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Legal Services Bill: Clause 49: The Board's policy statements

24th October 2007

Jonathan Djanogly calls for the Lord Chief Justice's role in respect of appointments to the Legal Services Board to be formally set out to protect the independence of the board from Government and welcomes the Government's moves towards this.

Mr. Djanogly: Following past debates on the issue, we have moved to tackling the sort of role that the Lord Chief Justice should have.

The view of the Opposition parties in this place and the decision of the other place was that the formal role of the Lord Chief Justice should be clearly set out through the requirement that appointments to the board were to be made through the Lord Chancellor with the "concurrence" of the Lord Chief Justice. We supported that in Committee and on Report, and it remains our ideal position. However, the Government have now moved away from a simple reference to "consultation" and provided some clarification of what consultation with the Lord Chief Justice must involve. Specific reference has also been made to the fact that

"before appointing an ordinary member, the Lord Chancellor must consult the Lord Chief Justice about the process for appointment of the member and about the person selected for appointment".

We have maintained throughout that at no stage should the independent legal profession in this country be undermined. For that reason, we have pushed to ensure that the independence of the Legal Services Board from Government is protected through the role of the Lord Chief Justice in the appointments procedure. I believe that we were right to push that issue instead of simply accepting that a reference to "consultation" alone was sufficient. The statement of Lord Hunt, the Minister in the other place, on 17 October 2007-only last week-on the matter was telling. He stated:

"I think it will be helpful if at this stage I outline how the Lord Chief Justice is to be consulted. My ministerial colleague"-

the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Bridget Prentice)-

"has written to the Lord Chief Justice to consult him on the process we are undertaking for the appointment of the chair of the board."

I am slightly concerned that, given that we have been considering the Bill for roughly 11 months, consultation with the Lord Chief Justice has involved only a single letter. Consultation on the appointment of other members of the board does not appear to have even reached the letter-writing stage. Lord Hunt also pointed out last week that the Under-Secretary

"will write again shortly with respect to other members of the board."-[ Official Report1, House of Lords, 17 October 2007; Vol. 695, c. 747-8.]

Perhaps she could advise the House on the outcome of the consultations. I would also be grateful if she confirmed whether she has considered the use of parliamentary confirmation hearings for appointments, as suggested by hon. Members of all parties on Report.

However, the Government have come a long way on the issue. I accept that Government amendments highlight moves towards the crucial recognition of the need to involve the Lord Chief Justice in not only the method of appointment but the decisions. Although we still maintain that they could go further we accept that we have reached a clearer and more transparent position. On that basis, we will not request the House to divide on the matter.

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