I intervened very briefly in a debate last night on a motion to approve a particular Order, the Judicial Appointments Order. My point related to the information contained in the Explanatory Memorandum but had a wider relevance.
The Order was designed to encourage greater diversity in the membership of the judiciary through making Fellowship of the Institute of Legal Executives a relevant qualification for the judicial offices listed in the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007. For the purpose of consultation, the Ministry of Justice sent copies of the consultation paper to a range of interested organisations. For the purpose of public consultation, it published the consultation paper on its website. As the Explanatory Memorandum laconically noted: ‘The level of public interest in the policy has been minimal’. Given that it relied on members of the public to log on to the Ministry of Justice website to see the paper – and indeed take the initative to check what was happening – it is not surprising that no individual members of the public responded to the consultation.
The approach taken to interested organisations (in essence, self-interested organisations) was an active one by the Ministry whereas the stance taken in relation to the public was a passive one. It may be that, even with widespread dissemination of the paper, public interest would have been minimal, but there is an important principle involved. It is important that government is seen to be accessible to views beyond those of what are generally described as the usual suspects.
I have since written to the minister, at his invitation, to suggest ways in which consultation papers may be more widely disseminated. One simple route is through inviting various civic organisations to circulate copies through their own websites to their members. However, if anyone has other ideas, I will be happy to pass them on.