The Public Bodies Bill was already in serious trouble in the House of Lords, because of the cavalier way in which the government propose to abolish, merge or modify a whole raft of public bodies through secondary legislation. Now the Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge has fired his own broadside, which may be enough to stop the bill in its tracks. In evidence to the Lords Constitution Committee on 15 December he roundly criticised the use of ministerial orders to abolish or amend judicial and quasi-judicial bodies which had been established by primary legislation.
Lord Judge specifically mentioned the Judicial Appointments Commission, Criminal Cases Review Commission, Parole Board, and Sentencing Council and went on to say: “I very much hope that very careful reconsideration will be given to the whole series of bodies in Schedule 7 which currently perform a quasi-judicial function but whose independence is all part and parcel of the weft of an independent judiciary”. He went on to discuss the impact of the budget cuts on the Courts Service, Legal Aid and the Crown Prosecution Service; and the circumstances in which he might decide not to sign a Concordat agreement because he judged the funding arrangements to be inadequate.
Lord Judge’s remarkably frank evidence is one example of how the Judiciary have become more independent since the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, but also feel themselves to be more accountable. (Lord Judge offered to come and give evidence twice a year to the Committee if they wanted). How the relations between the Judges, Parliament and the Courts are evolving, and the inevitable tensions which arise, are the subject of the Constitution Unit’s new three year project on The Politics of Judicial Independence, which starts in January.