Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-39)|
20 MARCH 2007
Q20 Dr Whitehead: When the Tribunals,
Courts and Enforcement Bill was published the Explanatory Note
to the Bill stated that a number of the changes to eligibility
that were being undertaken were being done with the aim of increasing
the diversity of the judiciary. Were you consulted about those
changes before the Bill was published?
Baroness Prashar: As you know,
we generally support the principles of the Bill, but we would
like a little bit more clarity on the practical application of
it because, although the broadening of the eligibility criteria
is, of course, welcome, I think is introducing a subjective element
into that and we would like better clarity. At the moment the
question of eligibility is a matter for the Lord Chancellor but
the Bill will give us flexibility, so we do not want to be in
a position to have to apply subjective criteria to assessing eligibility,
but broadly, yes, we welcome the Bill.
Q21 Dr Whitehead: So were you consulted
before the Bill was published?
Baroness Prashar: We have had
discussions, and I actually wrote to Baroness Ashton, who was
dealing with the Bill, particularly on the question of eligibility,
that we welcomed it but we were concerned about the practical
application of it.
Q22 Dr Whitehead: And was that on
your initiative or on the Government's initiative?
Baroness Prashar: It was our initiative.
Writing to Baroness Ashton was our initiative.
Q23 Dr Whitehead: So, with respect,
you were not consulted?
Baroness Prashar: We had discussions.
Q24 Dr Whitehead: Did those discussions
arise once, as it were, you observed that the Bill had been published
and you said, "I think there are some things we need to say
on this as the JAC"?
Baroness Prashar: Yes.
Q25 Dr Whitehead: But there was not
an approach to you from the DCA, for example, saying, "We
are thinking of putting these new eligibility criteria forward
in the Bill. What is your view of how they may impact upon what
you are doing"?
Baroness Prashar: If you are asking
at what stage we were consulted, not at the outset, but, as I
said, we have had discussions with the DCA on the eligibility
Q26 Dr Whitehead: You have mentioned
some of the ways in which this might impact, but overall how do
you think they will impact on the work of the Commission? Do you
think that they will have some of the positive effectsfor
example, on benchmarking that you have talked about?
Baroness Prashar: Let us take
an example. The ILEX people are eligible, but of course from our
point of view it is important that we assess them on merit. It
widens the pool, but the assessment will be on merit.
Q27 Dr Whitehead: One of the proposals
was to decrease the number of years' experience required to be
eligible for some judicial appointments and, as you say, that
may expand the pool of experienced candidates, but it is at least
technically possible that that would allow appointment to a bench,
for example, under the age of 30. Do you think that reduction
in the number of years' experience will have any effect on the
quality of people appointed so that the eligible pool will be
diluted on quality grounds?
Baroness Prashar: For us age is
not the criterion. What we are concerned about is that, whatever
your age or background, if you meet the criteria against which
we are assessing candidates you will be appointed.
Q28 Dr Whitehead: You said age was
not a criterion but is there nevertheless a suggestion that that
might be a move towards a career judiciary, that if people are
eligible under changes in arrangements to be appointed at a very
young age that might suggest that such a move might be happening,
at least on an informal basis?
Baroness Prashar: I do not see
this particular reduction in age as a move to a career judiciary.
As a Commission we have not taken a view about what we think about
a career judiciary because we have been very much concerned about
making sure that the current system works effectively.
Q29 Dr Whitehead: Do you think the
criticism that the changes proposed in the Bill, and indeed some
of the questions about experience, for example, will just have
an impact on the junior judiciary and that the issues on diversity
in the higher reaches of the judiciary, as we have heard, will
be just as they always were?
Baroness Prashar: I think it will
have an impact as far as tribunals, the District Bench or the
Circuit Bench are concerned. It is fair to say that it may take
a little longer in terms of the High Court, but for our part we
are doing whatever we can to make sure that people who have suitable
qualities apply. For example, we have been very active in ensuring
that solicitors, academics and others are made aware of it and,
as you know, previously there was a view that to be a good judge
you had to be an advocate. Advocates do not necessarily make good
judges, and if you look at our current qualities and abilities
that we have developed, they are about assessing ability to do
the job and are not so much about the ability to be a good advocate,
so we are hoping that the combination of our current abilities
and qualities that we have determined, plus some of the things
we are doing in terms of encouraging people from academic backgrounds
and solicitors to apply, will begin to make the change as far
as women and minorities are concerned. I think it would be fair
to sayand this is my personal assessmentthat that
probably will take a little longer. On the other hand, if we do
widen the pool of judicial experience among tribunals and district
benches then I am hoping people will gain enough experience through
that route. Some of them need to come through that route to the
High Court as well.
Q30 Chairman: If I may just ask Sir
John's view on one related matter, that is the idea that it might
be helpful in attracting more women to become judges if it were
possible to return to practice after a period of service on the
bench. The Lord Chancellor has indicated that he thinks this might
be helpful. I wonder what you think about it.
Mr Justice Goldring: It is not
an area which we as a Commission are getting involved in. I do
not think it is for me to express a view about that. That is very
much a matter for the Lord Chief Justice and the Lord Chancellor,
each of whom, of course, has expressed a view. I am sorry if I
am being slightly evasive, but I am going to be.
Q31 Chairman: So really, in the Lord
Chief Justice's view, it would be for the Lord Chief Justice to
decide if it were appropriate to remove the traditional limitation
that you do not return to practice after you have served on the
Mr Justice Goldring: Yes.
Q32 Chairman: In the Lord Chancellor's
view it appears to be a kind of joint decision, but the Lord Chief
Justice and his predecessor think that under the new arrangements
it is a matter for them.
Mr Justice Goldring: That is my
Q33 Chairman: And the Commission
would have to just deal with the consequences and act in accordance
with whatever decision was arrived at?
Mr Justice Goldring: Yes, I think
Baroness Prashar: That is absolutely
Q34 Mr Tyrie: Do you not think it
is something that you might want to have a think about and see
if you should have a view? I can understand that you are a relatively
new group and it is a relatively new issue, but you might want
time to think about it because it is actually going to have quite
a considerable impact on your work, is it not?
Baroness Prashar: For us it is
premature to get into issues which are policy matters for the
Lord Chief Justice and the Lord Chancellor. We at the moment are
concerned with our primary duty to appoint on merit and widen
the pool. Obviously, over a period of time, maybe two or three
years, once we have got some experience under our belt and we
have broader comments to make we will do so, but I think it is
early days for us to start getting into the fray on broader issues
because at the moment our priority is to get our core job right
and make the JAC effective in what it is doing.
Q35 Mr Tyrie: At the very least might
it not be a good idea to have a view on what impact it will have
on the way you operate should that proposal go ahead?
Baroness Prashar: The only impact
it would have would be on how we assess. As far as we are concerned,
if people do return and they want to become judges it is a question
of assessing whether they are able to be a good judge if that
is the policy.
Keith Vaz: Can I just echo the points
made by Mr Tyrie? I think this Committee would like to know about
your thoughts on these issues. I realise that everyone is new
and they are finding their lockers but the fact is that the Judicial
Appointments Commission ought to have a view. We accept that this
is something you are going to look at but I think we would like
to know sooner rather than later.
Q36 Chairman: Let me put it this
way. Is this such an important and valuable change from the point
of view of reaching your objectives that it should be given very
serious consideration even if there are other reasons beyond your
remit to question its desirability?
Baroness Prashar: Indeed. I hear
what you are saying and I do think that we have to take it step
Q37 Keith Vaz: Ms Pelham, how long
have you been in your post?
Clare Pelham: As Chief Executive
of JAC I was appointed at the end of February.
Q38 Keith Vaz: Just clarifying some figures
you gave to the Chairman, you have 65 members of staff seconded
from the DCA?
Clare Pelham: We will have on
Q39 Keith Vaz: And how many other
members of staff do you have?
Clare Pelham: We will have a total
number of staff of 87. The remainder comprise some agency staff
which was a consequence of the uncertainty of a relocation and
we needed to take on some short-term staff as well as some staff
seconded from other departments.
1 Note by witness: I was appointed Chief Executive
at the end of February 2006. Back