The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): My Lords, the Government, in common with their predecessors, consider the demands of each inquiry individually. Judges are not obliged to accept the chairmanship of difficult inquiries. They do so out of a strong sense of public duty. The public have confidence in judges because of their well-founded reputation for independence and impartiality. Their standing especially qualifies them for inquiries where there is serious public disquiet: for example, under this Administration, the Lawrence inquiry under Sir William Macpherson; BSE under the noble Lord, Lord Phillips; Bloody Sunday under the noble and learned Lord, Lord Saville; under our predecessors, the Hillsborough disaster under Lord Justice Taylor; the suspension of BCCI under the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bingham; and standards in public life under the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan. Judges also bring to the inquiries a lifetime's experience in the assessment of disputed evidence.
There is another category where judges have special expertise: for example, under this Administration, Thames river safety and the Marchioness disaster under Lord Justice Clarke, the former Admiralty judge; and the criminal courts under Lord Justice Auld, mirroring under our predecessors the civil justice review under the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf.
Lord Windlesham: My Lords, the House will appreciate that very full Answer by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. Bearing in mind that there are only 12 serving Lords of Appeal in Ordinary, is it not deeply unsatisfactory, to say the least, that two full-time members of what, after all, is the final court of appeal should have been prevented from sitting judicially, other than on rare occasions, for such very long periods? One of the current Law Lords is engaged on an inquiry estimated to take three years, and another on an inquiry which is estimated to last four years in all.
This does represent some loss of judicial resources of very high quality. However, the system is coping well. Retired Law Lords are willing to sit. It is to their great credit that they are, and they do so quite often. The noble and learned Lords, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, Lord Goff of Chieveley, Lord Nolan and Lord Cooke of Thorndon, are ready to sit. In the Court of Appeal, many retired judges are ready to sit when invited. Rather than list 10 or so names, I shall write to the noble Lord. It is all a question of the balance of public interest.
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I accept that it is not only judges who possess judicial qualities. Therefore, they are not essential. At the moment, for example, Professor Ian Kennedy, an acknowledged expert on medical ethics and medical negligence, is conducting the inquiry into the medical problems at the Bristol Infirmary. John Uff, who has the advantage of being both an engineer and a Queen's Counsel, is conducting the inquiry into the Southall rail crash. Therefore, no; judges are not absolutely essential, and there are many examples of inquiries conducted under non-judicial chairmen.
Lord Goodhart: My Lords, now that the retiring age for the senior judiciary has been reduced from 75 to 70, would it perhaps be practicable to make more use of recently retired senior members of the judiciary to conduct the inquiries, as was done, for example, with Sir William Macpherson in the case of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry? That would release the Law Lords for their proper job of deciding cases as members of the judiciary.
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, of course, I always consider that option. In relation to the recent problems at Westminster Abbey, a retired Law Lord, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Jauncey of Tullichettle, served on the inquiry. In relation to the recent griefs at the Law Society, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Griffiths, a retired Law Lord, performed that function. Therefore, they, too, certainly are a resource, but even retired Law Lords are entitled to a retirement.
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, we must not underestimate the scale and difficulty of the task in some of the inquiries and the enormous public importance that is attached to achieving a report which will command general public acceptance. The inquiry will have failed in its purpose, and perhaps even the judges' reputation for independence and impartiality will be adversely affected, if the reports do not command general assent. The BSE inquiry is enormously burdensome and, in my view, has been carried out with great dispatch by a judge of the highest quality. And I do not believe that any of us would underestimate the difficulties that affect the noble and learned Lord, Lord Saville, in seeking to give satisfaction in relation to Bloody Sunday--an issue which divides the community in Northern Ireland.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Spoliation Advisory Panel will meet for the first time on 8th June. The panel is expected to adopt its terms of reference and to agree its rules of procedure which will set out the timetable for submissions by claimants and responses from institutions. That will determine the date when it will hear the claim received against a painting in the Tate Gallery.
Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Does he agree that the whole purpose of the process is to seek to achieve some measure of justice for survivors of the Nazis who had property stolen from them? In many cases the property
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, we have been fortunate in being able to set up an expert and entirely independent panel. That panel is considering its terms of reference and rules of procedure. It will proceed on a case-by-case basis and make its own judgment. It will take into account the point made by my noble friend, but I do not believe, in considering such cases, it is for the Government to point it in any particular direction. I agree with the point, to which I believe my noble friend refers, that the draft terms of reference propose mutual exclusivity between compensation and an explanatory pack. I agree that they should not be mutually exclusive.
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