HC Deb 11 June 1973 vol 857 cc989-91
44. Mr. Clinton Davis

asked the Attorney-General what is the practice regarding meetings on an official level between members of the judiciary and potential litigants.

45. Mr. Heffer

asked the Attorney-General what is the practice relating to members of the judiciary meeting potential litigants for official purposes.

The Attorney-General

It would be highly improper for a judge to discuss the circumstances of a particular case outside his court with any litigant or any person who had litigation in view, and if he did have such discussions, whether intentionally or accidentally, he would be disqualified from sitting in that case. But it is plainly desirable that those who have an interest in the work of the courts, whether as professional advisers or potential litigants, should be able to make constructive suggestions which may help to improve the service which the courts provide. If this process can be assisted by representative bodies meeting members of the judiciary from time to time, there is nothing to prevent it; and facilities already exist in the Commercial Court Users Liaison Committee and other bodies to provide for such contacts with the judges concerned.

Mr. Davis

Does the Attorney-General consider it conducive to the operation of the National Industrial Relations Court, having regard to the widespread suspicion that already exists among trade unionists concerning the operation of that court, for Sir John Donaldson to have met representatives of the engineering employers to discuss the operation of the Act? Does he think that that is likely to create in the minds of the trade unions a belief that justice will be done in that court?

The Attorney-General

Sir John Donaldson, when he first opened the court, made clear that the court was to provide a service and the court considered that it was engaged in a service industry, in the same way as the Commercial Court which asks for constructive suggestions and for dealings between the court and those who appear as litigants or their professional advisers. That applies to the working of the court and involves consultation with those who use the court, not in a particular case but in terms of the procedure and practice which should be followed so that the court can provide a useful and proper service.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the very distinguished judge, Sir John Donaldson equally would welcome constructive suggestions from and discussions with his opposite numbers on the trade union side?

The Attorney-General

I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend. It has been the practice in the Commercial Court to ask for suggestions from everybody concerned since they may be useful and helpful.

Mr. Heffer

Has not the whole point been missed? When the court was first established, Sir John Donaldson made it clear that in particular cases there could be informal discussions in view of the informal nature of the court. But that is not what is happening. What is happening is that the representatives of the Engineering Employers' Federation met Sir John Donaldson, the judge, to discuss amendments to the Act. Is it not the job of this House and of the Government to determine the nature of the Act and not the job of the judge, who should be responsible only for implementing it? Does it not underline the point made by the trade unions that this is a political court with a political judge who is interfering in political matters?

The Attorney-General

It is not a political court and Sir John is not a political judge. It is grossly unfair of the hon. Member to accuse Sir John Donaldson in that way. Sir John made it clear when he opened the court that he would welcome informed and constructive criticism from any and all quarters, and this is what he has been seeking so that the court shall be able to operate in a way which suits the proper parties to any particular litigation before that court. It has been the practice followed in the Commercial Court and it is a practice which should be followed in the Industrial Relations Court. I entirely refute the hon. Member's suggestion about this learned judge.

Mr. S. C. Silkin

Does not the Attorney-General agree that justice manifestly must be seen to be done and that in the circumstances which now exist—circumstances which are quite different from those which apply in the Commercial Court—it is questionable whether a judge of the Industrial Relations Court should see parties on one side only when he does not see the other side at all?

The Attorney-General

The Engineering Employers' Federation did not make any proposals and has not put forward any proposed amendments to the Industrial Relations Act. The meeting was about the working of the Act as it now is. It was for that purpose that the employers' representatives saw the judge on that date.

Mr. Davis

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the replies, I beg to give notice that I shall seek an early opportunity to raise the matter on the Adjournment.