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Clause 37 - Designated officers and magistrates' courts

Courts Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 1st July 2003.

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Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 3:15 pm, 1st July 2003

I beg to move amendment No. 130, in

clause 37, page 18, line 3, leave out 'justice of the peace'.

Photo of Mr Bill O'Brien Mr Bill O'Brien Labour, Normanton

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment No. 131, in

clause 37, page 18, line 7, leave out 'justice of the peace'.

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

This is a probing amendment. The clause deals with the designated officer, a title that refers to the fines officers mentioned in clause 36. I am not clear how the designated officer can relate to an individual, such as a justice of the peace, rather than to the court in which that JP sits, the magistrates court, or the local justice area if the jurisdiction extends beyond a single court. At the moment, the words ''justice of the peace'' signify an individual in relation to whom the designated officer acts. The object of the amendments is to enable us to understand in which circumstances an officer can be designated to act in relation to an individual rather than to a court.

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

The clause allows the Lord Chancellor to designate members of the courts agency staff to perform certain statutory functions in relation to the business of a magistrates court. Many of those functions are currently performed by a justice's chief executive within the magistrates courts committee. The statutory post of JCE will cease to exist in the new courts agency, and as a direct result the former functions of the JCE will rest with the Lord Chancellor. Where appropriate, he will nominate a designated officer of a magistrates court to perform them. It is envisaged that that will mean little change in practice, as the functions will continue to be carried out by the members of staff to whom the work is presently delegated.

Amendments Nos. 130 and 131 would both remove the term ''justice of the peace'' from subsection (1). The clause reflects the fact that the references to justices' chief executives in current legislation are many and varied. Some such references are being amended by the Bill to read, ''designated officer''. However, as the references are varied, the clause is drafted to cover all eventualities in which the term ''designated officer'' will apply.

As drafted, the clause highlights that it is not practicable, nor in all instances desirable, to change all legislative references from JCE to ''designated officer'', for example in legislation pertaining to pension or

compensation arrangement for JCEs. Removing the reference to justice of the peace in the clause would mean that any reference to a designated officer and a justice of the peace in an Act would not be covered by clause 37. That would in turn lead to confusion about what is meant by the term ''designated officer'' in those circumstances.

Furthermore, the clause follows the same pattern as existing legislation where JCEs are mentioned in the same provision as justices of the peace. One example of such a reference is in section 16 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. Removing the words ''justice of the peace'' from this clause is therefore undesirable, given the need for consistency and watertight drafting arrangements. On those grounds, the amendment should be withdrawn.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 3:30 pm, 1st July 2003

I do not think that that was the clearest explanation I have ever heard. I am still puzzled by the fact that the Bill already contains a definition of the functions of a single justice of the peace as being those of a court, or, in the case of a justices clerk or assistant clerk, as being those of a magistrates court. It therefore seems that the term ''magistrates court'' includes any potential reference to a justice of the peace acting alone. I still find it difficult to understand how an officer of the court could act for a justice of the peace, but not for the court through which the justice of the peace exercises his functions. That is an important distinction about the way in which a designated officer would work.

I am sure that the Minister's advice is proper, and that it is too difficult to ensure that there is no reference to a justice of the peace somewhere in statute, but I would have thought that a watertight change in definition of what comprises a court for this purpose could include the actions of a justice of the peace. That would be a rather better way of dealing with the problem in statute so that we do not have to keep on inserting phrases that will be repeated in Bill after Bill, year after year and century after century for no reason other than to confuse those who want to interpret legislation. Will the Minister confer with his officials to consider whether there is a better solution other than an anomalous reference in a clause? I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 37 ordered to stand part of the Bill

Clauses 38 to 40 ordered to stand part of the Bill.