Thursday 31 January 2013

The Lord Chief Justice at the House of Lords Constitution Committee

On Wednesday 30th January, the Lord Chief Justice (Lord Judge) gave evidence to the House of Lords Constitution Committee.   The session lasted about one hour with Lord Judge answering questions and offering his views on a considerable range of subjects.  Lord Judge retires from office in September 2013 but, as is clear from the committee hearing, he does not intend to disappear from involvement in public life and may give further evidence to the committee.

The discussion - which may be listened to here - covered:

  • Changes to the role of the Lord Chief Justice after the Constitutional Reform Act 2005  (CRA) - this Act had effected a constitutional revolution and the LCJ raised the possibility that the arrangements may need to be reviewed in the future - the changes had left the judiciary without someone to speak for them within Parliament
  • The right of the LCJ to make written submissions to Parliament - CRA s.5
  • Change - there was a need for mature reflection on the long term consequences of constitutional changes - (if Lord Judge had in mind the Succession to the Crown Bill he did not say so)
  • Judicial review - the LCJ confirmed that the senior judiciary had responded to the recent consultation and he pointed out that the burden on the administrative court would reduce markedly with the transfer of immigration and asylum matters to the tribunal
  • Judicial appointments - the LCJ will be involved in 10 appointments to the Court of Appeal.  Diversity is a subject that he feels passionately about and he set out some of the steps already taken to have a more diverse judiciary
  • Cameras in court - Lord Judge cautioned against their introduction into criminal trials (even for sentencing remarks - he referred to problems in New Zealand) and he asked that changes in this area only be made with the 'concurrence' of the the LCJ
  • Legal aid and the likelihood that cuts will result in more 'litigants in person' and, if that occurs, the likelihood of reduced lists for already very busy District Judges in the County Courts.  Lord Judge was also very concerned that reducing legally aided work will impact on diversity in the legal profession.  Many female and ethnic minority lawyers work in this area.
  • QCs - they were invaluable in some cases where the issues were very difficult and where the court needed their expertise to reach a decision - Lord Judge gave the example of the appeal court hearing relating to the new loss of control defence to murder (see blogpost).
  • Wealthy individuals who have their assets frozen and then appears unable to pay for legal representation - maybe some of their assets could be allowed for that purpose
  • Judicial pensions - a government statement is imminent but Lord Judge was concerned about the impact on diversity and the need to attract lawyers of the right calibre to apply for judicial office
Further comment by Joshua Rozenberg - The Guardian 30th January 2013

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