Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Trimble: Is it not the case that clauses 4 and 5 impose a duty to uphold the continuing independence of judges individually? That presupposes that judges already are independent. The clauses do not impose a duty to pretend that they are independent if they are not. Therefore, if some international tribunal is clearly not independent in terms of appointments to it, its independence cannot be upheld.

Mr. Leslie: Indeed. Clause 4(8) specifies that any international court established by treaty to which the United Kingdom is a party, or by other organisations in which the United Kingdom takes part, is to be independent. Such courts and tribunals are referred to in the Bill as legitimately organised and established. It would be wrong to allow the amendments to remove respect for and protection of judicial independence in international courts, as set out in the Bill. I hope the Committee will reject the two amendments.

Mr. Cash: In the light of the discussions that we have had and the arguments that I have heard from the Opposition Benches, I still have grave concerns about the drafting of the clause. However, after careful consideration I have decided that we may be able to fight this battle another day, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Djanogly : I am pleased to have the opportunity, albeit a brief one, to discuss the guarantee of continued judicial independence in the context of the Lord Chancellor's role, and I start with a quote:

31 Jan 2005 : Column 636

Those were not the words of a Conservative commentator or an excerpt from an outspoken critic of the Bill. The Minister was trying to remember where they came from—they were the words of the Government when they defended the office of the Lord Chancellor before the Council of Europe in 2002.

While giving evidence to the Select Committee on the Lord Chancellor's Department a year later, the then Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine, said that

Yet now, the Government wish abruptly to change the position on the office of Lord Chancellor—albeit that, grudgingly, they will not now change the name—and toss a long-standing part of our Government into the dustbin of history.

7.30 pm

It is my belief that the position is too important to be restructured on the basis of a purely political premise masqueraded by the Government under the name of constitutional reform. The position of Lord Chancellor is an ancient one. Some of the most important statesmen in our history have served as Lord Chancellor. Under the Bill, it is now proposed that there will be no requirement that the Lord Chancellor will be a lawyer or have any law experience. Supposedly, according to the Government, a layman has more ability to advise a Prime Minister on legal affairs than a judge who has sat on cases and has training in the law. The Lord Chancellor's unique role in all three branches—Executive, judicial and legislative—gives him a unique opportunity to serve independently and non-politically.

Sir Patrick Cormack: In the Bill as it stands, there is a requirement that the Lord Chancellor should be a lawyer, as set out in clause 3. Is it not therefore all the more important, in view of the sensible remarks that my hon. Friend is making, that clause 3 does indeed stand part of the Bill?

Mr. Djanogly: My hon. Friend makes a very important and pertinent point. I have been attempting to lay the ground for a discussion of clause 3 later.

In the short time that remains, I wish to mention that, in addition to clause 3, if there is a single action that could virtually guarantee the independent status of the role of Lord Chancellor it would be the disqualification of the Lord Chancellor from holding any other ministerial office. Perhaps we can deal with that issue when we come to clause 3.

I consider that the Government have paid too little attention to the need to guarantee judicial independence. We will return to these issues when we debate clauses 2 and 3.
31 Jan 2005 : Column 637

Mr. Leslie: The hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly) has given good reasons why the clause should stand part of the Bill. It is a point of mutual agreement in all parts of the Committee that we want to provide an unequivocal guarantee of continued judicial independence. That guarantee is binding on all Ministers of the Crown and all those with responsibility for matters relating to the judiciary or the administration of justice. Through the clause, we are seeking to embed in statute the principle of judicial independence, which all in the Committee rightly regard as being of paramount importance in our constitution. Clause 4 does exactly that, and it also imposes particular duties for the purpose of upholding continued judicial independence. First, Ministers of the Crown must not seek to influence particular judicial decisions through any special access. Secondly, the Lord Chancellor must consider the need to defend continued independence throughout.

Mr. Garnier : I just want to record that it is a shame—indeed, it is more than a shame—

It being three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the Bill, The Chairman put the Question already proposed from the Chair, pursuant to Order [this day].

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 4, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

The Chairman then proceeded to put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of business to be concluded at that hour.

Clause 6

Representations to Parliament

Amendments made: No. 1, in line 41, leave out 'But'.

No. 2, in line 43, at end insert—

'(3)   In relation to Northern Ireland those matters do not include transferred matters within the legislative competence of the Northern Ireland Assembly, unless they are matters to which a Bill for an Act of Parliament relates.

(4)   In subsection (3) the reference to transferred matters has the meaning given by section 4(1) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 (c. 47).'.—[Mr. Leslie.]

Clause 6, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 7

President of the Courts of England and Wales

Amendments made: No. 19, in page 4, line 10, leave out 'Minister' and insert 'Lord Chancellor'.

No. 20, in page 4, line 13, leave out 'Minister' and insert 'Lord Chancellor'.—[Mr. Leslie.]

Clause 7, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Sir Patrick Cormack: On a point of order, Mrs. Heal. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier) just said in an extremely brief speech that something was a shame. To quote my favourite entertainer, Stanley Holloway, it is a shame and a sin that this Committee has not had the opportunity to discuss clauses 6 or 7 in the first three hours allowed for the Bill. I realise that you can do nothing about this matter tonight but could you, on
31 Jan 2005 : Column 638
behalf of the House, speak to Sir Alan and Mr. Speaker and see whether any representations can be made to those who draw up programmes to ensure that there can be some built-in flexibility, so that when the House is faced with a major constitutional Bill of this nature, it does not end up without any opportunity to discuss significant parts of it?

Next Section IndexHome Page