Thursday, 23 March 2017

Lord Chancellor was "completely and utterly wrong"

On Wednesday 22nd March, the Lord Chief Justice - (Lord Thomas) - gave evidence to the House of Lords Constitution Committee.  The session may be viewed via this link, lasts approximately one hour and looks at a considerable number of problems facing the legal system and the judiciary.

The session covered, among other things, the need for the Lord Chancellor to uphold the independence of the judiciary.  Lord Thomas was of the view that the present Lord Chancellor was "completely and utterly wrong" in the view she took at the time of the infamous Daily Mail "Enemies of the People" headline.  I wrote about it at the time - A Jewel Beyond Price 5th November 2016.  Lord Thomas said that judges can be criticised and he welcomed constructive criticism of decisions but there was a difference between criticism and abuse.  According to Lord Thomas, the headline has resulted in some litigants in person saying that circuit judges are enemies of the people.

The process for appointing the next Lord Chief Justice is underway (see Judicial Appointments Commission) and some possible candidates have been effectively ruled out because the Commission's advertisement stated that candidates need to be able to serve for at least 4 years prior to retirement.  (Post of 24th February).   Sir Henry Brooke - a retired Lord Justice of Appeal - stated in a post on his blog:

"There has been a good deal of discussion already in social media about the requirement that the new incumbent must be able to serve for at least four years in the post before he/she, too, reaches the statutory retirement age of 70.  From my knowledge of the responsibilities  of the higher judiciary, this requirement seems to be nothing more than common sense.

This is a huge job, with huge responsibilities, and in my view it – and some of the other very senior judicial offices – needs and deserves a greater degree of continuity in the identity of the office-holder than has been evident in recent years.

A glance at the job description makes this blindingly obvious.  Ideally, a minimum term of eight years would be about right, if a suitable candidate in his/her late 50s or early 60s could be found."

It is clear from committee's evidence session that the Lord Chief Justice has enormous administrative responsibilities apart from the time necessary for sitting in court on difficult cases and preparing judgments. It is also clear from the session that the new Lord Chief Justice will have a a massive in-tray of pressing matters to deal with and this is against a background of what is, according to Lord Thomas, a Ministry of Justice in which people with experience have gone as resources have been reduced.  It is clear that there is a pressing need for a new Lord Chief Justice to be able to offer continuity at a time of immense change.  Over the next few years, Brexit may come, as Lord Thomas said, to dominate everything and clearly the legal world will face enormous challenges including maintaining the pre-eminence of London as a legal venue of choice for commercial dispute resolution (whether litigation or arbitration).

The committee session is worth watching in full.

Lord Chief Justice questioned in annual session with committee.   

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