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Clause 2 - Court officers, staff and services

Courts Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee on 26th June 2003.

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Amendment proposed [this day]: No. 110, in

clause 2, page 2, line 29, leave out 'and'.—[Mr. Heath.]

Photo of Eric Illsley Eric Illsley Labour, Barnsley Central 2:30 pm, 26th June 2003

I remind the Committee that with this we are taking amendment No. 111, in

clause 2, page 2, line 30, at end insert

'and

(e) persons who appear to him to be representative of the lay justices.'.

Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs)

I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Illsley. I said to Mr. O'Brien at the beginning of our proceedings this morning that it was nice to have a fair-minded and even-tempered Yorkshireman in the Chair. The same comments apply twice over.

Under the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), the Lord Chancellor would consult persons who seem to him to be representative of the lay justices, as well as the heads of division already listed under subsection (7), before making an order to contract out under subsection (6). We consider the amendments to be unnecessary as the heads of division will be the heads of the judicial family to which the magistrates already belong. The purpose of consulting the heads of division is to ensure that no judicial function has unwittingly been prepared for contracting out and, thus, transgresses the safeguard under subsection (5). In that respect, I expect the heads of division to have regard to all of the interests of the judiciary, including the lay magistracy, when undertaking such a role.

The four senior judges are consulted to ensure that the contracting out does not, in principle, involve a judicial function prohibited by the prevention under subsection (5). They are the right people to consult, not the local board or the local magistracy. If we were to have local consultation, it would be unclear what is meant by ''representatives of the lay justices'' under the amendment. The hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman) highlighted that fact in his intervention. We presume that it means representatives of the Magistrates Association, but the phrase raises questions about how such a system would work, who would be the representatives, how many should there be and so on. The lack of clarify is also the reason why I am not keen to accept the amendment.

In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, West (Stephen Hesford) who referred to local business plans and local proposals for specific contracting out, courts boards will be involved in the

business planning process. Indeed, the protection under clause 21 concerning the duty to consult lay justices on matters affecting them will also kick in at that point. There is ample protection at local level. Setting out the difference between why we have wider, in principle, consultation about ensuring that judicial functions do not come under the contracting-out capability helps to clarify why we have framed the provisions in such a way. I hope that the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome will see fit to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Illsley. I am grateful to the Minister for his response. Were the consultation under subsection (7) purely on the basis of ensuring that the contracts did not transgress subsection (5)—that was what the Minister said—and to make sure that no judicial function is unwittingly put into the contract area, that would have been a proper response. However, the actual words under subsection (7) are

''what effect (if any) the order might have on the proper and efficient administration of justice'',

which go much wider than the narrow criterion whether a judicial function has been put into the contracted-out area. I suggest that the Minister reconsiders his definitions.

I was genuinely surprised by what the Minister had to say about the wording of my amendment. I know for a fact that such formulations have been tabled by Ministers of this Government to a great number of Bills to express a provision that would allow for representation from associations, such as the Magistrates Association, but without listing specific organisations, as the provision would become redundant if the associations changed. Perhaps the Minister has been given unwise advice if he thinks that my amendment is in an inappropriate or vague formulation. It has been used before. The hon. Member for Clwyd, West (Gareth Thomas) will recall the many happy hours that we spent on the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill Committee, when a similar formulation appeared many times to provide for statutory consultees who appeared to the Secretary of State to be representative of this, that or the other.

I hear what the Minister says, but I still think that before contracting out essential support services and administrative functions it is wise to have the views of magistrates directly, rather than simply the advice of a senior judge who is not a magistrate—he might be capable of giving a professional opinion, but not a practical one. In practice, the views of magistrates will probably be heard, but I regret that a provision for that will not exist in statute. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.