Human Rights Act threat to judiciary

A challenge to Scotland's temporary sheriffs could herald copycat actionsagainst the

judiciary elsewhere in the UK when the Human Rights Act isintroduced, a constitutional

expert claims.Barrister Neil Addison predicted in The Lawyer (23 March) that the

actcould invalidate 90 per cent of the judiciary in England and Wales sincethe way in

which the Lord Chancellor can remove circuit judges, recordersand magistrates, means

they cannot satisfy the Article 6 requirement of an”independent and impartial

tribunal”.He warns that Article 6 threatens the validity of the Lord Chancellorsitting

as a judge because he is a Government minister and also thevalidity of the House of

Lords because theoretically, any member can hearLords cases.”Although convention

dictates that only Law Lords hear cases, conventionsare not legally binding and human

rights legislation looks at theory notpractice,” he says.He says the only answer is for

the Government to set up a judicial councilto hire and fire the judiciary.The

introduction of the act into Scottish law last month promptedLivingston law firm, Keegan

Smith to challenge the validity of Scotland's130 temporary sheriffs.Keegan Smith

partner, Iain Smith, says: “This is a landmark case. If weare successful it will have

a huge impact on Scotland's judicial system.Courts will grind to a halt.”The issue is

due to be decided on Friday.Roseanna Cunningham, SNP legal affairs spokesperson, says:

“This will setthe cat among the pigeons if it is upheld. The Scottish system has come

torely heavily on temporary sheriffs and this may skew the way justice isdelivered in

Scotland.”A Lord Chancellor's Department spokesman says: “We don't see any parallelwith

our situation. In our system, all judicial appointments are madestrictly on merit. There

is no political element to that, only that theLord Chancellor is a politician as well

as being the head of thejudiciary.”He says the Government has not ruled out a Judicial

AppointmentsCommission, although it is not a priority.