that is in your budget.  How does that square
  with a refocusing onto social welfare law?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     The Legal Aid budget is broadly
  consistent over time, it is 1.6 billion a year or thereabouts.
        155.     But I am talking about the Community Legal Service's budget
  which goes down from 810 million to 686 million in 2003.  I am sure I am
  quoting the figures from your annual report.
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Let me tell you what I understand to be
  the position.  This year expenditure on the Community Legal Service will be
  around 780 million.  That is despite a base line of 623 million, so it is up
  on the base line.  Average annual expenditure over the next three years will
  be 710 million.  That, again, is a substantial increase over this year's base
  line but less than this year's annual expenditure, that is the point.  The
  fact is that we have made savings from the fact that most personal injury
  cases, which represent about 50 million per annum, are now financed by the
  private sector and, therefore, I have got no anxiety about these funding
  triggers at all.  It is true that headline expenditure over each of the three
  years will be a bit less than this year's expenditure but above base line.
        156.     Just to avoid confusion, I have no problem with the personal
  injury cases, I just thought that the idea was to refocus, in other words to
  shift spending away from personal injury towards social welfare law.  There
  is a lot of very good work done by law centres certainly in my area which
  could do with greater funding.  Is that the intention?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Of course, the money is now much better
  targeted on priority need, on the most deserving cases, which are social
  welfare, mental health, housing, domestic violence.  The legal help budget is
  going to be fixed at 236 million over the next three years, which is an
  increase of 35 million per annum.  I am not troubled by these figures.
        157.     One last point on this: in Scotland they now have Legal Aid
  for employment tribunals, is there any thought now that the new system is
  bedding in to extend Legal Aid to tribunals?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Thought has obviously been given to this
  subject in terms of the Human Rights Act apart from anything else.  I have to
  say that the Government has no present plans to extend Legal Aid to employment
  tribunals.  One of the problems about employment tribunals - it depends what
  way you look at it, of course - is that there is a no cost rule in employment
  tribunals.  There is a cost rule in personal injury cases.  The cost is that
  the cost follows the event and in a personal injury case, and this is what has
  aided the acceptance and progress of conditional fee agreements, if you win
  you recover the uplift and you recover the insurance premium from the
  defendant who, after all, did inflict the injury on you in the first place. 
  I think one thing that we do have to look at is whether the absence of a cost
  rule in the employment tribunals makes sense today when the compensation that
  can be recovered is so much more than it was before.  The reason for not
  having a cost rule traditionally was that poor people would be deterred from
  bringing a case to an employment tribunal by the risk of being liable for the
  employer's costs if they lost.  Whether that reasoning holds good today is
  something that does deserve progressive thought, I think.
  
                              Mr Winnick
        158.     I wonder if I could leave you on this particular point, Lord
  Chancellor, with the feelings of the National Association of CABs who have a
  number of concerns.  I think you would agree, would you not, that the CABs
  perform a very, very important service up and down the country?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Absolutely, yes, 100 per cent.
        159.     Of course, they were the ones who originally expressed
  concern over the fees for immigration and visitors' appeals, which we have
  already gone through.
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     Sure.
        160.     Have you been asked by the National Association for them to
  have a meeting with you where they can put their concerns face to face?
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     No, but my door is open.  I would be
  delighted to meet NACAB.  I visit CABs quite frequently and I would be
  delighted to meet them. 
        161.     We will no doubt pass that on, it is minuted as such.  Lord
  Chancellor, can I take this opportunity of thanking you very much, together
  with Sir Hayden, for coming along.  It has been a session of interest,
  somewhat controversial on occasions, but I hope from your viewpoint as well
  as ours it has been a very fruitful exchange.  Thank you very much indeed.
        (Lord Irvine of Lairg)     It has been very valuable, thank you
  very much.