HC Deb 23 January 1947 vol 432 cc369-70
78. Mr. Yates

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps he takes, by circularising magistrates or otherwise, to ensure that magistrates' clerks are never permitted to act other than in an advisory capacity.

Mr. Ede

I understand that my hon. Friend has in mind the question of expressions of opinion by clerks to justices about the policy embodied in laws or regulations under which proceedings are taken before the magistrates. The conduct of a clerk in court is a matter for the magistrates, whose servant he is. I have no reason to think that magistrates are not fully aware of their responsibilities in this matter, and I do not consider that any suggestions on my part are required to inform them of these responsibilities.

Mr. Yates

In view of the complaint in a recent case, particulars of which I gave, does not the Minister think that specific advice should be tendered to the magistrates' clerk?

Mr. Ede

No, Sir. I think the duty of controlling the clerk must rest with the magistrates, and, when in court, particularly, with the chairman. I hope that the publicity which the hon. Member's Question has given to the matter will encourage some of these people in suitable cases to correct the clerk when he interferes unduly with the course of justice.

Mr. Hector Hughes

Is my right hon. Friend aware, that, in some instances, the clerk retires with the justices to their room and takes part in their deliberations? Will he not agree that this is an undesirable practice, and will he not take steps to stop it?

Mr. Ede

The magistrates' clerk should not retire with the magistrates unless requested to do so by the bench. If he does so, in his own interests, he should confine such remarks as he makes to advice on points of law that may arise. Of course, what goes on in the magistrates' room is secret, and, as a magistrate myself, I know that the habits of clerks differ in this matter, but it is the duty of the magistrates, if the clerk presumes on his position, to put him in his proper place.