Lord Chief Justice fights Govt’s judiciary intrusion

The Lord Chief Justice Lord Phillips has called on the Government to stay away from the selection of judges in the wake of ‘The Governance of Britain’ green paper published by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).

In a wide-ranging speech on judicial independence, Phillips told the Commonwealth Law Conference in Nairobi that the shake-up of the justice system under the Blair administration had “important implications for the independence of the judiciary”.

In the speech, Phillips came out explicitly against any suggestion of electing judges, putting himself in opposition to the green paper published by the MoJ this year.

The paper stated: “The Government is willing to look at the future of its role in judicial appointments and to consider going further than the present arrangement, including conceivably a role for parliament itself, but after consultation with the judiciary, parliament and the public, if it is felt that there is a need.”

Phillips warned: “In general I can see no role for the executive in selecting judges.

“I’m only aware of one Commonwealth country where parliament is involved in judicial appointments, and that is Mozambique. I, for one, can see no need for such an innovation in the UK.”

A large part of Phillips’ speech dealt with the aftereffects of the shake-up of the Department for Constitutional Affairs to become the MoJ. He reiterated his concerns over the “vulnerability of our resources to the demands of other responsibilities of the department”, referring to the fact that the money for the administration of justice came out of the same budget as legal aid.

Although former Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer was not prepared to agree to a review of the running of the court system in the light of the creation of the new ministry, Phillips told the conference that new Lord Chancellor Jack Straw has acknowledged the judges’ concerns.

“We’ve emphasised the urgency of getting a resolution of the situation,” said Phillips.