Lord Phillips to challenge government on Supreme Court admin appointments

The former president of the Supreme Court, Lord Phillips, will challenge the right of the government to appoint the court’s chief executive in a proposed amendment to the Crime and Courts Bill this week.

Lord Phillips has tabled the amendment alongside Blackstone Chambers peer David Pannick QC calling for the recently appointed Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling (4 September 2012), to relinquish his responsibility for the appointment. It is his first political manoeuvre since leaving office at the end of the legal year (2 April 2012) and will be seen by many as an attempt to completely separate the powers of the state from the judiciary.

The current Supreme Court chief executive Jenny Rowe is a former senior civil servant who was appointed in January 2008 to run the court when it opened in October 2009 (28 January 2008). She has proved a popular choice and has been widely credited with making the court more transparent in the public eye.

According to The Observer, Lady Jay, chair of the House of Lords constitution committee, has voiced support for the appointments process to become the responsibility of the sitting Supreme Court president. In a letter to Lord McNally last week she wrote that the chief executive should show loyalty to the Supreme Court president rather than a minister (16 December 2012).

“The [supreme] court’s independence, and the perception of its independence, requires that the chief executive owes her primary loyalty to the president of the court, rather than a minister,” she wrote.

“The chief executive is best placed to determine the staffing requirements of the court, and … should as a matter of constitutional principle be accountable to the president and to parliament for such issues, and not a minister.”

A further amendment to the bill has also been tabled by Pannick together with Lord Marks and Baroness Hamwee that would put legislative requirement on the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) to consider diversity when making appointments.

Speaking in the House of Lords earlier this month Pannick stated: “The purpose of Amendment 86D is to ensure that this statutory duty to promote diversity is also placed on others who have leadership roles in relation to the judiciary: that is, the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice.”

He added that research by University of Strathclyde professor Alan Paterson showed that that of the OECD countries, the fact there was only one woman on the 12-strong Supreme Court bench “puts us shamefully in the last place in that measure of diversity”.

Baroness Prashar, former chair of the JAC, said she would support such a move. “I think everyone now recognises that promoting diversity is a common endeavour-a joint effort to be made by the judiciary, the Ministry of Justice, the Lord Chancellor and the JAC. It is therefore important that all three have statutory responsibility, because that will focus their minds,” she said.