HC Deb 01 November 1993 vol 231 cc16-7
39. Mr. Skinner

To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department if he will introduce measures for the election of judges.

Mr. John M. Taylor

The answer is no. The Government do not consider that elections would provide a suitable basis for appointment or be compatible with the principle of judicial independence.

Mr. Skinner

The Government did not say that about trade union leaders, who they said were out of touch with their members and should be subject to re-election every five years. How else can we make judges accountable, especially in the light of what they have said recently about rape cases and repetitive strain injury—

Dame Elaine Kellet-Bowman

Ask a question.

Mr. Skinner

I have already asked two questions.

It is high time that the Government introduced a system of accountability, but they will not do so because too many people in this place, especially those on the Tory Benches, are part and parcel of the judiciary—barristers, solicitors and all the rest of them. That is the real reason why the Government do not want accountability.

Mr. Taylor

The hon. Gentleman may be surprised to find that I have an answer that may half oblige him—

Mr. Skinner

Let us hear it then.

Mr. Taylor

I am about to give the answer. The Royal Commission has considered the appraisal of judges and its recommendations will be deliberated upon. That represents some new thinking, which I believe will be welcome on both sides of the Chamber.

Mr. Jessel

If we are to avoid the election of judges, is not the corollary that judges must show that they broadly respect both public policy and public opinion? Is it not unhelpful when two such leading figures as the Lord Chief Justice and the Master of the Rolls are in open disagreement about what the law should be? Should not the Lord Chancellor ask them to desist from such pronouncements?

Mr. Taylor

There are conventions in the House about commenting on judges and what judges may say. Hon. Members may feel that this is an occasion on which to make such comments, but I am not sure that a member of the Executive should intrude into a matter of judicial independence.

Mr. Boateng

While the Minister and his Department have responsibility for the appointment of judges, and at a time of record levels of public concern about crime and the commission or criminal offences, is it not worrying that one day last months 24 courts in the south-east of England were closed for want of work? At the same time, on one day at the beginning of last month at the Snaresbrook crown court, offences of conspiracy to supply heroin and cocaine and offences involving arson with intent to endanger life were not heard because of a shortage of judges—there being insufficient money to pay for recorders or assistant recorders. Is not the Minister's Department presiding over a rather bizarre position, and what does he intend to do about it?

Mr. Taylor

It is not true that Crown courts are standing idle, although some sittings have been reduced to reflect the downturn in receipts for trial. Sittings will be restored later in the year if receipts increase. Sitting days have been reduced by only 2 per cent. compared with last year, despite a reduction in receipts of more than 15 per cent. in the first quarter of this year.

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