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Lord Renton: My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, perhaps she would answer the fundamental question that arises in this matter. When the Sentencing Guidelines Council offers directions or advicecall it what you willwhich are not acceptable to the Court of Appeal, whose authority prevails?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the whole purpose of having the Lord Chief Justice chair the Sentencing Guidelines Council and having the majority of the council being made up of judicial members is to ensure that that does not happen. Guidelines and guidance are only that. My noble friend Lord Borrie was right to say that at the end of the day it will be for the individual judge, dealing with the individual case, to exercise discretion and to do justice. As is proper, he should take into account the guidelines and guidance that is provided both in the legislation and in the guidance. In the usual way, it will be a matter for the superior court to determine on appeal whether any judge has erred either in failing to discharge his duty in relation to legislation or in failing to take into account properly or at all the guidance issued in relation to the offences.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, so that she may ensure that her party in both Houses sing from the same song sheet, would she ensure that copies of her remarks about the judiciary and her confidence in the judiciary are passed to her colleague, the Home Secretary? As I said at Second Reading, he often gives the impression of undermining public confidence in the judiciary.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I reassure the noble Lord that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has the highest regard for our judiciary. There is no suggestion that comments made by him are intended to undermine the confidence that we should properly have in our judiciary. I hope that noble Lords have noticed that I have taken each and every opportunity available to extol the virtues of our judiciary. I do not say that, as a body, it is without blemish. Nor do I say that every member of the judiciary is of such an exemplary nature that no criticism could ever, on any occasion, be uttered. Rumour has it that they, along with the rest of us, are, indeed, human. To be human is to err. In terms of overall quality, our viewI say this somewhat immodestlyis that there is no other body to equal it. I say that with pride.
The Lord Bishop of Worcester: My Lords, may I put one question to the noble Baroness before she finally sits down? I have accepted the correction of the noble and learned Lord that the panel will remain and I accept also the Minister's assurance that it will take every opportunity to consult some of the people I mentioned in my remarks. However, does she agree that, when considering the list included in the place where the decision is to be takenalthough I grant that there will be a judicial majoritythe list of non-judicial members hardly looks like a balanced representation of what we are invited to call the real world, but rather as though it has been constructed with a particular purpose in mind?
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I understand perfectly the principles on which the right reverend Prelate and my noble friend Lord Renton would support the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner. However, I am not able to follow them in their support for the reasons I gave earlier. The principal reason is that I was able earlier to say only that there should be exclusively judicial members on the Sentencing Guidelines Council if that were part of the whole package, which has been rejected. So I cannot follow the route of the noble and learned Lord.
No doubt there will be other occasions during the remainder of our consideration when principled Members on my own Benches will find themselves supporting amendments that I cannot and would not support. I hope that does not trouble them; it does not trouble me because I respect totally their principles. We may well find that we enter different Division Lobbies, or I may abstain when they vote.
Turning to the remarks made by the Minister, I welcome the fact that once again, as she has now done so often, she carefully enunciated her confidence in the judiciary. At the beginning of the Report stage I omitted to do what I have tried to do at each stage of the Bill; that is, to declare an interest. I am married to someone who sits as a judge part-time; his appointment is not as a full-time judge. However, even if he were not my husband, I would in any case have confidence in the judiciary.
I accept the assurances given by the noble Baroness as regards her own amendments. As I guessed in advance, they will achieve the objective I seek; that is, to have a majority of voting members from the judiciary on the Sentencing Guidelines Council, even though that has been done for a reason different from that which I would have liked. None the less, I am delighted with her explanation and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, before the noble Baroness withdraws her amendment, I should take this opportunity to declare my own interest, which I realise that I have neglected to do. I declare a vested interest as one of Her Majesty's recorders and one of Her Majesty's deputy High Court judges.
I shall not spend time repeating any of the remarks that I have made, but I should like to refer to the question of the Parole Board. That board quite rightly has a mixed membership, but the issue before it is the evaluation of risk. Such an evaluation is not a sole judicial function. It needs the input of psychiatrists, social workers and a judge, among others. So, although it is an example of how the judiciary and the laity can work together, it is not a fair analogy.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.