HL Deb 28 January 1999 vol 596 cc1244-6

. After section 5(1) of the Supreme Court Act 1981 (Divisions of High Court) insert—

"(1A) The Lord Chancellor may appoint one of the ordinary judges of the Court of Appeal as Vice-President of the Queen's Bench Division, and a judge so appointed shall he a judge of that Division.'').

The noble and learned Lord said: In these days the work of the Lord Chief Justice of England is a heavy burden. When my noble and learned friend Lord Lane was Lord Chief Justice he sought the assistance of Lord Justice Tasker Watkins over the whole field of his activities. After some negotiation, we were able to propose an arrangement under which Lord Justice Watkins became the Deputy Chief Justice.

When my late learned friend Lord Taylor of Gosforth became Chief Justice he felt that the arrangements were a little lacking in flexibility. He wished to have somewhat different arrangements. In particular, he wished Lord Justice Kennedy to assist him in the disposition of the Queen's Bench Division judges. That is a major task because, as the Committee knows and as the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, explained to us the other day in answer to the point about returns, one can never be sure how long cases will last. Therefore, we need to have someone on hand to ensure, so far as possible, that there is a judge available for the next case when a problem arises.

When my noble and learned friend Lord Bingham of Cornhill became Lord Chief Justice, it was the understanding that he would be willing to sit in all the jurisdictions which the Lord Chief Justice can occupy; namely, the Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal, the Civil Division of the Court of Appeal—to which he was no stranger, having been the Master of the Rolls—as well as the Divisional Court, and sitting in the Crown Court at first instance from time to time. That was just to get the sense of what happens at the trial level. One thing that tends to happen as one gets older and is promoted in the English system and goes to the Court of Appeal Criminal Division is that one gets less sense of what is going on in trials.

In passing, I must say that the Scottish system ensures for the most part that even the most senior judges have to preside at trials. My noble and learned friend the Lord Advocate will confirm that. It means that the judgments of the Court of Appeal on criminal matters in Scotland are closely related to the circumstances of the time.

The result was that my noble and learned friend Lord Bingham felt that there was scope for appointing one of the Court of Appeal judges to be vice-president of the Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal. There is a statutory provision for that in the Supreme Court Act and he appointed Lord Justice Rose, who now specialises in criminal matters and sometimes spends time in the Divisional Court. However, his main work is in the Criminal Division. That appears to me to be satisfactory.

On the other hand, there was no statutory place for Lord Justice Kennedy, but it was agreed, when I was still in office and the new Lord Chief Justice was appointed, that Lord Justice Kennedy would be de facto the vice-president of the Queen's Bench Division. When a suitable opportunity arises, as I believe it now has, I suggest that it should be made a statutory provision.

I have simply used the terms at present in place for the vice-president of the Civil and Criminal Divisions of the Court of Appeal and applied them here. I understand that there may be further refinements required to make the amendment absolutely in accordance with the high standards of drafting which my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor requires. But in the meantime, the principle is clear enough. I beg to move.

11 p.m.

The Lord Chancellor

It is of course only appropriate that my noble and learned predecessor should call the Committee's attention to the matters in which the Scots judges are so much better informed.

As the noble and learned Lord said, the purpose of his amendment is to empower the Lord Chancellor to appoint one of the judges of the Court of Appeal to act as Vice-President of the Queen's Bench Division. As the noble and learned Lord has explained, this would give formal recognition to an informal practice of several years' standing by which one of the Lords Justices gives the Lord Chief Justice support with the judicial administration of the division—and certainly such support is required.

I am happy to accept this amendment in principle because I too believe that these informal appointments should have statutory underpinning at the earliest opportunity.

The noble and learned Lord knows that his amendment is insufficient—I would not dare to say technically defective—in that a number of consequential changes are also required. For example, because the office is to be held by a member of the Court of Appeal, it will be necessary to amend the Supreme Court Act to add the Vice-President of the Queen's Bench Division to the list of members of the High Court. We shall also need to amend the long title of the Bill.

However, if the noble and learned Lord is content to withdraw his amendment, he can be assured that I will bring forward amendments at Report stage to achieve the intended effect.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern

I am of course entirely content to withdraw this amendment in order that the technical support for it can be forthcoming. I should have said that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chief Justice also supports this amendment, as is manifest from his name on the Marshalled List. I am very content and thank the Lord Chancellor for supporting the principle of this amendment. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clauses 44 to 48 agreed to.

Lord Kingsland moved Amendment No. 298:

After Clause 48, insert the following new clause—

("Alteration of listing