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Clause 27 - Justices' clerks and assistant clerks

Courts Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:15 am on 1st July 2003.

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Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath 11:15 am, 1st July 2003

I beg to move amendment No. 34, in

clause 27, page 12, line 23, after '2(1)', insert

'to be clerk of a local justice area'.

Photo of Eric Illsley Eric Illsley Labour, Barnsley Central

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:

No. 37, in

clause 27, page 12, line 24, at end insert

'appointed to serve on one or more local justice areas.'.

No. 35, in

clause 27, page 12, line 28, leave out 'or'.

No. 36, in

clause 27, page 12, line 29, at end insert

'or

(d) is appointed with the agreement of the chairman and deputy chairman of the local justice area.'.

No. 38, in

clause 27, page 13, line 1, at end insert

'appointed with the agreement of the clerk of the local justice area.'.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

I shall be brief. The crucial amendment is amendment No. 36, which requires the agreement of the chairman and deputy chairman to the appointment of the justices' clerk. The rest of the amendments are connected with that. We feel that it is important that the chairman and deputy chairman are required to be involved in the designation.

Amendment No. 38 is also important. It suggests that an assistant clerk should be appointed only with the agreement of the clerk to the area. It would be helpful if that were also made clear in the Bill. I am sure that such an appointment would happen in practice only if the justices' clerk were happy. I hope that the Minister understands that we are genuinely trying to improve the provisions for consultation and involvement so as to improve the Bill. I shall listen with interest to his response.

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

I rise briefly to support the hon. Member for Surrey Heath. I can see a strong rationale for this nationalisation—as it were—of the justices' clerks, but it is desperately important to maintain the local connections between the justices' clerk and the bench that he or she supports. We should also maintain the confidence of each one in the other. Anything that adds to that confidence is to be encouraged, and the hon. Gentleman's amendments will help in that process.

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

I shall firstly address amendments Nos. 34, 37 and 38, and then I shall look separately at amendments Nos. 35 and 36.

Amendments Nos. 34 and 37 would require the Lord Chancellor to appoint a justices' clerk to particular local justice areas, under clause 27(1). The amendments are unnecessary because, under subsection (3), the Lord Chancellor must assign each justices' clerk to one or more local justice area. The assignment offers the right link between the clerk and the area in which they work. If the amendments were intended to ensure that the appointment would tie the clerk even more closely to a specific area, our view is that that would be undesirable. It would reduce much of the flexibility that the provisions would introduce.

Amendment No. 38 would require the Lord Chancellor to obtain the agreement of the justices' clerk of a particular local justice area before designating a member of staff of the new court agency as an assistant to that clerk. We feel that the amendment is undesirable in terms of managing civil service human resources, because nothing in current legislation requires the agreement of local justices clerks before assistants are appointed. Clerks will be civil servants—as, usually, will be their assistants—so the usual practice with civil service appointments, and who approves them, will apply. The new courts agency will hire assistants; the employer will not be the justices' clerk.

It being twenty-five minutes past Eleven o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at half-past Two o'clock.