RSS Feed

Tag Archives: House of Lords Constitution Committee

Lady Neuberger condemns Constitutional Reform Act 2005 amendments in Crime and Courts Bill 2012

Posted on

Lady Neuberger has described as “a disgrace” the plans to put the Secretary of State for Justice on the commission appointing the President of the UK Supreme Court and the Lord Chief Justice.

Placing a government representative on the panel would breach the constitutional division of powers between the political executive and the judiciary, she said (reported here). She joins the chair of the Lords Constitution Committee, Baroness Jay, in criticising the plan set out in the Crime and Courts Bill 2012.

The Bill has important amendments to Britain’s Constitutional Reform Act 2005 that reduce the independence from the Government of judicial appointments in various ways.

In particular the Secretary of State for Justice (aka Lord Chancellor) is to sit on the appointment commission for the President of the Supreme Court (while the sitting president himself would be removed) and on the appointment commission for the Lord Chief Justice; there is to be a new requirement that he be consulted on other senior judicial appointments; whole sections of the 2005 Act on judicial appointments procedure are to be removed; powers to decide how to replace those sections are given to the Secretary of State; as are powers to decide the make-up of the Judicial Appointments Commission (with a view to increasing the proportion of lay members compared with judicial members); the Secretary of State will have the power to repeal or amend those sections.

It is intended that the 12 Supreme Court justices should become a “maximum” of 12 (or full-time equivalents) with the Secretary of State deciding exactly what number is required.

There are also amendments intended to increase diversity such as provision for part-time judicial posts and a “tipping point” provision whereby diversity requirements can come into play if two judicial candidates are deemed of equal merit.

According to the Home Office publicity the bill will “reform the judicial appointments process to promote greater transparency and improve judicial diversity”.

What it nowhere mentions is that it will bring the Lord Chancellor into a direct role in appointing the President of the Supreme Court and Lord Chief Justice. The ancient title of Lord Chancellor, once the highest judicial figure in the land and ranking after princes of the blood and the Archbishop of Canterbury, now hides the face of a purely political ministerial appointee, the Secretary of State for Justice, currently Kenneth Clarke. So the result (and intention) of the legislation is to gain a political handle on judicial appointments, taken away from the political realm by the 2005 Constitutional Reform Act.

The public statement (see below) makes no mention of this. Nor does it mention that in future the Lord Chancellor will be given powers to change the judicial appointments procedure at will (with minimal and passive oversight by Parliament).

Read the rest of this entry

Judicial diversity: Lords call for positive discrimination and targets

Posted on

The Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice should be under an obligation to encourage diversity in Britain’s judicial appointments – and targets for women and ethnic minority appointments should be set if diversity is not improved within five years, according to a House of Lords Committee.

Minorities should be given priority when the choice of appointee is between equally qualified candidates, says the report by the Lords Constitution Committee. Dubbed the “tipping point” procedure by the Lord Chancellor, Kenneth Clarke, it would utilise Section 159 of the Equality Act 2010 which allows an element of positive discrimination where candidates are equally qualified. It cannot be used for judicial appointments, some argue, since judges must be appointed “solely on merit”, according to s.63 (2) of the 2005 Constitutional Reform Act (as explained here).

‘We do not consider that the concept of merit should be narrowly focused on intellectual rigour … a more diverse judiciary can bring different perspectives to bear on the development of the law and to the concept of justice itself’ Lords Constitution Committee

The committee’s report wants changes in the career structure for the judiciary as well as in work conditions – allowing more part time working and careers breaks as well as encouraging non-barristers to apply for higher judicial posts. The committee, in a series of hearings (all reported on Alrich’s Weblog), has heard calls for a more structured career option for judges, drawing on the skills of lower tier tribunal judges and chairs as well as advocates and also putting in place formal appraisal procedures and career development. Retirement age for Court of Appeal and UK Supreme Court judges should rise to 75 in part to give opportunities later in life to those who haven’t followed a conventional career.

Read the rest of this entry

Ken Clarke gets his Henry VIII clause into judicial appointments

Posted on

We need to talk about Ken – in particular the UK Lord Chancellor, Kenneth Clarke’s dangerous delusion that he has – or should have – Henry the Eighth powers.

As it happens, Clarke would make a rather good Henry VIII. Imagine Good King Hal as a bluff genial figure in the Carry On Henry mould, like the cigar-chomping Sid James, or perhaps with a bit of edge to him, something a little more like the Charles Laughton version – jovial but ruthlessness. Imagine, too, a man who by his proclamations can sweep away whole areas of constitutional law.

For this is what Clarke intends in his (as yet putative) Constitutional Reform (Reform) Act 2012 – the Act he is working up to “reform” the 2005 Constitutional Reform Act. This, for the first time in our history, enshrined separation of powers in our constitution – that the judiciary should be independent from the Executive and from Parliament.

Read the rest of this entry

Ken Clarke defends plans for government role in judicial appointments

Posted on

The Lord Chancellor, Kenneth Clarke, has defended his proposals to give the government a bigger role in appointing senior judges, saying it would help in the important relationship between the executive and the judiciary.

Speaking at the 12th hearing of the House of Lords constitution committee into judicial appointments, he said: “I am in favour of no political patronage in appointments,” adding that his consultation paper, published late last year, makes it clear the Lord Chancellor would not take a direct role. “But with the [appointment of the] Lord Chief Justice and the President of the Supreme Court, there should be greater involvement of the Lord Chancellor because the executive should have more influence in that, but not a decisive one.”

The proposal is for the Lord Chancellor (now Secretary of State for Justice, Clarkes’s preferred title, he revealed) should sit on the panels appointing the two senior roles.

He said: “The one absolutely immoveable thing is that we appoint on merit … The second thing that I regard as absolutely immutable is the independence of the judiciary. No suspicion of political patronage should come back.” He added: “We now have a system that makes it absolutely clear that it is independent of the political sphere.”

Read the rest of this entry

A lesson from history: don’t politicise judicial appointments, says senior judge

Posted on

Parliament or government should not be brought into Britain’s judicial appointments process, a senior judge has told a House of Lords committee. To bring politics back into appointments “would be against our own history,” said Lord Justice Toulson, vice-chairman of the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC).

His comments follow suggestions from the Ministry of Justice that the Lord Chancellor, who is a member of Parliament and political appointee to the Cabinet, should have more power in judicial appointments. An MoJ consultation paper asks whether he should sit on panels appointing to the most senior judicial posts (President of the Supreme Court and Lord Chief Justice) and/or should have power to give his view on short lists of candidates for other senior positions (Lord Chief Justice, Heads of Division, Senior President of Tribunals and Lords Justices of Appeal). At present the Lord Chancellor simply has a limited veto of the single name presented to him in each case.

The Judicial Appointments Commission is an independent body set up under the 2005 Constitutional Reform Act. Toulson told the Lords Constitution Committee at its eleventh session on judicial appointments that the power the Lord Chancellor had over the JAC was a narrow one, deliberately limited by Parliament. The JAC was not a servant of the Crown.

Read the rest of this entry

Ken Clarke’s piratical band hijacks judicial appointments inquiry

Posted on

What, it must now be asked, is the point of the House of Lords Constitution Committee hearings on judicial appointments?

The committee set out in fair weather in the summer on a stately voyage to explore the waters of the British constitution with the aim of balancing accountability, independence, transparency and the need to foster diversity in judicial appointments.

Meanwhile the oily-fingered engineers in the dark recesses of the Ministry of Justice, headed by the Lord Chancellor, Kenneth Clarke, were constructing a less majestic vessel which they launched as a public consultation document last week – Appointments and Diversity: A Judiciary for the 21st Century.

This seems not only to have taken the wind out of the Lords committee’s sails but to have hijacked the process altogether, with some pretty clear plans – among them proposals to bring a political role back into judicial appointments. Cap’n Ken and his piratical crew are steering the debate, full steam ahead, into waters very much of their choosing.

Read the rest of this entry

Make search for ethnic minority and women judges obligatory, Lords Constitution Committee told

Posted on

There should be an obligation to look for ethnic minority, women and other minority candidates for judge’s posts, witnesses told the latest session of the Lords Constitutional Committee looking into judicial appointments.

An amendment to Section 64 of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, should be made to increase judicial diversity. Currently it says:

The [Judicial Appointments] Commission, in performing its functions under this Part, must have regard to the need to encourage diversity in the range of persons available for selection for appointments.” (Note: this section is discussed here)

The last few words should become “range of persons available for appointment”, Nwabueze Nwokolo, chair of the Black Solicitors Network, told the ninth session of the committee. Simply looking at the “range available for selection, we have seen, does not lead to appointment of a diverse judiciary”. Read the rest of this entry

Kenneth Clarke: there should be a positive duty to appoint women and ethnic minority judges

Posted on

Kenneth Clarke, the Justice Secretary, has announced a plan for “positive action” in judicial appointments to favour women and members of ethnic minorities and promote diversity. He wants to put an obligation into the appointments procedure to choose a person from an under-represented group when there are candidates of equal merit and increase posts for part-time judges.

Clarke told Woman’s Hour: “One of the more straightforward things I’m suggesting is that we enshrine in law for the resolution of doubt that other things being equal when you have two candidates of equal merit, you should prefer the under-represented group . There’s nothing wrong in that.”

The announcement suggests he will go further than Labour’s Equality Act of 2010, which allows employers, if they want, to choose a candidate from an underrepresented group in “tie-break” situations (see guidance note below). He envisages a change in the law for a “tie-break provision” making positive action in such cases obligatory for judicial appointments. Read the rest of this entry

Judges too keen to use Human Rights Act powers, says Lord Neuberger

Posted on

The UK judiciary has become a little too enamoured of its powers to challenge the government as a result of the Human Rights Act, according to the Master of the Rolls, Lord Neuberger.

The head of the Court of Appeal told the eighth hearing of the Lords Constitution Committee into judicial appointments that the relationship between the judiciary and politicians had been changing since the end of the Second World War with “a greater preparedness on the part of the judiciary to review and interfere with decisions of the executive”. This was in part to do with “judicial activism” but more due to the increased power of the executive coupled with, in the last 10 years, the influence of the Human Rights Act. “That in one sense has increased the judicial power and obligation to interfere with executive decisions when they go wrong. But it has also introduced a new aspect in the relationship between the judiciary and Parliament.” Read the rest of this entry

Lack of diversity has harmed UK Supreme Court’s judgments, says Baroness Hale

Posted on

The UK Supreme Court has never melded into a collective endeavour because of the lack of diversity among its justices, according to Baroness Hale, the only woman among the court’s 12 judges. The lack of diversity was a significant issue with constitutional implications. It meant the justices had failed to take on board differing perspectives in coming to their judgments.

She told the seventh hearing of the Lords Constitution Committee enquiry into judicial appointments that diversity was crucially important to courts such as the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal since their judges acted as a collective in coming to decisions. “The Supreme Court has this quality as a collective; the same applies to a lesser extent to the Court of Appeal … In disputed points you need a variety of perspectives and life experiences in order to get the best possible result. You aren’t going to get the best possible results if everyone is coming at the problem from the same point of view.”

She said that “the Supreme Court has not melded itself into a collective whole, into a collective endeavour. It would be easier to do that if we were less a bunch of individual stars”. It was not very good at allowing each Supreme Court justice to put forward arguments from different perspectives and arguing them through to come to a collective view.
Read the rest of this entry

%d bloggers like this: