Page last updated at 19:54 GMT, Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Supreme Court part-timers plan criticised

Senior legal figures in the House of Lords have voiced concerns over government plans to allow part-time members of the Supreme Court.

The government wants to lift the limit of 12 judges of the Supreme Court and replace it with a cap of 12 "full-time equivalents", meaning some of the judges could be part-time.

The proposals, embodied in the Crime and Courts Bill, are aimed at boosting diversity in the judiciary.

Crossbencher Lord Lloyd of Berwick, a former law lord, questioned how the plans would work, as peers debated the bill for a second day at report stage on 4 December 2012.

"Where are these part-time women to come from? Not from the Court of Appeal or the High Court because there are no part-time women in the Court of Appeal or the High Court."

He also wanted to know why the government thought the best candidates for part-time positions "would always be a woman and not a man".

"The truth is that if we open the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal to part-time judges, it will not make the slightest difference for years to come, if ever," he said.

Lord Lloyd said the best way to achieve more female representation was to "increase flexibility as far as we can so that women are not put off from applying but otherwise to let the best candidates come to the top in the ordinary way as they always have".

Crossbencher and former lord chief justice Lord Woolf said Justice minister Lord McNally should "think again" and use other forms of "flexible" working.

Lord Pannick, a leading barrister, supported the government's proposals in the bill. He said part-time working was recognised as one of the central means by which women were able to combine family care commitments with career progression.

The opposition backed the government's move was a step forward for the judicial system.

Lord McNally said it would be "highly embarrassing and wholly at odds with the changing culture we are trying to achieve" if the most meritorious candidate could not take up a job offer because "we cannot accommodate part-time working".

Lord Lloyd tested the opinion of the House on his amendment which was rejected without the need for a vote.

To view part two of the debate click here .

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