PN020704ConstReform

IMMEDIATE

FRIDAY 2 JULY 2004

ATTENTION: NEWS EDITORS / POLITICAL/LEGAL CORRESPONDENTS

CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM BILL [HL] − HOUSE OF LORDS COMMITTEE PUBLISHES ITS REPORT

The House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitutional Reform Bill [HL] published its report today. In a highly unusual move, the committee was set up in March 2004 after the Second Reading of the Government's bill. For the past three months, the committee has been taking evidence from expert witnesses and deliberating on the policy of the bill. As well as producing a report setting out the full range of arguments which emerged from the evidence, the committee has amended the bill in several important respects. The revised bill now returns to the House of Lords for further scrutiny.

The Constitutional Reform Bill seeks to abolish the office of Lord Chancellor, to create a Supreme Court for the United Kingdom, and reform the way judges are appointed in England and Wales. Views in the committee were sharply divided on two major aspects of the reforms-abolition of the office of Lord Chancellor and the creation of a Supreme Court to replace the Law Lords. The House of Lords itself will now have to determine these and other questions (assisted by the analysis of the arguments set out in the committee's Report).

On several other important issues, the committee was able to reach agreement.  In total, the report examines 44 issues arising from the bill.  Brief summaries of the more important of these issues are set out below.

Arrangements to replace the office of Lord Chancellor (Part 1 of the bill)

  • The future of the office of Lord Chancellor. Opinion on the committee was divided on the Government's intention to transfer powers from the Lord Chancellor to a Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs. But the committee agreed on the duties to be performed by the "Minister" if the bill is passed.

  • The rule of law and the continued independence of the judiciary. The committee agreed that the bill should require ministers to uphold the rule of law, but could not accept the Government's proposed amendment to bring this about. The committee did not agree on whether the provision made in the bill for guaranteeing judicial independence was adequate.

  • The "Concordat". The committee agreed that, irrespective of the outcome of the bill, the arrangements agreed in January 2004 between the Government and the Lord Chief Justice (which have become known as the "Concordat" and by which, amongst many important changes, the Lord Chief Justice becomes head of the judiciary) should be implemented by legislation.  The committee made several amendments to the bill to ensure that the terms of the Concordat are fulfilled.

The Supreme Court (Part 2 of the bill)

  • The establishment of a Supreme Court. The committee was divided on the desirability of replacing the Appellate committee of the House of Lords with a Supreme Court.

  • Timing of the establishment of a Supreme Court. The committee was unable to agree as to whether the setting up of a Supreme Court should be delayed until permanent premises for the new court are ready.

  • Appointment of Supreme Court judges. The committee agreed that a commission for the selection of a Supreme Court judge should provide the name of only one candidate, and not two to five names as originally proposed, and have amended the bill accordingly.

  • Supreme Court administration. The committee agreed that the Minister should not have the power to amend the Supreme Court's rules, and that the Supreme Court should be established as a non-ministerial department with funding directly from the Treasury rather than being administratively part of the Department for Constitutional Affairs.  The Lord Chancellor will, at a later stage, propose amendments which reflect these decisions.

Judicial appointments and discipline in England and Wales (Part 3 of the bill)

  • The establishment of a Judicial Appointments Commission for England and Wales. The committee was agreed on the desirability of such a body and examined its composition and operation, making amendments to these provisions.

  • Merit in judicial appointments. The committee agreed that merit should be the sole criterion upon which appointment to the judiciary is based, and amended the bill accordingly.

  • Diversity in judicial appointments. The committee agreed that diversity among the judiciary should be promoted without diluting the principle of merit.  The committee agreed to amend the bill to include the "encouragement of diversity in the range of persons available for selection".

  • The power of the Minister to accept or reject candidates.  The committee agreed that the powers of the Minister to reject candidates nominated by the Judicial Appointments Commission, or to require the Commission to reconsider its recommendation, were too widely drawn, and therefore welcomed amendments tabled by the Lord Chancellor to make it clear that the Minister may reject a candidate selected for appointment by the Judicial Appointments Commission only if he considers that the candidate is unsuitable and require the Commission to reconsider only if he considers that the selected candidate is not the best suited to the post.

  • Confidentiality in the appointments process.  The committee agreed that the maintenance of confidentiality in judicial appointments was highly important, and that the duty to maintain confidentiality should extend beyond the Commissioners and their staff (as currently provided for in the bill).  The Lord Chancellor will propose amendments to this effect at a later stage of the bill.

Parliamentary Issues

  • Judges and membership of the House of Lords.  The committee considered the cases for and against the disqualification of judges who are members of the House of Lords from speaking and voting in the House, but were unable to agree.

  • A Parliamentary Committee. The committee was agreed on the desirability of continuing a dialogue between Parliament and the judiciary, and supported the establishment of a parliamentary committee to this end.

NOTES FOR EDITORS

1. The members of the committee were:

Lord Bledisloe

Lord Carlisle of Bucklow

Lord Carter

Lord Craig of Radley

Lord Crickhowell

Lord Elder

Lord Falconer of Thoroton ( Lord Chancellor)

Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen

Lord Goodhart

Lord Holme of Cheltenham

Lord Howe of Aberavon

Lord Kingsland

Lord Lloyd of Berwick

Lord Maclennan of Rogart

Lord Richard (Chairman)

Lord Windlesham

The specialist adviser was Professor Andrew Le Sueur, Barber Professor of Jurisprudence at the University of Birmingham.

2. The Constitutional Reform Bill [HL] was introduced into the House of Lords on 24 February 2004.  The committee was established by a vote of the House of Lords on 8 March 2004 and met for the first time on Wednesday, 24 March.  It met twice a week, meeting for the last time on Thursday, 24 June. 

3. The committee's remit was to consider the Constitutional Reform Bill [HL].  The committee had the power to amend the Bill. (The procedure is not unusual in respect of contentious private members' bills, but is not usual for Government bills.)

4. The Report is published by The Stationery Office as the Report of the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitutional Reform Bill [HL], HL Paper 125.  The full text of the Report will be available on the Internet at http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/ld/ldcref.htm by 3 pm on Friday 2 July.

5. The committee considered a wide range of written and oral evidence on the Bill.  The committee commissioned the Hansard Society to conduct an e-consultation on the issues arising from the Bill.  The report on the e-consultation is published as Appendix 7 to the Report.

6. The Constitutional Reform Bill [HL] will be republished, as amended in select committee, on Friday 2 July as HL Bill 91. It will be available online at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/pabills.htm.

7. The next step: the Constitutional Reform Bill [HL] now resumes the usual legislative course, and will be debated in a committee of the Whole House starting on 13 July.  The bill began its life in the House of Lords and has yet to be debated by the House of Commons. The bill is likely to be carried over into the 2004−05 session.

8. Further information from:

Chris Ballinger

Committee Assistant

Telephone: 020 7219 6084

E-mail: [email protected]

[ENDS]