HC Deb 10 February 2004 vol 417 cc1262-3
24. Vera Baird (Redcar) (Lab)

What the system for monitoring and appraisal of judges will be after the introduction of the judicial appointments commission. [153653]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Mr. Christopher Leslie)

The judiciary is responsible for its own system of monitoring and appraisal, in line with the principles of judicial independence. However, in cases in which conduct or discipline may be an issue because of incapacity or misbehaviour, the Secretary of State and the Lord Chief Justice will work together, supported by a complaints secretariat.

Vera Baird

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. He must be aware that there is no effective system for monitoring and appraisal of judges. For example, he may know of recent publicity about 25 or so criminal judges who are appealed four or five times as often as their colleagues and frequently criticised by the Court of Appeal, but nothing is done to improve their performance. Does he agree that it is essential to ensure that judges are not only independent, but competent and that a proper system must be introduced to guarantee that by, I suggest, the judicial appointments commission?

Mr. Leslie

I do not think that the judicial appointments commission would be the right body to be involved in post-appointment issues related to complaints and discipline, as there could be a conflict of interest. It is important that the judiciary has a monitoring and appraisal system, and my hon. and learned Friend raises a fair point. It would not be right for the political process to be involved in the day-to-day reporting of appeals and so forth because that would effectively represent a level of political interference. The judiciary and judges are, of course, not only accountable through the appeal process: they make their decisions in public, they give their reasons and their decisions can be open to appeal so that mistakes can be corrected. I know that the judges will listen to her point about the judiciary having a good monitoring and appraisal system.

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) (Con)

May I invite the Minister to study page 53 of this week's Gay Times? Perhaps he cannot normally reach the top shelf to see it. It says: The second gay judge is appointed", and gives all the details. Under our existing system, that happened perfectly sensibly, it has been reported and that is fine. I consider it good news. Were the Government's proposals to be enacted, choosing such people would be seen as fulfilling the requirement that appointments must be, to quote from the Minister's consultation document, "reflective of society". If someone appointed under his proposed system were gay, female, disabled or black, the inevitable next step would be a public assessment of whether their judgments in court were consistently reflective of the appointment criteria. That is nothing to do with justice and would amount to the politicisation of judicial decisions. Does the Minister now understand that the requirement for any judicial appointment to be reflective of society will lead inevitably to demands for judgments also to be reflective? Will he now undertake to drop any such references from the forthcoming Bill?

Mr. Leslie

It is a great pity that the hon. Gentleman seems to think that if we want merit as the sole criterion for appointment, it is somehow incompatible with achieving diversity. I see no incompatibility whatever in making sure that the judiciary is better reflective of our wider society and seeing that merit is the sole criterion. If he thinks that people who are not currently represented among the judiciary cannot be meritorious candidates, he needs to reconsider his perspective.