HC Deb 19 June 1941 vol 372 cc883-5

Order for Second Reading read.

The Solicitor-General (Sir William Jowitt)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

This is a small Bill, a completely un-controversial Bill, and I think a good Bill —little and good. It may not have any direct bearing upon our war effort, but in that it affects the administration of justice it is a not unimportant Measure. It deals with the magistrates, of whom there are some 20,000 in this country, and let us remember that something like 95 per cent. of all the criminal cases in this country are tried before those magistrates. Outside London they dispose of something like 500,000 cases involving trial per year.

I think it only right to say that, disposing as they do of this vast number of cases, in a tremendous number of cases they gave complete satisfaction, and because I am introducing a Bill which modifies in some respect the existing law, I do not want it to be thought that I am casting any aspersion upon that body of people who are rendering, and have rendered, most valuable public service. There are, of course, exceptional cases—very exceptional cases—which from time to time standout. There are the very rare cases of a magistrate, a justice of the peace, getting into some trouble or other, some moral trouble, or some criminal case, which necessitates his removal from the Bench. These are very rare cases indeed. There is a commoner class of case, very different, where a magistrate, suffering from what we are all suffering from to some degree—getting older—is perhaps no longer able to hear as well as he did, and is no longer as fit as he used to be to conduct his business as a magistrate. We have all known cases of this sort of trouble from time to time. It is a very invidious thing, if the Lord Chancellor wants to remove such a magistrate, to have to apply to him the same machinery that he would apply to those very rare and wholly different cases where a magistrate has done something disgraceful and discreditable.

Various solutions have been sought, to get rid of this trouble. There is a peculiar fact of human nature; I suppose we do not always ourselves recognise the limitations and disadvantages that come from advancing age. We are apt to think, when we are no longer hearing quite so well as we used to hear, that we hear just as well and that witnesses are not speaking so loudly. However, Lord Hailsham, when he was Lord Chancellor, evolved a very useful scheme. He circularised all the justices, suggesting that if and when a justice thought that his powers in any respect were failing, he should apply of his own volition to be put on a Supplemental List, and a very considerable number did apply to be put on the Supplemental List. The effect of being on that Supplemental List is that a magistrate no longer sits in court to adjudicate, or hear cases, but is still entitled to take part, and does, in the ordinary administrative work which forms a very large and valuable part of the work of magistrates, and he retains the dignity and prestige of being still a member of the Bench. Instead of actually having two lists, one of them a Supplemental List, there is only one list, but by a note against a name it can be seen whether a magistrate is on the list that adjudicates in court or on the other list which concerns itself with administrative work.

There have been cases of people who ought to have applied and who did not apply. I am familiar with one case—a local bench where there were four magistrates, all of whom had rendered most useful public service and who had become rather deaf. One of them was particularly deaf. The three magistrates who were the least deaf of the four were quite prepared to have themselves placed on the Supplemental List, but the fourth, the very deaf one, being convinced that people would not speak up, would not have his name put on the List. When his three colleagues heard that the fourth, whose case was much worse than their own, was not willing, they all dug their toes in, and said that none of them would go. We propose that there shall be a statutory arrangement for this Supplemental List, instead of its being merely a voluntary one. We hope and believe that, as in the past, justices will readily apply to have their names put on the Supplemental List, so that they will cease to adjudicate in court, but will perform administrative functions. The Lord Chancellor, under Clause 1, Sub-section. (3) is given power, where he is satisfied, with regard to any justice that, by reason of his age or infirmity or other like cause —obviously not dealing with what I might call moral questions at all; if it is such a case he takes the person's name off—may, if he likes direct that the name of the justice be entered on the Supplemental List.

Mr. Mander (Wolverhampton, East)

From where does he get his information?

The Solicitor-General

The Lord Chancellor does not generally suffer from a paucity of information. His trouble is to winnow out, from among the multiplicity of information he gets, the chaff from the grain, and I have no doubt— in fact, I know—he does frequently communicate with Lords Lieutenant, who give him the benefit of their advice and information. This is the proposal of this scheme; it is to continue the Supplemental List on what is now to be a statutory basis—to enable justices to apply, as heretofore, to go on the Supplemental List, with the result I have indicated, but to confer on the Lord Chancellor the right to place a man's name on the Supplemental List, which will have the same effect as if he had voluntarily applied to do so. There is no sort of disgrace or stigma attached to this Supplemental List. I hope no one will regard it as a kind of black list. The proposal, I know, has been approved in all quarters, and I hope the House will let us now have the Second Reading, and we can consider on the Committee stage any question that may arise.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for the next Sitting Day. — [Mr. Whiteley.]

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.

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