HC Deb 03 July 1989 vol 156 cc15-6
57. Mr. Harry Greenway

To ask the Attorney-General what qualities the Lord Chancellor looks for in prospective judges; and if he will make a statement.

The Attorney-General

High Court and circuit judges are appointed by the Queen on the recommendation of the Lord Chancellor. The criteria for selection are judicial potential, ability, experience, reputation and personal inrtegrity.

Mr. Greenway

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that reply. Is he satisfied that, in practice, all those appointed to be judges, including Judge Pickles, satisfy those criteria? Is there any prospect within the reforms envisaged for the legal profession of the appointment of lay judges—properly advised, perhaps, in view of the judges' role in advising on the law? Would it be possible to appoint people such as ex-bishops—[Interruption.] — ex-headmastersand even ex-Cabinet Ministers to be judges?

The Attorney-General

My right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Chancellor attaches the greatest importance to the criteria that I have mentioned. Great care is taken and there is wide consultation on the appointment of judges. Whether there would be a higher incidence of the totality of those criteria if eligibility for the higher courts and higher judges were extended as my hon. Friend suggests is a matter for debate that he may like to take up elsewhere.

Mr. Skinner

Is it true that the bottom line of the application form that the Lord Chancellor overlooks says, "Is he one of us?" in accordance with the Prime Minister's dictum, and how many judges are freemasons? Has the Attorney-General done a survey on that? If the threatened strike of barristers and others goes ahead at the Royal Courts of Justice—it was put off a short time ago—will the strike breakers feature prominently as future judges and will the Economic League be given a list of the strike leaders? Will all that be taken into account?

The Attorney-General

The hon. Gentleman will find that the selection of judges is made far more widely by the present Lord Chancellor, and by all his predecessors of either party, than would be the case if the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends were ever in a position to appoint judges.

Mr. Rowe

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that for cases involving children and young people there is considerable merit in having a judge whose taste in music post-dates the Beatles? For cases involving children, will he consider appointing the equivalent of the French juge d'enfants, who is often a much younger person on his or her way up the legal ladder?

The Attorney-General

I very much take my hon. Friend's point. Jurisdiction over the family and especially over children is of the highest importance and calls for special qualities. My right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor seeks to appoint to the family division judges who demonstrate those qualities and his appointments meet with considerable success. It is not necessarily a question of one's taste in music, which could be pre-Beatles as well as post-Beatles.