PARLIAMENTARY DEBATES

HOUSE OF COMMONS

OFFICIAL REPORT

Fourth Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

DRAFT MAXIMUM NUMBER OF STIPENDIARY MAGISTRATES ORDER 1996

Wednesday 19 June 1996

LONDON: HMSO

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The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman:Sir Alan Haselhurst

Ashton, Mr. Joseph (Bassetlaw)

Baker, Mr. Kenneth (Mole Valley)

Bermingham, Mr. Gerald (St. Helens, South)

Boateng, Mr. Paul (Brent, South)

Carlile, Mr. Alex (Montgomery)

Duncan, Mr. Alan (Rutland and Melton)

Evans, Mr. Nigel (Ribble Valley)

Fraser, Mr. John (Norwood)

Hamilton, Mr. Neil (Tatton)

Howarth, Mr. Alan (Stratford-on-Avon)

Khabra, Mr. Piara S. (Ealing, Southall)

Needham, Mr. Richard (North Wiltshire)

Onslow, Sir Cranley (Woking)

Ottaway, Mr. Richard (Croydon, South)

Rowe, Mr. Andrew (Mid-Kent)

Shepherd, Mr. Richard (Aldridge-Brownhills)

Steinberg, Mr. Gerry (City of Durham)

Streeter, Mr. Gary (Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department)

Vaz, Mr. Keith (Leicester, East)

Viggers, Mr. Peter (Gosport)

Mr. P. A. Evans, Committee Clerk

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3 Fourth Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation Wednesday 19th June 1996

[SIR ALAN HASELHURST in the Chair]

Draft Maximum Number of Stipendiary Magistrates Order 1996

4.30 pm

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Mr. Gary Streeter): I beg to move, That the Committee has considered the draft Maximum Number of Stipendiary Magistrates Order 1996. I welcome the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall (Mr. Khabra) on his first appearance as an acting Opposition spokesman. The draft Order is made under section 13(4) of the Justices of the Peace Act 1979. That Act set the maximum number of stipendiary magistrates outside inner London and the City of London at 40. The draft Order seeks to increase that number to 50. The Lord Chancellor regards the lay magistracy as central to the administration of civil and criminal justice and seeks to protect its well-being. That depends not only on a sufficient number of people from a broad spectrum of society putting themselves forward, but on ensuring that excessive demands are not made on lay volunteers. The Lord Chancellor is of the view that the average sittings for benches should be between 35 and 40 half-days each year. However, about 15 per cent. of benches have sittings that are too high. In those instances, consideration needs to be given to what measures might assist—and that may include consideration of a full-time stipendiary magistrate appointment. In determining whether a stipendiary magistrate appointment might be made, the size of the bench is important, but there are different views on the optimum size. The Lord Chancellor finds useful the Magistrates Association opinion that, once the strength of a bench reaches 250, it is open to question whether it is too large to function effectively without stipendiary magistrate assistance. It is useful to look at the structure of the bench and the effectiveness of the links between the lay magistrates, the spread of experience and how often the bench is manned by only two justices rather than the preferred three. Some large benches will operate well while others will not. It is, therefore, of particular importance that there should be local advice in determining whether a stipendiary magistrate should be appointed. Another key issue in considering an appointment is whether there are unacceptable delays in dealing with cases. The average time from the first listing of a case to completion is 60 days. When the average for a bench is significantly above that, the question must be posed whether there is any realistic prospect of improvement 4 through recruiting more lay justices or temporary stipendiary assistance. if there is not, there is merit in considering a full-time stipendiary appointment. Responsibility for bidding for a full-time stipendiary rests with the Lord Chancellor's advisory committees on justices of the peace—the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster's advisory committees in the Duchy. Bids are put forward only after full consultation with the magistrates courts committee and the benches in the area. Since 1988, the number of authorised stipendiary magistrate posts has increased from 17 to 40. All new posts have been approved by the Lord Chancellor on the recommendation of an advisory committee and only in circumstances when there was a clear need for an appointment. I am aware of the apprehensions that exist within the lay magistracy about stipendiary magistrates. There is a fear of a diminution of the lay magistracy and a belief on the part of some that it is wrong for one person to be both judge and jury. The Lord Chancellor regards the lay magistracy as pivotal to the administration of justice and there is no intention of moving to a regime of stipendiary magistrates. The local consultation that I have mentioned ensures that there is a good case for an appointment when one is made. On the question of a single person sitting, it should be remembered that stipendiary magistrates have played a significant part in the administration of justice for some time—an approach endorsed by Parliament. There is a need for clear understanding of the respective roles of lay and stipendiary magistrates, a point recognised by the royal commission on justice that reported in 1993. A working party that was subsequently set up by the Lord Chancellor has looked into that relationship. It found, from research that it had commissioned, that current working relationships provide a sound base to build on and recommended several stops that would enhance the relationship. A copy of the working party report has been placed in the Library. I shall, of course, go through it page by page if my hon. Friends wish me to do so. There are just under 30,000 lay magistrates outside inner London and, at present, 40 authorised stipendiary magistrate posts. With no increase in the statutory ceiling, it would not be possible to meet further local requests for full time stipendiary support. The order will support the lay magistrates and benefit the administration of justice. I commend it to the Committee.

4.35 pm

Mr. Piara S. Khabra (Ealing, Southall): I wish to make a few observations. I have been a member of Ealing bench for more than 15 years. I know from experience that the courts have much work and that many cases are delayed because there are not enough lay magistrates. In view of that, the order is welcome. The Opposition have no objection to raising the number of stipendiary magistrates. The level of work is increasing and will increase further. Stipendiary 5 magistrates have an important role in promoting the effective administration of the court system. I therefore support the order.

4.36 pm

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on his promotion to his present position. We were all delighted to hear of it and were pleased at how he took the Family Law Bill through the House. We are pleased to see him on the Front Bench today. I have no objection to increasing the number of stipendiary magistrates from 40 to 50. I understand that it is sometimes quite difficult to get together a bench to hear cases that might last for two or three days. It will therefore be useful to have stipendiary magistrates available locally. However, in the presence of the great and the good of the civil service, I emphasise that the magistracy administers local justice locally. It is too easy to think that one can amalgamate magistrates' areas and still keep that local administration of justice. I speak with feeling because the Gosport magistrates court has been closed and cases are now heard in Fareham. We now face the further threat of family law and child law cases being amalagamated at Portsmouth. Our considerable fear is that the south Hampshire and south-east 6 Hampshire areas—Gosport, Fareham and Portsmouth—might be amalgamated. That would be a retrograde step. It would not be welcome locally and I ask my hon. Friend to ensure that any such step is opposed. We should remember that magistrates provide a local service and have been doing so for hundreds of years. Although one does not refuse the use of stipendiaries, one does not want too many. We should stick to the local administration of justice.

4.38 pm

Mr. Streeter: I am grateful to the hon. Member for Ealing, Southall for his support. I am also grateful for the kind remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) and for his support for the order. I assure my hon. Friend that his views on the local nature of the magistracy strongly coincide with mine. I recognise that he is a champion for his constituents on that matter, and I assure him that his representations will be closely and carefully considered.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Committee has considered the draft Maximum Number of Stipendiary Magistrates Order 1996.

Committee rose at twenty-two minutes to Five o'clock.

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THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE:

Haselhurst, Sir Alan (Chairman)

Duncan, Mr

Hamilton, Mr Neil

Khabra, Mr

Needham, Mr

Ottaway, Mr

Rowe, Mr

Shepherd, Mr Richard

Streeter, Mr

Viggers, Mr

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