HC Deb 26 January 1999 vol 324 cc137-8
28. Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)

What steps he is taking to ensure that judges declare any relevant interests before hearing a case. [65855]

The Minister of State, Lord Chancellors Department (Mr. Geoffrey Hoon)

There already exists a requirement that any individual judge who recognises a potential conflict of interest should inform the parties concerned. In addition, my right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Chancellor wrote to the senior Law Lord on 16 December last year asking that the Law Lords should, before hearing an appeal, consider together whether any of their number might appear to be subject to a conflict of interest and, in order to ensure their impartiality and the appearance of impartiality of the Committee, require any Law Lord to disclose any such circumstances to the parties and not sit if any party objects and the Committee so determines.

Mr. Prentice

That is a very good answer, but does not my hon. Friend share my incredulity that when the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice wrote to members of the judiciary asking them voluntarily to disclose whether they were members of the freemasons, 64 members of the judiciary stayed silent? In the light of that statistic, is there not a compelling case for introducing a statutory register of interests, such as that which applies in the House, to make sure that when judges hear cases, they show their hand first?

Mr. Hoon

I am grateful for my hon. Friends compliment—if that is what it was. Clearly, the Government are anxious to learn all the lessons from the Pinochet case, and will continue to monitor the situation. However, we have no plans at present to introduce a comprehensive register of interests for the judiciary.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)

The hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) could have found the same response in a written answer that appeared today at column 50 of Hansard.

I remind the Minister that the Lord Chancellor, his boss, is the head of the judiciary. Under the Access to Justice Bill [Lords], he has taken on 17 new powers or interests. Will the Minister justify three of them?

Mr. Hoon

The hon. and learned Gentleman knows full well that, once the Access to Justice Bill [Lords] has made its way through the other place, he will have every opportunity to raise such questions on the Floor of this House. I am sure that we can discuss them at the appropriate time.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)

Will my hon. Friend say whether coroners are required to complete the masonic disclosure forms? If so, have they all completed the forms? If not all have done so, will he publish a list of those who have not?

Mr. Hoon

I am not aware that they are so required.