|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Smith of Clifton: My Lords, I am somewhat depressed by the denigration of the contribution of the lay element to appointments. I always listen to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, with great respect, but we should not be seduced by his mellifluous articulation of his points. His words smack heavily, as they have done before, of those of an eloquent shop steward for the legal trade union. There is no question that the balance that we have is the right one. Undoubtedly, the lay members will listen most assiduously to what the legal and judicial representatives say. However, selecting on the basis of integrity, knowledge, independence and all the other criteria referred to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, is not the preserve of the legal profession. Many of us feel that we can discriminate between those who possess them and those who do not. The noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, to some extent, and, in his most mellifluous way, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, have rather over-egged the pudding in making their point.
The 2002 Act reflected Recommendation 78 of the Criminal Justice Review which sought to have a careful balance in terms of the commission's membership. Indeed, as I made clear in Committee, out of a total of 13 commission members, eight will have knowledge of the law, legal processes and legal systems. I sought to say that there would be eight members of a commission of 13 who would either be judicial or legal professionals. It may well have been slightly condensed in the process of transmogrification. However, the point I was making was that there were eight people who were either acting as judges or who were professional lawyers.
Furthermore, the chairman of the Judicial Appointments Commission is the Lord Chief Justice himself. He is sitting on top of this apex, bringing all of the weight of his office, experience and intelligence to its functions. In that respect, the Judicial Appointments Commission in Northern Ireland is quite different from the system currently operating in Scotland and what is proposed for England and Wales. I make no issue with thatthere are good reasons for where the 2002 Act positioned it, and we think that that is right. Therefore, we are slightly at a loss about why the question is being reopened at this time, given that we have had some good debates and have sought, through Parliament, to settle the matter.
Let me turn to a number of the points that were made in the addresses to the amendment. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, is right to bring the issue of appointment on merit before us early in our proceedings. He said that Ministers proclaimed that this was the objective. Yes, they do, but we go substantially further than thatwe enshrine it in the legislation. It spells out with absolute clarity that there is only one criterion for this Judicial Appointments Commission making a decision on a judicial appointment, and that is merit. In that sense, this goes way beyond proclamationwe are enshrining it in legislation. The commission is statutorily charged to behave in that way.
Identifying which candidates have judicial skills is clearly part of the job of the commission. Judicial skills are partly about knowledge of the law and partly about knowledge of judicial processes. They also include some of the other human skills needed to manage the judicial process in ways that build the confidence of the community that justice is being fairly done. Undoubtedly the judicial members of the commission will be powerfully positioned to have their arguments on some of those skills, but lay members may make a contribution when it comes to some of the other skills as well. Lay
I should also mark the fact that the Judicial Appointments Commission has a second role. It does not just make short-term decisions about judicial appointment. HoweverI repeat this so that the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, is in no doubt about thisits secondary role in trying to promote a more diverse judiciary is subordinate to the appointment on merit. In other words, it only does those other things subordinate to merit, not the other way round, as I think it was being interpreted.
We had a good discussion on these issues in Committee, and it seemed to me that there was a strong measure of consensus. The judiciary in Northern Ireland, no different from that in England, is not, in gender terms, representative of society broadly. Therefore the commission has to think what can be done over five, 10 or more years to ensure that people of talent in all walks of life come forward. That is its second role. It is self-evident that a commission which has on it lay people with relevant experience will be very powerful. That was what I was meant when I referred in Committee to short-changing.
On sectarianism, the Lord Chancellor appoints the lay members of the Judicial Appointments Commission in the pre-devolution situation. They will be selected in accordance with the Commission of Public Appointments code of practice. In addition to having to swear an undertaking to uphold peace and justice, they must be able to command the confidence of a broad swathe of society in Northern Ireland and, by their stature and integrity, have demonstrated their ability to contribute to decisions in a non-sectarian way. While Scotland does not have the same level of sectarianism that Northern Ireland has, tragically, had, we have already seen a Judicial Appointments Commission in Scotland chaired by a lay member making good progress on addressing some of these issues, albeit in an advisory capacity. I think confidence is developing in Scotland in that respect.
We got it right when we established the composition in 2002, and we are right now to implement some, if not all, of the Judicial Appointments Commission's functions because we need to make progress in the areas I have outlined. I very much hope that the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, will feel minded to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his lengthy explanation. However, I do not really understand why the Government are sticking to their guns so strongly on this and they probably do not understand why I am sticking to mine. Neither the Criminal Justice Reviewsee paragraph 6.103nor the implementation plansee page 44called for a majority of lay over judicial members.
I would be very satisfied if the Government would undertake that the casting vote was left with the Lord Chief Justice, but I feel that in the Province that I know and have lived in for many years, the climate is not right to have a commission to appoint the judiciary made up with a majority of non-judicial persons. I should like to test the opinion of the House.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.