§ 39. Mr. Hutton
To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department if he will make a statement about the independence of the judiciary.
Mr. John M. Taylor
The independence of the judiciary is a fundamental constitutional principle. The Lord Chancellor is concerned at all times to safeguard the independence of the judiciary and the judicial process.
§ Mr. Hutton
How can that statement be reconciled with the treatment earlier this year of Mr. Justice Wood, who was effectively forced to resign from the Bench after the Lord Chancellor's Department attempted to interfere directly with the operation of the employment appeals tribunal? Does not that prove—at least in respect of that case—that the Government's commitment to the independence of the judiciary is something of a sham?
Certainly not. The Lord Chancellor was endeavouring to ensure that procedures put in place by this honourable House were followed by the tribunal in England and in Wales, as well as in Scotland. The Lord Chancellor made a full statement about the matter during a debate in the other place on 27 April; I recommend the Hansard report of that debate.
§ Mr. Tracey
I am sure that every hon. Member strongly supports the independence of the judiciary. Will my hon. Friend say something about arranging more conferences on sentencing, especially for magistrates, so that magistrates courts do not reach so many of the disparate decisions that throw the whole Bench into confusion and disrespect?
I can tell my hon. Friend that the Lord Chancellor's Department gives judicial training the highest priority, as does the Lord Chancellor himself. We strongly support and encourage the work of the Judicial Studies Board, and of magistrates benches which arrange training for themselves.
§ Mr. Boateng
If the Minister and the Lord Chancellor are so concerned about judicial independence, will he tell the House why he proposes, in the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill, to enable industrial tribunals and social security tribunals to be put into the private sector? What possible benefit will that bring to the public? How can spending more than £500,000 in so doing be justified, and what safeguards will then exist for the independence of the judiciary?
The technical scope of the legislation is narrow in respect of judicial functions. The Government have already amended it to acknowledge the constitutional position of judicial independence and they remain adamant that they will do nothing, whether in the context of the Bill or otherwise, that might erode the independence or probity of the judicial process.