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Mr. Leslie: Clause 12 introduces schedule 3, which provides that appointments to the judicial offices listed in it will in future be made by Her Majesty The Queen on the recommendation of the Lord Chancellor, rather than by the Lord Chancellor himself. The appointments are those of district judges, High Court masters and registrars, and the senior district judge or chief magistrate. The relevant appointing provisions are amended, and the power to assign district judges to districts and district registries is transferred from the Lord Chancellor to the Lord Chief Justice. The power to determine the salaries of civil district judges and High Court masters and registrars is made subject to the proviso that their salaries cannot be reduced, which brings them into line with the district judges (magistrates courts) and more senior members of the judiciary. Those appointments are also listed, with others, in schedule 12, meaning that they are in future to be made on the basis of selection by the Judicial Appointments Commission.
Simon Hughes: I have a factual question for the Minister, which he may be able to answer now or may answer when we debate the schedule. It may have been covered earlier, but as far as I am aware, it has not been.
What is the maximum number of district judges whom we are currently allowed to have in England and Wales, and how many are currently in office? What is the maximum number of High Court masters and registrars and the number in post, and what is the maximum number of senior district judgesthe old chief magistrates?
I have a supplementary question about chief magistrates. The change in terminology is still relatively recent. When people went along to the magistrates courts, they used to know the person who, they are now told is the senior district judge, as the local stipendiary magistrate or the local resident magistrate. Will those appointed according to this process always be appointed with a geographical title attached to their appointments? For example, if someone were appointed to the Tower Bridge magistrates court would that be the appointment, and if that person were then moved would the move take place formally or could that person informally, without any process, be transferred from Tower Bridge to Camberwell Green or from Camberwell Green to Greenwich? Would he be attached to his court from now on, or would he be appointed and, once appointed, be able to be moved around according to the jurisdiction of his superiors?
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Mr. Leslie: I understand the hon. Gentleman's points. Ever since the term "stipendiary magistrate" became "district judge (magistrates courts)", it has been necessary to make the position clear and comprehensible. My understanding is that there is no maximum number of district judges and magistrates courts set out in statute and, not surprisingly, I do not have to hand the exact number that we have in England and Wales at the moment. Perhaps I can write to the hon. Gentleman on that point.
I am aware of the hon. Gentleman's point on the geographical nature of the district judges. I do not think that there is any specific formality attached to the geographical area in a district judge's title. Nor do I think that anything formally limits them from being redeployed elsewhere, but if I am wrong, I shall put the correct answer in my letter to the hon. Gentleman.
Mr. Leslie: This group of amendments gives effect in part to the recommendations of the Select Committee on the Bill in the other place that the supreme court of England and Wales and the Supreme Court of Judicature of Northern Ireland should be renamed and, when necessary to avoid confusion, the short titles of legislation relating to these courts should also be changed.
The supreme court of England and Wales, as it is now known, is to be renamed the Senior Court of England and Wales, and the Supreme Court of Judicature of Northern Ireland will be renamed the Court of Judicature of Northern Ireland. The renaming does not affect the courts in question in any other way than changing the names by which they will be known. The new names were selected in consultation with the senior judiciary in each jurisdiction with a view to avoiding confusion not only with the creation of a new United Kingdom supreme court, but with other courts. There are also references in the Bill that will require amendments in line with the general renaming, and many of the amendments in this group are consequential on the change.
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Mr. Grieve: We now come to the first bone of contention of the afternoon. It is quite a small bone, but it irritates me sufficiently to make me want to take the matter forward. Indeed, unless I can persuade the Minister to change his mind, I shall probably divide the House.
The Minister knows that we were against the setting up of a supreme court of the United Kingdom. In those circumstances, he will probably agree that there was no need to consider renaming the current Court of Appeal, which is covered by the Supreme Court of Judicature Act 1873. I have to accept that, for the purposes of the Bill as it now stands, we are going to have a supreme court of the United Kingdom. However, the Minister's proposal to rename the courts covered by that Act "Senior Courts" strikes me as bizarre. We do not have any junior courts, and the expression "Senior Courts" is an odd one.
I do not see the new name catching on anyway because, as the Minister well knows, nobody refers to the High Court and the Court of Appeal by anything other than those titles. Only lawyers are aware of the fact that the High Court and the Court of Appeal were created by the Supreme Court of Judicature Act in the 19th century. Those titles offer a correct description of the purpose those courts were set up to fulfil. Although we are going to have a supreme court of the United Kingdom, those courts are, in reality, the supreme court of England and Wales, and I can think of no good reason for changing their title. I am not sure that the Minister, in his very brief speech, provided me with a persuasive reason for going back on that viewpoint.
This matters because we must consider the issue in the context of the English and Welsh judicial system. The reality is that the House of Lords, in its current role, is half removed from the mainstream judicial process. Appeals to the House of Lords take place only in fairly exceptional circumstances. It spends a great deal of its time turning down applications for leave to appeal, not because the issues involved are not interesting, but because they do not raise the kind of point with which the House of Lords considers it should concern itself. The Minister has not suggested that the new supreme court should approach its work load any differently from the way in which the House of Lords has done, although I acknowledge that one or two small areas of devolution law will be transferred from the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council to the new supreme court.
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