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Clause 21

First members of the Court

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

Mr. Leslie: Clause 21 provides for the first judges of the supreme court to be the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary who hold office at the date of commencement. This is a one-off provision to allow for the transition of members of the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords to the supreme court. The effect of the clause is that, on establishment of the court and immediately before commencement, Lords of Appeal in Ordinary will become the first supreme court judges. The senior Lord of Appeal in Ordinary before commencement will become the president, and the second senior Lord of Appeal in Ordinary before commencement will become the deputy president of the supreme court.

The clause will ensure a smooth transition between the present arrangements and the new ones, which is very important. In the same way as the supreme court will take over the jurisdiction of the Appellate Committee, the judges who sit in one will move to sit in the other. They have already been selected as the judges best suited to sit in the UK's highest court, and it would be unnecessarily disruptive to suggest that any separate selection procedure was necessary to identify the first members of the new supreme court. Schedule 9 provides detailed arrangements for the handling of cases that might be in progress at the time of transition. That is why the clause should stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Grieve: I am grateful to the Minister for outlining those arrangements, but I return to a point that I raised in an earlier debate that can be raised now just as easily. I hasten to add that this is not an objection to the Government's position—I simply want a bit of clarification.

Currently, there is no president or deputy president of the Law Lords, although I understand that, in practice, they operate an informal system by which the senior Law Lord discharges certain duties and has responsibilities for the good organisation of their work. Despite that, it is an exceptionally collegiate structure, which marries very well with the informality that we debated earlier, and I get the impression that both Government and Opposition Members wish to preserve that in the new supreme court structure.

The Government are sufficiently comfortable with those arrangements to make the point in clause 21 that in any transitional provision the senior Law Lord and the second senior Law Lord will simply become president and deputy president respectively. However, when we go on to consider the process for selecting the
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members of the court, we realise that all this will become quite complicated. Not only a system for selecting ordinary members of the supreme court but a special system—or at least a similar but particular system—for selecting the president and the deputy president will be required. I want to draw the Minister a little on the Government's reasons for wishing not only to set up a supreme court but to create those two formal positions, rather than relying on the more informal structure that pertained previously.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): As an unrepentant conservative who sees absolutely no need for the changes, I underline the point that my hon. Friend made when he talked about the collegiate nature of the body. I do not want a supreme court and I see no need for one. It is being visited on us unnecessarily. If we are to have it, we do not need to formalise its structures in the way that the Minister outlined and the Bill proposes. I do not want a proliferation of titles, as the members of the collegiate body are equals. I would prefer the informal arrangement that pertains at present to pertain in the supreme court.

Mr. Leslie: We do not propose to end the collegiate nature of the final court of appeal in our country—far from it. However, we want to make important improvements to the system. Clause 21 has not been over-criticised, not least because Conservative Front Benchers have realised that there is virtue in bringing greater transparency and formality to the appointment process, rather than having candidates emerging and then being appointed by Her Majesty on the advice of the Prime Minister without a clear and transparent process.

Sir Patrick Cormack: I am all for emerging.

Mr. Leslie: We will have to see whether the hon. Gentleman ever emerges in that context. We certainly do not want the proliferation of titles. Indeed, the title of Lord of Appeal in Ordinary needs to go, and we need to use the simpler title of supreme court justice. However, we debated that earlier.

The hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) asked several questions. We need a separate process for the appointment of the president and deputy president of the supreme court, although the process will be similar to that for any member of the supreme court. The holders of the posts will have slightly different jobs. The president will chair the selection committee to select new members and will determine whom to invite to serve as acting judges or on the supplementary panel. He or she will make directions about the composition of sitting panels and will make rules of the court. He or she will also have additional functions specifically pertaining to guarding the independence of the supreme court, namely the appointment of the chief executive, officers and staff. He or she will be involved in consultations around those areas and will work closely with the chief executive on the administration of the court's operation. Given that the post is different, it merits specific attention, instead of simply having an individual emerging from the body.

I think that our proposals are pretty straightforward. When establishing a new court, we have to start somewhere. Clause 21 thus makes provision about the
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first members of the court at transition, with the existing senior Law Lord becoming the president and existing Law Lords becoming justices of the supreme court. The clause is the right way to proceed and I commend it to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 21 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

New Clause 4

Representations to the Northern Ireland Assembly

'(1)   The Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland may lay before the Northern Ireland Assembly written representations on matters within subsection (2) that appear to him to be matters of importance relating to the judiciary, or otherwise to the administration of justice, in Northern Ireland.

(2)   The matters are—

(a)   excepted or reserved matters to which a Bill for an Act of the Northern Ireland Assembly relates;

(b)   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.

(3)   In subsection (2) references to excepted, reserved and transferred matters have the meaning given by section 4(1) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 (c. 47).'.—[Mr. Leslie.]

Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 5

Northern Ireland Act 1998: excepted and reserved matters relating to Supreme Court

'(1)   The Northern Ireland Act 1998 (c. 47) is amended as follows.

(2)   In Schedule 2 (excepted matters), after paragraph 11 insert—
   "11A   The Supreme Court."

(3)   In Schedule 3 (reserved matters), after paragraph 14 insert—
   "14A   The following matters—

(a)   rights of appeal to the Supreme Court;

(b)   legal aid for appeals to the Supreme Court.".'— [Mr. Leslie.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

2.45 pm

Mr. Leslie: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

In the Northern Ireland Act 1998, areas of legislative competence are divided into three categories. I know that the right hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. Trimble) will know this backwards, but partly for my own benefit, I shall elucidate. The first category is transferred matters, which are the responsibility of devolved government in Northern Ireland, when that is functioning. The second category is reserved matters, which include policing and justice, on which the Northern Ireland Assembly may legislate with the consent of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and subject to parliamentary control. Reserved matters are listed in schedule 3 to the 1998 Act. The third category is excepted matters, which are responsibilities retained by the British Government. They are listed in schedule 2 to the 1998 Act.
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The Northern Ireland Assembly, when active, has the power to make primary legislation conferred on it by the 1998 Act broadly according to those three distinctions. New clause 5 will simply ensure that the new UK supreme court will be identified as an excepted matter in schedule 2 to the 1998 Act. It also makes it clear that rights of appeal to the UK supreme court and legal aid for such appeals will be reserved matters under schedule 3 to the 1998 Act. That is the current situation that applies to the House of Lords. Legal aid is already dealt with by Orders in Council, and the Northern Ireland courts are a reserved matter. We are taking the opportunity to clarify the situation by amending schedule 3.

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