Select Committee on Constitution Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120 - 121)



  Q120  Lord Rowlands: That would have been a standard reply in any age. Do you not think that the change in environment and the way in which the judiciary are playing their new role in human rights legislation and so forth does raise the issue of accountability?

  Ms Dyer: I do not think it makes it any different. I suppose they could be asked questions but they would be bound to give you fairly anodyne answers because if they strayed into areas where they gave their opinions on issues then they would be in danger of being taken off cases because of apparent bias, as happened to Lord Steyn in the Belmarsh case because he had previously expressed a view on an issue in the case.

  Ms Gibb: The only area I can see now where they are going to be increasingly accountable—I do not think it is incompatible with independence—is over the way they are appointed, because of the setting up of the new Judicial Appointments Commission which obviously requires annual reports to Parliament and so on, and the whole method is transparent and open to public scrutiny. The whole thrust towards a more diverse judiciary is another factor which should improve public confidence and respect, to come back to that earlier question. I think it is not incompatible with being independent; it reinforces it in some ways.

  Mr Rozenberg: I can see dangers. Nobody wants to go down the road to the extent that you have a candidate for appointment as, perhaps, Lord Chief Justice being questioned by this Committee as to his views and his suitability for appointment as you would see in the United States. On the other hand, I do not think there is any harm in the public knowing a little bit more about the views of the Lord Chief Justice of the day once he or she has been appointed given that he has this important role as head of the judiciary, a role which we do not really understand. We have no idea how he is exercising that role. I know he has given evidence to this Committee but we do not know to what extent he is influenced by his officials, to what extent he works with his officials, how much of his time he spends on administration, what he sees his role as head of the judiciary as. I think these are questions that if he does not want to answer from us, the press, he should certainly answer from a committee such as yours and we should know a little bit more about him personally if we think that his personal views and his philosophy on life are going to affect the way in which he carries out his public responsibilities.

  Q121  Lord Rowlands: You actually said earlier on that you thought they were liberal judges or the judges were more left wing; you characterised it yourselves at the beginning. That is picked up because of individual decisions, but in that sense judges are entering the political arena in many respects. By even limiting options government has they do limit and they do therefore enter political debate through judgments, therefore is it not reasonable that they can be criticised? Or is not reasonable that we should make them more accountable?

  Mr Rozenberg: They would say they are not acting politically and they would say they cannot answer back. It is not as clear cut as those answers would suggest because, in the broader sense, what they are doing has a political impact and to some extent they can answer back. However, they are right to say that they are not politicians and should not be treated as politicians. Whenever they come into conflict with politicians—as the late Lord Taylor did with Michael Howard when he was Home Secretary in the years up to 1997—the judges inevitably come off second best because they do not have the political skills to engage with experienced politicians.

  Chairman: I am afraid we are going to have to stop in a moment, but if there is anything that you have not said that you would like to say—anything burning but also brief—we would be extremely interested to hear it. You have covered a lot of ground; maybe we have covered everything. In that case, could I say on behalf of the Committee how grateful we are. It has been a very valuable session; thank you for being so candid and helpful.

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