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The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, as regards Queen's Counsel, there will be consultation for as long as it takes to come to the right conclusion. The effect of the announcements made last Thursday was that the role of Lord Chancellor would eventually be abolished to ensure that there would be a properly independent judiciary. It is wrong that a government Minister can sit as a judge.
Lord Goodhart: My Lords, while it is plainly welcome that there will be consultation on the subject of Queen's Counsel, does the noble and learned Lord agree that if it is not the Government's job to appoint judgesas now appears to be acceptedit is certainly not the Government's job to choose Queen's Counsel? Is he willing to say that any further appointments that may be made to the rank of Queen's Counsel should not be made by him or by any other member of the Government?
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, one of the issues to be consulted upon is precisely that. As I said in answer to the Question of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, we have an open mind on that issue. It would be wrong for me to predetermine the result.
Lord Renton: My Lords, having become a Queen's Counsel nearly 50 years agothe only one senior to me is the noble and learned Lord, Lord Shawcross, who is 101 and, alas, cannot walkperhaps I may ask the noble and learned Lord whether he agrees that, for years and years, the present system of appointing Queen's Counsel has worked well. It has enabled High
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, the process has worked well. My noble and learned friend Lord Irvine of Lairg introduced significant improvements in the way it works and it is widely regarded as a fair and transparent process. However, there are issues of principle as to whether it is right that the Government should determine whether or not someone should be promoted from one rank of the profession to another.
Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord therefore accept that the silk system is a necessary and valuable mark of quality which helps to identify outstanding advocates at the Bar? Can he confirm that it is not the principle that requires reassessment but merely the method by which appointments are made?
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, both the principle and the method need to be assessed. Is it right that once given such status it should stay with you for the rest of your life? Is it right that it should be done by the Government? Is it right as far as the market is concernedthat is, the people who use the services of barristersthat it should be done in this way? We need to consult widely on all these issues and to obtain properly informed views.
Lord Ackner: My Lords, in answer to one question, the noble and learned Lord said that it would be wrong for a politician, such as the Lord Chancellor, to be the head of the judiciary and to sit as a judge, which reason justified the abolition of the office. However, the restriction on the Lord Chancellor being the head of the judiciary or sitting as a judge could have been removed, leaving the Lord Chancellor to carry out all his other multifarious duties. His activity, which I fully agree should not have been continued, could have been stopped, leaving him in the position of running a very important and useful department. Why was it not done in that way?
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I said that it would be wrong for a government Minister to sit as a judge. This is a question about Queen's Counsel, not about the announcements made at the end of last week.
Viscount Bledisloe: My Lords, I express my personal delight at seeing my noble and learned friend where he is. However, does he recognise that, although it may be highly desirable to take a long-term view of the process of appointing Queen's Counsel, it is utterly unsatisfactory to put the present system into suspense before anything has been invented to replace it? Does he recognise that members of the Bar have career plans in relation to the time at which they decide to apply for silk? Some decided not to apply this year. Does my noble and learned friend recognise that it would be
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, the position is that we think it right to suspend the competition. If the conclusion reached at the end of the process of consultation is that the system for applying for silk should continue, then the 2004 competition will be reinstated at a later date. If it is concluded that it should not continue, the position would be that it would have been right not to have had it.
Lord Elton: My Lords, in reply to my noble friend Lord Carlisle, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said that, of course, there would be consultation about the future of QCs for as long as it takes to get the right answer. Was that a Freudian slip, or will the Government continue to consult until they get what they consider to be the right answer?
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, it was not a Freudian slip. When I said "the right answer", I meant the right answer in terms of what is best in the public interest.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, if the noble and learned Lord concedes that the present system of appointment is working well, will he say why consideration has now to be given to its abrogation?
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, even though the system is well run, is transparent, and I believe that the best people are appointed to the rank of Queen's Counsel, there are issues of principle as to whether or not it is right that the Government should be able to promote someone within his or her own profession and whether that is the right way to deal with promotion within a profession.
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, will my noble and learned friend assure us that the Law Society will also be consulted? In the last list of QCs, only one solicitor was appointed.
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, of course I give that assurance.
The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, what is the authority for the new moral code relating to who should be appointed? From where do the principles come? Will the noble and learned Lord give us a definition of them, rather than simply saying that they are wrong in principle? What are the principles?
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, it may be said that the Government's role in promoting someone in a profession from one rank to another would give the executive too much control over that profession. The criteria on which QCs are currently appointed are published.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, perhaps the noble and learned Lord will remind his colleagues that if they
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, that is certainly not our intention. In relation to all the changes that have been proposed, we seek to ensure that the results reached are in the public interest.
Brought from the Commons; read a first time, and ordered to be printed.
Brought from the Commons; read a first time, and ordered to be printed.
The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.
Moved, That the Third Report from the Select Committee be agreed to.(The Chairman of Committees.)
Following is the report referred to:
On Question, Motion agreed to.
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