Select Committee on Constitutional Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-59)


20 MARCH 2007

  Q40  Keith Vaz: So you have at the moment 65 full-time members of staff from the DCA and in addition another 22, of whom how many are agency staff?

  Clare Pelham: Sixteen.

  Q41  Keith Vaz: So you actually only have—and my mathematics is not perfect—

  Clare Pelham: Six.

  Q42  Keith Vaz:— six full-time members of staff recruited by yourselves in the last 11 months?

  Clare Pelham: No. We will have 65 members of staff seconded from the DCA, of whom 39 were those who came to the Commission on secondment arrangements.

  Q43  Keith Vaz: I understand that bit.

  Clare Pelham: The remainder were subsequently recruited by the JAC.

  Q44  Keith Vaz: Sure, but it is six, is it? We are talking about six full-time who were recruited because 65 come from the DCA? They may not have been in judicial appointments but they were somewhere in the building, in Selborne House? You found them somewhere in there?

  Clare Pelham: We had a Whitehall trawl and they were the successful candidates.

  Q45  Keith Vaz: We understand all that, but what about the number of full-time members of staff that you have recruited in the last 11 months? Is it six if you take away the agency staff?

  Clare Pelham: I am sorry to labour the point, but the 39, as it were, were part of the original inheritance from DCA. The difference between the 39 and the 65 is people that the JAC has recruited.

  Q46  Keith Vaz: But there are only six from outside the DCA and outside agency staff who are full-time members of your staff that you have recruited?

  Clare Pelham: Who are directly recruited from other government departments.

  Q47  Keith Vaz: Oh, they have come from other government departments?

  Clare Pelham: Yes.

  Q48  Keith Vaz: They have not been part of an open competition outside Whitehall?

  Clare Pelham: No.

  Q49  Keith Vaz: So your entire staff, apart from the agency staff, are just people who already work for the Civil Service?

  Clare Pelham: Yes.

  Q50  Keith Vaz: I see. Are you happy with that balance, coming from the private sector?

  Clare Pelham: I think it is a consequence of the original relocation strategy because the original relocation strategy dictated that there was this uncertainty about where the Commission would be located in 2008. That made it extremely difficult for the Commission to recruit people who might be asked to work they know not where in 2008, but when the decision on relocation was taken in October there was then the opportunity for us to recruit our own staff on our own terms and conditions. We could not put those in place before the tranche of staff returning in April. We are now putting those in place as soon as we can. We would like then to advertise completely openly and we hope that we will get a large number of staff from a huge range of backgrounds.

  Q51  Keith Vaz: You obviously were not in post when the decision not to relocate happened.[2] Baroness Prashar, why did the Lord Chancellor decide that you were not to relocate until 2010? What was the problem? Office space?

  Baroness Prashar: No. The decision to relocate was made as part of the Lyons Review before the JAC came into being. When I took over the post I felt that it would be a big burden on the JAC, it would not give us the stability we needed, having been set up in 2006, to have to relocate in 2008. I am afraid the choice was very stark: we either concentrated on relocation or concentrated on doing the business, so this was discussed with the Lord Chancellor and we had a business study done and we were very pleased when the Lord Chancellor agreed that we should not be relocated until 2010.

  Q52  Keith Vaz: So you had made representations? It was not that the Lord Chancellor told you to do this? You made representations to him to say, "We want to stay a little bit longer"?

  Baroness Prashar: We made very strong representations to the Lord Chancellor.

  Q53  Keith Vaz: And he accepted them?

  Baroness Prashar: He accepted them.

  Q54  Keith Vaz: And you did that on the basis of a paid-for study?

  Baroness Prashar: That is right.

  Q55  Keith Vaz: How much was the study?

  Baroness Prashar: Can you remember how much was the study, Clare?

  Clare Pelham: I think it would be better if I wrote to you about that so that I can be absolutely accurate.[3]

  Q56 Keith Vaz: Are you embarrassed, Baroness Prashar, that your very first competition for circuit judges has ended in such controversy? Is it a disappointment to you?

  Baroness Prashar: Of course. Any mistake made is a great regret, particularly against the background of our progress, if I may say so. I was very pleased with the progress that we had made in the first year, so it is, of course, a regret, but on the other hand I do want to say to the Committee that what I am pleased about is that, with great help from my Chief Executive and Mr Justice Goldring, we took steps immediately to make sure that no candidate was disadvantaged and, secondly, we immediately learned lessons and introduced the changes that we have done. If I may say so, that is a sign of a very robust organisation given that it is early days.

  Q57  Keith Vaz: Sure, but can we say to you that we regard this as a very serious matter indeed?

  Baroness Prashar: Of course. So do we.

  Q58  Keith Vaz: And the appointment of judges, with the greatest respect to somebody who works at a checkout at Tesco, is not the same thing; it is pretty important, and would you accept that the credibility of the JAC in the eyes of the profession and beyond has been damaged by this experience?

  Baroness Prashar: Let me tell you something. Nobody more than I, my Commissioners and my staff knows the importance of judges because in a way all of us took this job because we think it is a very important matter of public interest, and we want not only to maintain but also enhance the reputation of the judiciary. If I may say so, I think that the mistake can be exaggerated. Of course, it was a human error and steps were put into place and I think the outcome will be fair to everybody, so I think to exaggerate it and stir it up and kind of put a spin on it, that we did this in response to pressure from the judiciary or all sorts of things that have been said—

  Q59  Keith Vaz: I have not said that.

  Baroness Prashar: I am talking about what has been said in the press because what I really want to make clear to you is that it was always our intention that references should be taken into account. If that was not our intention why would they be on the files of the people that were going to be considered?

2   Note by witness (Clare Pelham): There was a misunder- standing as to when Clare Pelham was appointed Chief Executive of the Judicial Appointments Commission. She took up the role in February 2006, and therefore was in post at the time the decision not to relocate was made in October 2006. Back

3   Ev 25 Back

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