Select Committee on Constitution Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 212 - 219)

WEDNESDAY 21 FEBRUARY 2007

RT HON SIR IGOR JUDGE, MR MIKE WICKSTEED AND MR PETER FARR

  Q212  Chairman: Good morning, Sir Igor, a warm welcome to you and your colleagues. We realise that in these early days of relationships between the judiciary and Parliament settling down under the new dispensations, your being here is testing new ground. We are going to be televised, so I wonder if you would care to introduce yourself and your colleagues for the record.

  Sir Igor Judge: Certainly. I am Igor Judge, President of the Queen's Bench Division and Head of Criminal Justice. Mike Wicksteed is from the Lord Chief Justice's Communications Office and Peter Farr is from the Lord Chief Justice's Press Office.

  Q213  Chairman: Thank you very much. Perhaps I could plunge straight into the questioning. The Judicial Communications Office is obviously, in this greater separation of powers, quite an important hinge on the door, and being a hinge is potentially rather uncomfortable, you feel quite a lot of pressure and you have to make sure that it is possible for people to pass through the door. I just wonder how you see your own role and—perhaps this is a question for Mr Wicksteed—how you conceive of the role of the office. How far are you reactive—and there has been plenty to react to in the past few months—and how far do you think you have a proactive public affairs function, if you like, of putting forward the best face of the judiciary and increasing public understanding of what they do and how they do it?

  Mr Wicksteed: We structured the office to take into account both sides of that particular equation. There are two elements to the office, one looks after the media relations and tends broadly speaking to be reactive, but there is a proactive element in it, and the other element is corporate communications or the internal website type of affairs that it looks after. With regards to the press office part of the office, whilst a lot of it is reactive in dealing with media requests, it is actually there to support the judiciary. We are a judicial facility and our prime objective is to make sure that judges, magistrates and tribunals of the judiciary have the support they need in the communications arena. The press office is also involved in proactive work on behalf of the judiciary.

  Q214  Chairman: I wonder whether I could ask Sir Igor whether he and his colleagues, particularly in the senior judiciary, feel that this is an important aspect of support for your work. How far do you think the judges know about the Judicial Communication Office and if they do know do they think, oh good, we have got that important and valuable support; or do they think, I wonder what on earth they do?

  Sir Igor Judge: If they do not know about it they are not reading what they are provided with; I doubt very much if there is a judge who does not know about the Judicial Communications Office. As to support, they recognise that there is a limit to the amount of support that can in fact be provided, but my reading of the situation would be that they are very pleased with how things have gone so far, but they do recognise that there is a limit to what the Judicial Communications Office can do and in particular what the press office can do. I do not want to be discourteous, but they know that we are not a Government department. They know that everything they say is taken down and is capable of being reported; there is no going back on the words you have used in court, you cannot regret them and think I wish I had phrased that rather differently and avoided tomorrow morning's headlines, and so there is nothing that can be done about that. I have quite strong views about how cases are reported, but the answer to your question is yes and yes.

  Q215  Chairman: Could I just ask for information, Mr Wicksteed and Mr Farr, what were your previous jobs?

  Mr Wicksteed: My previous job was in external communications in the DCA/LCD and just before I came across to the Judicial Communications Office I was head of corporate communications in DCA.

  Q216  Chairman: Were you a civil servant?

  Mr Wicksteed: I am a civil servant, yes; I have been since I arrived in 1990.

  Q217  Chairman: What about Mr Farr?

  Mr Farr: Thank you, My Lord Chairman. I have been a civil servant since 1998 in the DCA press office, or the Lord Chancellor's Department as it then was. That was my previous job and in fact I was dealing with the judiciary in the DCA immediately prior to coming across to the new office.

  Q218  Chairman: Given that, is it right to say that your whole loyalty and commitment now would be not to the DCA but to the Judicial Communications Office?

  Mr Wicksteed: Absolutely, there is blue water between us and Government communication offices or Government departments. We are a judicial facility.

  Q219  Chairman: I have not got absolutely clear how the press office fits in—is it simply a very important part of the JCO?

  Mr Wicksteed: Correct.


 
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