The merits of the judicial appointment process to the European Court of Human Rights

malleson-photo-2010  Patrick Obrien

The selection process for the next UK judges on the European Court of Human Rights is underway. In this post Kate Malleson and Patrick O’Brien discuss the process and argue that elements of it should be adopted for the selection of the senior judiciary in the UK.

The process of selecting the next UK judges on the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has begun. The vacancy has arisen because the incumbent, Judge Paul Mahoney, is due to retire in September 2016, when he will reach the court’s retirement age of 70.

The selection exercise for Judge Mahoney’s replacement involves a two-stage process: a UK stage and a European one. The UK stage, currently in train, involves a selection exercise to produce a shortlist of three candidates. This shortlist will be submitted to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). At this second, European, stage, a sub-committee of PACE will interview the shortlisted candidates and make a recommendation on which should be appointed. Following this, in June 2016, one candidate will be selected for election to the ECtHR by majority vote of PACE.

Our primary focus here is on the UK stage of the appointment process. The Lord Chancellor is running the process on behalf of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), and the process is being administered by the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC). The Lord Chancellor has convened a seven-member panel, which includes a chair, two judicial members, three lay members and a legal member.

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Are quotas for judicial appointments lawful under EU law?

malleson-photo-2010a_ocinneide

A recent report laid out recommendations for improving diversity in the judiciary, including a quota system for women and BAME candidates. Kate Malleson and Colm O’Cinneide explore the legality of such measures under EU law, and specifically whether the quotas could be brought in under EU employment law or EU gender equality law.

In April 2014 Sadiq Khan, Shadow Secretary of State for Justice, asked Karon Monaghan QC and Geoffrey Bindman QC to review the options for a future Labour Government to improve diversity in the judiciary. On November 6th their report, entitled ‘Judicial Diversity: Accelerating change’, was published. Starting from the premise that ‘[t]he near absence of women and Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) judges in the senior judiciary is no longer tolerable’, it proposes a range of recommendations designed to speed up the glacial pace of change. Perhaps the most controversial of these is for the introduction of a quota system for women and BAME candidates. The report reviews the use of quotas in other UK institutions as well as their use in judicial appointments processes around the world, before addressing the question of whether such quotas would be lawful under EU law. This is a key question: EU law casts a long shadow in this context, as the Monaghan and Bindman report makes clear, given that any legislation enacted in Westminster to give effect to a quota system in the process of judicial appointments must conform to the requirements of EU law.

There are two stages involved in any legal assessment of the proposed quota measures under EU law. The first is whether holding a judicial office is classified as being ‘employed’. If the answer is no, then the question of their legality under EU law does not arise as appointments to judicial office will not fall within its scope of application. If the answer is yes, then the judicial appointments process will qualify as ‘access to employment’ which will bring it within the scope of Article 1 of the Recast Gender Equality Directive 2006/54/EC. This will mean that the use of positive action measures, such as quota systems, in the process of judicial appointment will have to conform to the restrictions on the use of such measures set out in the relevant case-law of the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU).

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Graham Gee and Kate Malleson: Judicial Appointments, Diversity and the Equal Merit Provision

This is posted on behalf of Graham Gee and Kate Malleson and originally appeared on the UK Constitutional Law Association Blog.

One of the changes introduced by the Crime and Courts Act 2013 was to amend section 63 of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, which provides that the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) must select candidates for judicial office ‘solely on merit’. Schedule 13 of the 2013 Act clarified that making selections solely on merit does not prevent the JAC from recommending a candidate on the basis of improving diversity on the bench where there are two candidates of equal merit. This is variously known as the ‘equal merit’, ‘tie-break’ or ‘tipping point’ provision and derives from s 159 of the Equality Act 2010. After a consultation exercise last summer, the JAC last month published its policy on how it will implement the equal merit provision. In this post, we draw on research conducted as part of an AHRC-funded project on The Politics of Judicial Independence to explain why the JAC’s policy is disappointingly cautious, limits the prospect of further progress on diversity and offers further evidence of what we believe is the excessive judicial influence on judicial appointments 

Context

We begin with some words of praise for the JAC. Since its creation in 2006, the JAC has inter alia devised: robust processes that have for the most part identified suitably qualified candidates of good character; addressed problems that were an early feature of those processes (e.g. delays); and over time has fostered the confidence of the key stakeholders (i.e. ministers, judges and practitioners). It has done this all of this whilst becoming a leaner and more efficient operation in an age of increasingly scarce public resources. Between 2009-10 and 2014-15, its budget is projected to have fallen from £7.6m to £4.85m, its staff from 105 to 67, and yet the number of recommendations for judicial office that the JAC has made has risen from approximately 450 to 750 a year. These are important accomplishments that have helped to secure the JAC’s position on the institutional landscape, something that was much less certain around 2008-09 when the then Lord Chancellor, Jack Straw, considered abolishing the JAC and either bringing appointments back in-house or delegating more responsibility to the senior judges. Much credit is due to the leadership team of Christopher Stephens as Chair and Nigel Reeder as Chief Executive, who since 2011 succeeded in fostering much more constructive and cooperative relationships with the JAC, the senior judiciary and the Ministry of Justice.

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Judicial Independence in Northern Ireland

On 6 November the Judicial Independence Project held the sixth in our series of practitioner seminars on ‘Judicial Independence in Northern Ireland’. The series is run under Chatham House Rule but we have prepared a short note which is available on our website. Read it here.

A strong theme that emerged from the seminar was that the current system for administering the court system in Northern Ireland is an interim one – a step on the road to something more permanent – although one that has fortuitously turned out to work quite well. Most participants felt that something like the Irish or Scottish models for court administration, in which the court system is run by judges with a high degree of independence from the legislature and executive, should be the ultimate destination. However, there are practical problems with this because the judiciary in Northern Ireland is so small and it may be difficult for them to devote greater time to administration.

The appointment of judges is also a key issue in Northern Ireland. At present the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Commission (NIJAC) is judge-led, in large part because the main political parties did not trust each other with the appointment of judges. Some participants felt that this created an accountability problem for NIJAC and that there should be moves towards greater political oversight, although there was strong disagreement on this point.

Judicial Appointments and the Crime and Courts Bill 2012

As part of the Judicial Independence Project we have prepared a short briefing document and comment on some of the changes to judicial appointments envisaged in the new Crime and Courts Bill 2012. The document is available here. The main points are that:

  • The stated philosophy behind Part 2 of the Bill – of leaving statements of principle on the face of the Bill and moving detailed technical provisions into statutory instrument – is welcome. However, as the Bill currently stands this intent is not realised and the distinction between matters that should remain in the Constitutional Reform Act and matters that should be left to statutory instrument is erratic.
  • The provisions governing the Lord Chancellor’s role in the appointment of the President of the UK Supreme Court and of the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales are ambiguous as key points of principle are left for regulations to be made by the Lord Chancellor.
  • It appears that the Lord Chancellor may choose to sit on the selection bodies or may choose not to do so. Only in the former case will he lose his veto over an appointment but in either case it appears that he retains the right to compel the selecting body to reconsider its chosen candidate. In circumstances where the Lord Chancellor sits on the selecting body, his retention of a power to compel that body to reconsider its decision is inappropriate.
  • The rule prohibiting the President and Deputy President of the UK Supreme Court from sitting on selection commissions to appoint their successors is welcome. However, as it is currently expressed it appears to leave open the possibility that other office holders (for example the Lord Chief Justice) may be involved in the selection of their successors. It would be better to enshrine in the Bill a general prohibition against an incumbent or retiring judge sitting on a panel to select his or her successor.
  • The Bill as it stands has the potential to add further complexity to an already extremely confusing piece of legislation by adding new actors (the Lord Chief Justice and Senior President of Tribunals) and a new layer of rules (in the form of statutory instruments) to the appointments process. In a piece of legislation with constitutional significance this is unwelcome and measures should be taken to express the changes envisaged in a manner that leaves them reasonably accessible to the layperson.

Greek politics and judicial independence

Panagiotis PikrammenosJudicial independence rarely comes to the forefront of contemporary European politics. Normally, the esoteric technicalities of how the judiciary interact with the other branches of government are not of interest to most people.

There are exceptions to this – a few months ago Viktor Orban’s ruling Fidesz party in Hungary was very publicly criticised by the Council of Europe’s Commission for Democracy through Law (the Venice Commission) for various constitutional reforms that placed powers for selecting, disciplining and allocating judges into the hands of the (politically appointed) president of the National Judicial Office, Tünde Handó. Mrs Handó’s appointment was even more controversial as she is married to József Szájer, a Fidesz founder and a current MEP for the party.

However, recent events in Greece have really put the politics back into judicial independence. A senior judge, Panagiotis Pikrammenos, has been appointed as caretaker Prime Minister. This has occurred in accordance with Article 37(3) of the Greek Constitution which holds that the Greek President, after giving various parties time to form coalitions (and then having a go at forming a cross-party coalition himself), can appoint the President of the Supreme Administrative Court of Greece (called the Council of State) to form a Cabinet in order to carry out elections and dissolve Parliament.

Mr Pikrammenos has recently appointed an interim Cabinet, mainly composed of diplomats, academics and former ministers. All sixteen members have agreed not to draw any salary for their work in the interim Cabinet.

Theoretically, the appointment of a judge as Prime Minister is a violation of major constitutional principles. It is more difficult, if not impossible, for the judiciary to be independent of the executive if a judge is in charge of the executive! The notion of the separation of powers is also ‘shot to pieces’ by the appointment of Mr Pikrammenos, especially when you consider that there is now no effective legislature from which the powers of the executive & judiciary should be separated.

However, on a more pragmatic level, there are several reasons why selecting Mr Pikrammenos’ was a relatively tidy solution to Greece’s constitutional problems. Firstly, the citizens of any democracy would, presumably, feel more comfortable with a judge in power. Control by the executive (the ‘machinery of state’) would smack too much of dictatorship, especially in Greece.

Secondly, the Greek Cabinet chose Mr Pikrammenos to become President of the Council of State in 2009 and so it could be argued that he has (very limited) democratic legitimacy.

Thirdly, Mr Pikrammenos is probably one of the most able candidates available. Mr Pikrammenos, an experienced administrative lawyer and judge, has knowledge of how government policy works in practice and how it impacts upon citizens.

Finally, it is important to remember that making a judge Prime Minister is a temporary solution and one that is only used in extremis. Greece is expecting to hold elections on 17th June.

Mr Pikrammenos’ name translates as ‘Mr Embittered’. It is likely that he will be after his month in office.

Constitutional Reform in the Queen’s Speech

Constitutional reform featured strongly in Queen’s Speech today, setting out legislation for the coming session of Parliament. The Unit dissects… 

Lords Reform Bill

This faces massive opposition in both Houses and may fail. The reform proposals are opposed by the Lords itself, and there is so much resistance among Conservative MPs the bill may fail to get through the Commons.

The committee stage of the bill must be taken on the floor of the Commons and could take six weeks or more. Lords reform risks being for Cameron what the Maastricht bill was for John Major: this took 23 days on the floor of the House in committee alone, and saw numerous painful rebellions. At the bill’s Second Reading the rebels will seek to defeat the programme motion on its timetabling. If they succeed, the government will lose control over timing completely – but even if they fail, the bill may still be lost.

There are numerous issues over which the plans may fall apart. Simply to win the programme motion the government may need to concede a referendum on reform, which Nick Clegg doesn’t want. But defeats in the Commons are also likely on the powers of the Lords, the proportion of elected members, the electoral system, the proposed 15 year non-renewable terms, and the presence of the Bishops. Once MPs get hold of it, the bill may suffer a death of a thousand cuts.

Crime and Justice Bill

Of most constitutional relevance are the references to judicial appointments. Appointments are to be made more transparent and more diverse. Diversity is a central issue in judicial appointments, as the principle that appointment should be exclusively on merit is regarded as sacrosanct by the judiciary and many in the legal profession. The Ministry of Justice (which recently held a consultation on appointments) is thought to be frustrated at the slow pace with which minority groups have entered the judiciary.

It will be worth watching how far along the continuum between strictly merit-based appointment and affirmative action appointments are taken.

Draft Communications Bill

The proposed legislation allows intelligence officers real time access to communications of the public without a warrant. However there is growing concern about the potential impact on privacy. Theresa May commented “no-one is going to be looking through ordinary people’s emails or Facebook posts”.  The ICO have confirmed they are monitoring the development of the legislation closely and will press for the appropriate limitations and safeguards and  former head of GCHQ Sir David Ormand has drawn attention to the potential chilling effect that may occur on the use of social media as a source of information.

Electoral Registration and Administration Bill

The draft bill was widely welcomed as a means of tackling electoral fraud, however two particular concerns have also been raised. Scrapping the legal duty to register will cause millions of voters to fall off the register, as will scrapping the 2014 canvass. The Electoral Commission have called for a major public awareness campaign.

Scottish Independence & the Rules of Succession

Both issues had special mention as being actively pursued in the next parliamentary session.

The UK and Scottish governments will start negotiating in the summer and autumn about how to legislate for the independence referendum. The UK government wants there to be a single question, just on independence; while Alex Salmond will hold out for a second question, on Devolution Max. If they cannot agree the UK government may withdraw its offer to legislate for the referendum at Westminster, throwing up the risk that any referendum authorised by the Scottish Parliament is open to legal challenge.

Changing the rules of succession to the throne is much less contentious. To give a lead to the other countries where the Queen is head of state, the UK will want to legislate soon to remove the rule of male primogeniture, that sons come before daughters, and to remove one element of the discrimination against Catholics, that any heir to the throne who marries a Catholic is removed from the line of succession. (Catholics themselves and anyone else not in communion with the Church of England will remain barred from succeeding.)