HC Deb 21 March 2000 vol 346 cc848-9
34. Angela Smith (Basildon)

What powers the Lord Chancellor has to remove a judge who does not display the skills and experience suitable for judicial office; and how often such powers have been used. [114042]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Mr. David Lock)

The constitutional principle of judicial independence requires judges to have security of tenure during good behaviour. Lords of appeal in ordinary, lords justices of appeal and High Court judges may only be removed by the sovereign on an address presented by both Houses of Parliament. For other full-time judges, the Lord Chancellor's powers of removal vary depending on the office but, in general, are exercisable only in relation to incapacity or behaviour. The only judge removed from office in recent times by the Lord Chancellor was a circuit judge removed in 1983 for misbehaviour.

Angela Smith

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer, but is he satisfied that his powers to remove a judge, which apply only to cases of incapacity or misbehaviour, are adequate? Is not it strange that judges, unlike so many other professions, are not subject to review and evaluation? I am aware that judicial decisions are subject to review, but is not there a case for examining the efficiency of judges and their willingness to deal with cases effectively? Should not there be management scrutiny of decisions that are administrative rather than judicial? I appreciate that there has been some reluctance in this regard, but is not it time to introduce Ofjudge?

Mr. Lock

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, as always, for her novel and interesting suggestions, but the constitutional principle of judicial independence means that the Lord Chancellor cannot interfere with, or comment on, judicial decisions. I can assure her that my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor treats all complaints about judicial conduct very seriously. Since he took up his post, he has established a dedicated team of officials in his Department, who make thorough inquiries on his behalf into all complaints about judicial conduct. He considers every complaint to determine whether it is justified and, if so, what action should be taken. However, I emphasise that we are talking about a tiny proportion of judges, and that the vast majority serve extremely professionally and efficiently. We are very grateful for all their work.

Mr. John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West)

A judge gave summary judgment in a case in which a constituent of mine was the plaintiff without allowing that constituent to put his case in court or be present for the decision. Does the Minister consider that that judge demonstrated the necessary skills and abilities?

Mr. Lock

It would be infringing the principle of the constitutional independence of judges, to which I have just referred, to comment on an individual case. Clearly, the appeal courts give any litigant with a good case that did not get a proper hearing first time around the opportunity to have it considered by a higher court.