PARLIAMENTARY DEBATES

HOUSE OF COMMONS

OFFICIAL REPORT

First Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.

DRAFT MAXIMUM NUMBER OF JUDGES (No. 2) ORDER 1993

Tuesday 4 May 1993

LONDON: HMSO

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The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. John G. Blackburn

Adams, Mrs. Irene (Paisley, North)

Ainsworth, Mr. Robert (Coventry, North-East)

Atkinson, Mr. David (Bournemouth, East)

Boateng, Mr. Paul (Brent, South)

Bottomley, Mr. Peter (Eltham)

Burns, Mr. Simon (Chelmsford)

Butterfill, Mr. John (Bournemouth, West)

Byers, Mr. Stephen (Wallsend)

Colvin, Mr. Michael (Romsey and Waterside)

Knight, Mr. Greg (Lords Commissioner to the Treasury)

Maclennan, Mr. Robert (Caithness and Sutherland)

O'Brien, Mr. Mike (Warwickshire, North)

Prentice, Mrs. Bridget (Lewisham, East)

Taylor, Mr. John M. (Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department)

Temple-Morris, Mr. Peter (Leominster)

Thompson, Sir Donald (Calder Valley)

Tipping, Mr. Paddy (Sherwood)

Wilkinson, Mr. John (Ruislip-Northwood)

Dr. P. C. Seaward, Committee Clerk.

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3 First Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c. Tuesday 4 May 1993

[Mr. JOHN G. BLACKBURN in the Chair]

Draft Maximum Number of Judges (No. 2) Order 1993

4.30 pm

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Mr. John M. Taylor): I beg to move, That the Committee has considered the draft Maximum Number of Judges (No. 2) Order 1993. First, may I say what a pleasure it is for us to be assembled here under your chairmanship, Mr. Blackburn? The order is made under section 4(4) of the Supreme Court Act 1981 and amends section 4(1)(e) of that Act, so as further to increase the maximum number of High Court judges. If approved, it will come into force on 13 May 1993. I should explain that the Supreme Court Act 1981 set the maximum number of High Court judges at 80. That number was increased to 85 by the Maximum Number of Judges Order 1987. The order now proposed will increase that maximum number to 98. In considering the justification for a further increase in the number of High Court judges, I hope that it may be helpful to set the matter in the context of the demands on all the jurisdictions in which High Court judges sit and, in particular, the advice of the group of senior judges and officials, chaired by Lord Justice Kennedy, on the work, deployment and numbers of High Court judges. The report of the group is available in the Libraries of both Houses, so I shall not dwell in detail on its content. In summary, however, the group considered the main strands of High Court judges' work and saw the immediate purpose of its review as being to address means of relieving the pressure affecting the justice system. Having concluded early on that there was a continuing need for the High Court bench to provide a pool of more able judges to try the more serious cases, both in London and on the circuit, the group examined each strand and considered whether the criteria for identifying work suitable for High Court judges could be improved, the procedural or jurisdictional improvements that might be made, and flexible methods of deployment for them to undertake that work. From an examination of the strands, it was concluded that additional judge-power was required to reduce delays and backlogs of cases in the chancery division, the Court of Appeal criminal division, the Crown Office list, the employment appeals tribunal and to maintain the appropriate judicial strength of the commercial court. The group identified a need for between 10 and 13 additional judges to be appointed. The report recommends further work, including keeping under review the work which High Court judges should do and the establishment of information systems to monitor the position, to determine the required number and to support the process of planning future numbers and deploying those currently in post. At 4 its most basic, that is aimed at ensuring that demands for further judge-power are based on appropriate levels of productivity and increases in workload. The further work is set out in appendix 21 to the report and will be subject to a thorough investigation, to be completed as a matter of priority. In the meantime, the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice have agreed that 10 new appointments are sufficient to relieve current pressure on the High Court bench. They will, of course, keep the position under review and, as a safeguard against any continuing problems, approval is being sought to increase the statutory maximum number from 85 to 98 rather than 95. After the 10 additional appointments have been made, no further judges will be appointed until the further work is completed. Thereafter, if it proves that additional appointments are needed, there will be some headroom to enable swift action to be taken to appoint more judges without recourse to Parliament and the Privy Council. Subject to the Committee's approval of the order, and the approval of the other place, the additional appointments will be made as soon as practicable.

4.34 pm

Mr. Paul Boateng (Brent, South): I am delighted to associate myself with the Minister's remarks in welcoming you, Mr. Blackburn, as Chairman of our proceedings—which, you will be happy to hear, are likely to be short. The Opposition are delighted that the Minister has at last come forward with this welcome and long-awaited measure. We have urged the Government to appoint more High Court judges these many moons. We are delighted that they are now prepared to do so. We are also glad that the Government have placed a copy of the working party report in the Library of the House of Commons. That is a welcome move towards more openness in such matters. We are about to approve the increase in the maximum number of judges outlined in the order. It is hoped that, when further appointments are needed to the High Court bench, it will not be necessary to apply the repeated pressure that has had to be brought to bear on the Government for the present tranche of appointments. The Minister's assurance that justices will be appointed quickly, as and when necessary, is particularly welcome. We wish the order good speed.

4.36 pm

Mr. John M. Taylor: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his gracious remarks. It would be useful for the Committee to know that in the rhythms of public affairs, the steps taken here have been taken quite swiftly. On appointment by the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice, the Kennedy group first met on 5 October 1992. The report was received by the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice on 10 February this year. The announcement was made by me in the House of Commons on 5 March. I hope the measure is secured this very day.

4.37 pm

Mr. Boateng: Much as I welcome what the Minister said, it is a little rich to suggest that the rhythms of public affairs have manifested themselves with alacrity on this occasion. Many Members throughout the House and people in the profession and the wider community have asked whether it 5 was necessary to await the valuble report of Lord Justice Kennedy to make the necessary appointments and to bring forward the order. It could have been done before and it should have been done before. There was no need to await the welcome working party report before bringing the order to the House. I understand that the Dalai Lama is elsewhere in the House this afternoon. I know that many Conservative Members need enlightenment, although not all of them seek it. I would not want to inhibit their rapid departure along that path, so I shall make no further observations.

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The Chairman: In language that the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) will understand, "Amen".

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Committee has considered the draft Maximum Number of Judges (No. 2) Order 1993.

Committee rose at twenty-two minutes to Five o'clock.

THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE:

Blackburn, Mr. John G. (Chairman)

Atkinson, Mr. David

Boateng, Mr.

Bottomley, Mr. Peter

Burns, Mr.

Butterfill, Mr.

Colvin, Mr.

Knight, Mr. Greg

O'Brien, Mr. Mike

Prentice, Mrs. Bridget

Taylor, Mr. John M.

Temple-Morris, Mr.

Thompson, Sir Donald

Wilkinson, Mr.