The government has published a consultation paper on judicial appointments to the courts of England and Wales. The main consultation question is whether the government should reduce its role in the appointment of judges. Under the current system, the independent Judicial Appointments Commission is responsible for selecting judges but the Lord Chancellor has a limited ability to reject a selection or ask for it to be reconsidered. This system was implemented following a consultation process in 2003 and the subsequent enactment of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005. However, the new consultation seeks views on whether the current limited role of the executive in judicial appointments set out in that Act is appropriate, or whether more could be done to limit ministerial involvement.
One of the arguments in the consultation paper in favour of retaining the current system is the constitutional role of the executive in appointments: It is a constitutional convention that the Queen appoints senior judges on the advice of the Lord Chancellor (or the Prime Minister in the case of the most senior judiciary) rather than exercise her own discretion. The executive can then be held to account for those decisions. There is no evidence that the current system has given rise to problems in practice but, assuming the constitutional issues can be overcome, there seems no reason why the role of the executive in judicial appointments should not be removed so that the appointments system becomes fully independent of government.
A copy of the consultation, entitled: "The Governance of Britain: Judicial Appointments" can be found on the Ministry of Justice website at http://www.justice.gov.uk/publications/cp2507.htm The consultation is open until 17 January 2008.