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Policies - Accountablility - Judicial accountability?

22 Jan 2004

Vera Baird: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary Department for Constitutional Affairs (1) whether the Department keeps centralised records for each serving Circuit Judge of the number of successful appeals on their (a) sentencing and (b) conviction; [145970]
(2) what process is in place (a) to monitor how many times a judge is known to have been successfully appealed against and (b) to investigate the reasons for the appeals to find out whether they are (i) on the basis of circumstances beyond the knowledge of the judge at the time the sentence was passed and (ii) on the basis of inappropriate sentences given; [146016]
(3) what action would be taken in the event that (a) a judge had been successfully appealed more than 50 times in six or seven years, (b) a judge had been found to have been unduly lenient in relation to the same kind of
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offence on four separate occasions and (c) a judge had been criticised for pressurising counsel on more than one occasion; [146069]
(4) what systems are in place to ensure that circuit judges are accountable for their professional performance. [146073]

Mr. Leslie: Judicial decisions are taken and explained in public (save where the circumstances of a case demand confidentiality) and any decision which a judge makes is liable to be scrutinised, and if necessary overturned, on appeal, which is also a public process. Judges are therefore fully accountable for their judicial decisions through the appeal system.
Judges are not, however, accountable through a political process for the decisions they take, as this would not be consistent with judicial independence. The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State therefore does not monitor appeals against decisions made by individual judges, and it is not his role to intervene in judicial decisions or consider complaints about judicial decisions.
A successful appeal to a higher court does not of itself provide a basis for criticism of the trial judge. There are many reasons why an appeal may succeed. Where the Court of Appeal does record criticism of the trial judge, however, the judgment is given publicly and is available to representatives of the media as well as the public. It is always sent to the judge concerned, and where there is any reason for concern about the conduct of the judge it is sent to the relevant Presiding Judges. From time to time where it is thought that judges are not performing adequately they may be given advice and guidance, or training, or different workloads or types of workload by the responsible senior judiciary. Lord Justice Judge, the Deputy Chief Justice, is currently considering improvements to this procedure.
In cases where a judge's personal conduct (as opposed to his decision) is seriously criticised in an appeal decision, the Presiding Judges may decide to refer the matter to the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice to consider. The Lord Chancellor is also able to consider complaints from the public about the personal conduct of judges.

Vera Baird: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs (1) what plans the Secretary of State has to introduce a system of formal appraisal and scrutiny of circuit judges' performances; [146057]
(2) whether the plans to widen the scrutiny, formal appraisal and accountability of judges will include scrutiny by, and accountability to, a body or panel which includes non-judges. [146062]

Mr. Leslie: A system of formal appraisal has been introduced for holders of certain part-time judicial posts. Consideration is now being given to extending appraisal to the remaining part-time posts including recorders. Formal appraisal is also being introduced for certain full time tribunal judges.
The aim of any appraisal scheme is not to question judicial decisions but to observe the conduct of the judicial process and to consider, positively and constructively with a judge, their approach to and
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handling of cases. It is important, in order to maintain the independence of the judiciary and to ensure that appraisal is expert and informed, that it should be undertaken by judges. There are no plans to widen appraisal to include a body or panel which includes non-judges.
The Lord Chancellor has no current plans to extend formal appraisal more widely. In relation to circuit judges, the presiding judges of each circuit are of course in a position to raise with them any concerns about their performance.

Vera Baird: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs (1) whether a judge may be removed from office for inappropriate sentencing; [146058]
(2) what criteria are used to define misconduct and inability in relation to the removal of judges from office; and whether either category includes a pattern of inappropriate sentencing by a judge; [146064]
(3) what sanctions may be taken against circuit judges whose professional performance regularly falls below acceptable standards; [146065]
(4) what disciplinary procedure is followed in the event that a judge continuously sentences inappropriately. [146074]

Mr. Leslie: In order to ensure their independence judges hold office during good behaviour. Judges of the High Court and above may only be removed by Her Majesty the Queen on an address from both Houses of Parliament. Circuit judges and below may be removed from office by the Lord Chancellor only for incapacity or misbehaviour.
What constitutes incapacity or misbehaviour would be a matter for decision in a particular case. However, the mere fact of having made decisions which had been reversed on appeal could not be said to constitute incapacity or misbehaviour.

Vera Baird: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs (1) whether the Lord Chancellor has received complaints in relation to the use by judges of wasted costs orders; [146059]
(2) whether his Department keeps records of wasted costs orders imposed against barristers or solicitors. [146063]

Mr. Leslie: We have no record of receiving such complaints and keep no such records. A wasted costs order is an order of the court, and can only be challenged on appeal, not by complaining to the Lord Chancellor.
Vera Baird: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs which circuit judges are authorised to hear child custody cases; and whether any have had authorisation withdrawn because of concerns over their ability to handle such cases. [146066]

Mr. Leslie: 321 circuit judges hold 'private law authorisations' which enable them to deal with child contact and residence and other related matters. Authorisations are granted and withdrawn for a variety of reasons?most commonly they are withdrawn when
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the judge concerned no longer hears family cases by virtue of a changing role?such as becoming a designated civil judge for a court.

Vera Baird: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs (1) how the attention of the Lord Chief Justice is drawn to the suitability of a circuit judge to try rape cases; [146067]
(2) whether any circuit judges have had their rape case authorisation withdrawn because of concerns over their ability to handle such cases sensitively; [146068]
(3) which circuit judges hold a rape case authorisation authorising them to hear cases involving rape and other class 2 crimes; [146071]
(4) how many and which circuit judges and recorders have undergone additional specialist training that enables them to hear cases involving rape and other serious sexual offences; [146075]
(5) how the (a) effectiveness and (b) suitability of specialist training given to circuit judges and recorders is monitored. [146077]

Mr. Leslie: 471 circuit judges and recorders have undergone the additional specialist training that enables them to hear cases of rape and other serious sexual offences.
The authorisation of individual circuit judges to try rape and other serious sexual offences is made by the senior presiding judge on behalf of the Lord Chief Justice. Such judges are identified by the presiding judges of each circuit. The judge must have wide and significant experience of the criminal justice system, and must have demonstrated the necessary sensitivity for these cases. Before dealing with these cases, specialist training is provided for them by the Judicial Studies Board.
The withdrawal of a rape authorisation is decided by the Lord Chief Justice personally. The authorisation was withdrawn when the Court of Appeal criticised the way in which a trial judge had summed up a rape case to the jury. Such cases will no longer be listed before another judge who appears persistently to have ignored sentencing guideline decisions in such cases. For at least the last five years no authorisation has been withdrawn because of general concerns over any authorised circuit judge's ability to handle such sensitive cases. If there were evidence to suggest any lack of appropriate sensitivity it would be drawn to the attention of the Lord Chief Justice either by the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) or by presiding judges or through the media, or by way of complaint.

Vera Baird: To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs (1) how many complaints against judges the Lord Chancellor has heard in each of the previous five years; and what details of these complaints and the outcome are publicly available; [146070]
(2) what (a) complaints and (b) disciplinary procedures will be put in place after the abolition of the post of Lord Chancellor. [146076]

Mr. Leslie: The Lord Chancellor typically receives between 1,000 and 1,200 complaints about judges each year. The majority of these turn out to be complaints
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against judicial decisions and the complainant is advised that the appropriate remedy is by way of appeal. Those complaints which appear to relate to judicial conduct are investigated and both the complainant and the judge concerned are informed of the outcome. However, the results of this disciplinary process are not normally publicised more widely. Since May 1997, 27 judges have been reprimanded by the Lord Chancellor. These have included one High Court judge, 11 circuit judges, eight district judges, five recorders, and two deputy district judges.
The Lord Chancellor is currently considering the future arrangements for judicial complaints and discipline and hopes to be in a position to announce these shortly.

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