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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Bridget Prentice):
The proportion of women sitting as judges in courts in England and Wales has risen from 10 per cent. in April 1998 to nearly
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17 per cent. last month. This month, there has been a net increase of one in both the Court of Appeal and the High Court, but there is obviously much more to do.
Laura Moffatt (Crawley) (Lab): I thank my hon. Friend for her response. There is clearly steady progress and, as she has said, quality and diversity are the key to a judiciary we can all trust. Is she aware of the work that the professions are undertaking to ensure that women, in particular, are able to manage the difficult balancing act between family and advancing their career? The London Common Law and Commercial Bar Association, for example, is engineering a mentoring scheme by women, for women, to encourage them into the profession and to make sure that they stay there if they decide to have a family. Is she prepared to continue encouraging such schemes and to expand them for other professionals such as solicitors?
Bridget Prentice: I am very much aware of the scheme introduced by the London Common Law and Commercial Bar Association. We welcome it and encourage further mentoring programmes of that kind. Just last week I visited an award scheme run by the Law Society to help young people, particularly those with quite severe disabilities, who want to make law a career. I want to encourage others to do that.
Bridget Prentice: As I said in answer to a previous question, I do not think merit and diversity are mutually exclusive. We ought to appoint people on merit, we should appoint more people from a wide variety of backgroundsmore women and more people from ethnic and other minoritiesand we should ensure that we have a judiciary and a legal system that properly reflect the society in which we live.
Is the Minister worried that in his first public interview the Lord Chief Justice expressed concern that a politicianthere is no mistaking who he was gunning forshould try to browbeat the judiciary? Will the Minister confirm that it is the constitutional right of any judge to express concern about new legislationfor example, the proposal to lock up people without charge for up to six months? Is it not sad that the Government's lasting legacy will be the Iraq war and repressive legislation?
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Ms Harman: I have had the opportunity to look at the full transcript of what the Lord Chief Justice said. It was a measured and informative contribution, which he made at his inaugural press conference. Out of some 20 questions from the press, about 17 were essentially the same questionwhether he would have a huge row with the Government. Over and over again, the Lord Chief Justice said that he had his role to play and the Government and Parliament had their roles. That is what we will be getting on with.
Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): This week the Prime Minister said that the criminal justice system was too complicated and laboriouscomments with which many residents in the Kettering constituency would agree. What proposals will the Minister introduce to speed up and simplify the criminal justice system?
Ms Harman: We would all agree that the criminal justice system is too complicated and laborious. We are taking a range of measures in co-operation with the police and the Crown Prosecution Service, and working with Victim Support and the witness service, to make sure that the criminal justice system is effective and provides a fair trial and a just outcome, but does not take too long going about it and does not become too bureaucratic.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): Does the right hon. and learned Lady agree that the retired Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, provided an inestimable service to the country by pointing out deficiencies in legislation? Does she agree with her noble Friend the Lord Chancellor in evidence that he gave this morning, as I understand it, to the Select Committee, that the Kilmuir rules are effectively no more and that members of the judiciary are entitled to make comment? Does she also agree that they have a duty to inform Parliament when the Executive introduce proposals that could be construed as unlawfula role that ought to be played by the Attorney-General, but is not?
The way that the hon. Gentleman puts that is not right. I agree, of course, with his comments about the Lord Chief Justice. There is a great deal of practical working between the judiciary and the Government. For example, I quote the work of Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, who, when president of the family division, made many helpful contributions to the development of policy in relation to family proceedings, care proceedings involving children and domestic violence. Sir Igor Judge sits on the National Criminal Justice Board, together with criminal justice Ministers, the police and prosecutors. They work sensibly together. It is for the Government to propose legislation to the House, for the House to decide in its wisdom what to pass into legislation, and for judges, with the assistance of the Human Rights Act 1998 introduced by the Government, to make a decision on a case-by-case basis.
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Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con): With regard to judges' discretion, given that this week the Prime Minister complained that 50 per cent. of defendants get off, in what percentage of cases do the Government want not guilty verdicts?
Ms Harman: We do not want a situation in which a defendant is charged and brought to court but the case cannot proceed because the victim has not turned up as a result of intimidation, or because a witness has not turned up because the case has been adjourned a couple of times. We need to reduce the number of so-called ineffective trials so that justice is done in every caseon behalf of the victim as well as the defendant. It is not about a particular percentage of cases. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman agrees that in many cases the procedures let justice down and the outcome is a wrong one.
The Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (Ms Harriet Harman): We intend to continue with reform of the House of Lords to create an effective legitimate Chamber while maintaining the primacy of this House.
Mr. Khan: I thank my right hon. and learned Friend. With the greatest respect, is she happy with the answer that was drafted by the civil servants? Can she let us know when we can expect a Joint Committee to be established and what its remit will be? Will she ensure that when the options from the Joint Committee come back to this House we are given options as to preference rather than a yes or no option? She will remembersome of us will notwhat happened last time this House was asked to vote on the options.
Ms Harman: The civil service gave me a very long and good answer to kick off the point raised by my hon. Friend, but I made it short to give him as much time as possible to ask his supplementary and so that I could deal with the issues that he raises.
We want to get the Joint Committee established as soon as possible so that it can codify the key conventions of the House of Lords. My hon. Friend raises a very important point, of which he did not give me noticealthough I am not criticising him for that[Interruption.] I am saying that it was not a planted question. What he is asking is whether we will have sensible proceedings in this House when we have a free vote on the composition of the House of Lords, and how we will go about reaching that outcome. That is a very important point.
We know where we got to in 2003. When we vote this time, we want to have absolute clarity. We want all Members to be absolutely clear that the choices that we are presenting to the House are those that they want to vote on, and we want to ensure that we vote on them in such a way as to achieve consensus. My hon. Friend pre-empts me in raising issues that I would like to
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explorefor example, whether we simply stick with a yes or no option or have a range of choices, which is sometimes called a preferendum. We must have a better process to ensure that the will of this House on the composition of the House of Lords is better expressed than we were collectively able to achieve in 2003, and I will certainly strive to achieve that.
Mr. Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): This morning, the Lord Chancellor laid out for the Select Committee a measured process whereby a Joint Committee would seek consensus on the functions of the second Chamber and then both Houses would have the opportunity to consider its composition in the light of that. Would not it be pre-empting that process for the Government to try to rush ahead in getting the House of Lords to introduce timetabling of Bills, or indeed remove the remaining hereditary peers, without taking all these things together?
Ms Harman: As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we have a manifesto commitment to limit to 60 days the time that the House of Lords will have to deal with a Bill. That is a free-standing manifesto commitment. We also have a free-standing manifesto commitment to abolish the remaining hereditaries. In addition to that, we said in our manifesto that we would establish a Joint Committee and have a free vote in this House. We will proceed on all those points; one is not conditional on the other.
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