Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Hylton: My Lords, with the leave of the House, perhaps I can remind the Minister. It appears to me that the word "office" has been left out after "judicial".

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, one has to read the line together with the Bill. The word "office" is already in the Bill. The words that we are adding do not make sense until they are put into the Bill. It is already there. I can see vigorous nodding from those in the Box to tell me that I have the matter aright.

1 Jul 2002 : Column 70

The word "reflective" best meets the needs of this part of the Bill. If one were to re-write other parts of the legislation, one would perhaps use "reflective", as opposed to "representative", because it is a much more sensitive word and indicates precisely what we mean. We do not mean that those appointed to other bodies will represent specific contingencies on that body; we mean that they will be reflective of the community. We use that word because it has the nuance that is absolutely essential. In relation to the judiciary, that needs to be underlined because of independence and other factors. To be honest, I believe that we probably would have used the word "reflective" in the past, but language changes and we choose what is best for today.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

7.15 p.m.

Schedule 3 [Appointment to listed judicial offices]:

[Amendment No. 36 not moved.]

Clause 6 [Removal from most senior judicial offices]:

Lord Glentoran moved Amendment No. 37:

    Page 5, line 33, after "office" insert "for a maximum of three months"

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this short amendment was tabled in Grand Committee. On reflection, I was not happy with the response given by the noble Baroness. I felt that something had been missed. There is a possibility that under subsection (8) of new Section 12B, in relation to the suspension of the Lord Chief Justice, a hole could appear when a decision is taken to suspend the Lord Chief Justice while something else happens. In the response we were encouraged to believe that that was hypothetical because it will never happen. I can go along with that, but if one believes that it will never happen, why is that provision in the Bill at all? If it is to be in the Bill, it should have all the necessary safeguards.

In Grand Committee the human rights issue was also mentioned. I feel that the human rights issue would be on the side of the Lord Chief Justice. If I were Lord Chief Justice and I were to be suspended, I would want to know that I had some security so that whatever should happen next would happen. I would want to know that I was not to be left festering, as has happened in other parts of our democracy, for years on end while some court or tribunal decides what is to happen to me. It is not a big deal. I do not feel that it is in any way political, but it is a safeguard and it is tidying up. I beg to move.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, is right to say that we spoke about this matter in Committee. Clause 6 provides for the removal of judges from the most senior judicial offices. I believe that we all accept that it is highly unlikely that the circumstances will arise to make consideration of those provisions necessary, but they have to be in the Bill just in case.

There are difficulties. Amendment No. 37 places a time limit of three months on the suspension of the Lord Chief Justice, while the Prime Minister and the

1 Jul 2002 : Column 71

Lord Chancellor consider making Motions for the presentation of the Address to Her Majesty for his or her removal. We have discussed this amendment and we do not anticipate any difficulty with the exercise of the power to suspend, but we have to remember that the power is given to the Prime Minister for use only when he and the Lord Chancellor consider the making of a Motion for an Address to remove. Making those two the final arbiters as to whether the power is exercised is an important point. The power to suspend clearly will not be exercised lightly. As I explained before, we expect action under this clause to be taken extremely rarely, if ever. We hope that the matter would be over quickly, but we cannot know for sure how much time a tribunal may take to report. For that practical reason we require the flexibility that the amendment seeks to remove.

On the previous occasion I said that speed will be of the essence. On that occasion the noble Lord asked whether we could, at least, bring the matter back to the House. We know the workings of this place and the other place well. The removal of the Lord Chief Justice, even for a temporary suspension, would excise people's minds greatly. I am sure that it would cause a huge amount of debate the moment that it happened, and it would be likely to be a matter that would be kept under rigorous review by Her Majesty's loyal Opposition if no one else.

Speed will be of the essence, but the reason why we say that it would be unwise to prescribe a time limit is because we would never know how long that time limit should be. It would have to be done properly and speedily. I hope that that reassures the noble Lord. Nothing that we say will limit in any way the opportunities for individual Members in the other place or here to put down appropriate questions, to ask for a statement or anything of that kind. If such a matter were to take place, it would be momentous indeed, and it would be given the attention that it deserved.

Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that explanation. I am still pretty uneasy, but I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 38 not moved.]

Clause 7 [Removal from listed judicial offices]:

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass moved Amendment No. 39:

    Page 6, line 1, leave out from second "the" to end of line 2 and insert "Lord Chief Justice"

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to my feet to speak to Amendments Nos. 39, 40 and 41. Earlier this evening I might have risen with a feeling of frustration. I now rise with a feeling of fearfulness as to what is going to happen when this Bill becomes law in Northern Ireland.

At every other line in the Bill I see the responsibility that is being placed on the shoulders of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister acting jointly. If I said that that was a head-in-the-sand attitude, no

1 Jul 2002 : Column 72

personal offence would be intended towards those who have responsibility for putting the Government's case. But the reality is that those increasing responsibilities on the First Minister and Deputy First Minister require the exercise of such time and attention that the whole process could literally run into the sand.

It appears that my proposal to delete in page 6, line 1,

    "the First Minister and deputy First Minister, acting jointly",

and to insert "Lord Chief Justice", and in line 4 of the same page to leave out,

    "First Minister and deputy First Minister",

and insert, "Lord Chief Justice" will have little sympathy from the Government. Perhaps I should not be so despondent at this point but what has happened heretofore has not encouraged me. Amendment No. 41 of course is a consequential amendment.

In so far as I formally move these amendments, I appeal again to the noble Baroness who will respond to explain how we are to achieve what the Bill seeks to achieve through the offices of two Ministers who are, in political terms, chalk and cheese, oil and water? Where will we find this coming together, this acting jointly? However, I am not as despondent as my noble friend Lord Molyneaux—he tells me I am not as old. I believe that, when it comes to the crunch, the good sense of the people of Northern Ireland will not impose upon us government by leaders of parties other than those currently in power.

However, to propose the sort of legislation that we are seeing here tonight is to increase unbearably, and unsustainably, the pressures on the First and Deputy First Ministers. Whether it be now or at Third Reading, the Government have an obligation to come forward with something which will have some appeal and some sympathy, and which will create some confidence across both traditions in Northern Ireland. What we have heretofore falls far short of that expectation. I beg to move.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I am much encouraged by the optimism of the noble Lord, Lord Magginis, in the people of Northern Ireland. I confess that that is a confidence I share. We have to trust the good sense of the people of Northern Ireland—both communities—who have, on a number of occasions, chosen bravely to stand together for peace when others would want to separate them. I commend and wholeheartedly agree with the noble Lord's emphasis.

Amendments Nos. 39 to 41 place the power to remove or suspend a person from a listed judicial office in the hands of the Lord Chief Justice alone rather than with the First Minister and Deputy First Minister. The Bill currently invites all three to share the burden. I hope that, as I go through this a little slowly, your Lordships will find that there is more comfort and reason to feel secure than may have been thought at first blush.

The Bill currently provides for the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to perform this function only on the basis of a recommendation from a judicial

1 Jul 2002 : Column 73

tribunal and—this is important—with the agreement of the Lord Chief Justice. This role reflects the position held by the First Minister in Scotland.

We expect action under this clause to be a rare event. But the process of removal from judicial office is very much linked to the process of appointment. The review recommended a role for the First Minister and Deputy First Minister in appointments to provide political accountability. The same holds true for the removal procedure.

All Amendments Nos. 39 to 41 achieve, therefore, is to remove the element of political accountability advocated by the review. The noble Lord should also be reassured that the Bill provides the safeguards that any removal can only take place on the recommendation of a tribunal and with the agreement of the Lord Chief Justice. So if the noble Lord was fearful that the First Minister or Deputy First Minister could somehow go off on a frolic of their own, then that fear has no basis. There has to be a recommendation and the Lord Chief Justice has to agree. The noble Lord will know better than I that the current Lord Chief Justice is a formidable individual.

I consider that it is appropriate that the agreement of the Lord Chief Justice, in his capacity as the head of the judiciary in Northern Ireland, to the removal of the holder of a listed judicial office should be sought. We are confident and content that the provisions as drafted achieve an appropriate balance. Therefore I urge the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page