HC Deb 23 January 1968 vol 757 cc226-88

Order for Second Reading read.

3.54 p.m.

The Attorney-General (Sir Elwyn Jones)

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

The principal object of the Bill is to improve the system whereby persons become justices of the peace in England and Wales. That system is unique in the whole world. Over 90 per cent, of the criminal cases in England and Wales are tried in magistrates' courts. All but 1 per cent, of them, which are dealt with by stipendiary magistrates, are tried by lay justices up and down the country. Their competence and suitability and the confidence which they inspire are of great importance to the ordinary citizen, for it is in the magistrates' courts more than any other court that he is most likely to come up against the administration of justice in action.

The method of appointment of justices has been the subject of a lot of controversy during much of our history, particularly during the last century and a half. In this century, it has been considered by two Royal Commissions, one reporting in 1911 and the other in 1948. The principal recommendation of the 1911 Royal Commission, which was duly implemented, was that the Lord Chancellor—and, in the Duchy of Lancaster, the Chancellor of the Duchy—who had long been responsible for the appointment of justices, should continue to exercise this function, but that he should be assisted by advisory committees which should be set up throughout the country for this purpose.

The outstanding recommendations of the 1948 Royal Commission were the introduction of training schemes, the imposition of a compulsory retiring age at 75, and the payment of certain allowances to justices. Most of the 1948 recommendations were implemented either by administrative action or by the Justices of the Peace Act, 1949. That was the last occasion on which any general review of the magistracy was undertaken.

Suggestions have been made in the House and elsewhere that a further fundamental review of the procedure, administration and jurisdiction of magistrates' courts should now be initiated. But, as the House is aware, an inquiry has been taking place since the end of 1966 into the whole structure of the higher criminal courts by the Royal Commission on Assizes and Quarter Sessions. Its report is likely to have a profound bearing on the arrangements for magistrates' courts as well. It would, therefore, be wiser to wait until the recommendations of the Royal Commission are known before any further inquiry is carried out into magistrates' courts, and it may be some time before that can be done.

In the meantime, in the light of the experience gained since the last Royal Commission on justices reported 20 years ago or thereabouts, the need has become apparent for some changes in the magisterial system which can be carried out without any likelihood that they will have to be altered again in the foreseeable future. The Bill embodies those changes.

Most of its provisions are based on the principle that the magistrates' courts should generally be compised of lay justices who are men and women of integrity and intelligence drawn, so far as practicable, from all sections of the community, holding all shades of opinion, and who have been specially selected for the important work which they have to perform as justices of the peace.

Clause 1 of the Bill, which deals principally with the appointment of justices, provides in subsection (1) that no person shall become a justice of the peace unless either he is appointed by name to a commission of the peace or he holds one of the offices specified in the First Schedule. This means that, in future, with a few exceptions, the only way in which a person can become a justice of the peace will be by being appointed by name by the Lord Chancellor or, in the Duchy of Lancaster, by the Chancellor of the Duchy.

The effect of this provision will also be that all ex officio justices—that is to say, all persons who are at present justices by virtue of holding some other office—will cease to be justices, with the exception of those mentioned in the First Schedule who need to be magistrates to carry out their functions. I refer to people like the chairmen of quarter sessions and recorders. At the moment, there are about 2,000 persons who are justices because they hold some other office. That number compares with about 16,000 justices on the active list who have been appointed by name to a commission of the peace.

If I may say so, the ex officio justices are a rich and somewhat strange variety. They include, among others, the Lord Chancellor, the Lord President of the Council, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the Lord Privy Seal, Privy Councillors, High Court judges, the Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the Greater London Council, the chairmen of county councils and of urban and rural district councils, the Lord Mayor and aldermen of the City of London, the mayors of boroughs, and the Vice-Chancellors of Oxford and Cambridge. For some reason, there are three ex officio magistrates for Oxford but only one, by some unaccountable piece of inequality, for Cambridge. Curiously enough, among the ex officio justices are the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General, so I suppose I ought to declare a self-denying interest in the fate of the Bill.

The Royal Commission on Justices of the Peace of 1948 recommended that chairmen of county and urban district and rural district councils should cease to be justices ex officio. The Commission pointed out that the qualities that enable a chairman of a local authority to perform his duties as chairman with success are not of necessity those requisite for the office of justice of the peace, and, moreover, in many areas the question who is to be the chairman is decided more by rotation than by merit.

It went on to say that if a chairman of a local authority is suitable for appointment as a justice, the ordinary procedure should suffice to ensure his consideration for that office. The Commission, however, did not recommend that mayors of boroughs or Privy Councillors and others, to whom it was good enough to refer as "high officers", should cease to be justices ex officio.

Most of those who gave evidence to the Royal Commission thought that at least some of the justices ex officio should be abolished, although there was not agreement on this point. But, in spite of the weight of opinion against the retention of at least local authority justices ex officio, the recommendation of the Royal Commission on this point was the only recommendation dealing with individual justices which was not implemented.

The subject was discussed during the passage of the Justices of the Peace Bill through Parliament in 1949, but no provisions for the abolition of these justices were included in the Bill for reasons which were not, if I may say so, altogether clear, but partly it seems because it was thought that the position of local government justices ex officio could better be dealt with in the legislation on the future structure of local government which was about to be considered. This subject, however, was not pursued, and the position remains the same today as it was then.

The Government take the view that the principle which should be applied to the appointment of justices is that only those who are specially selected for the purpose and who are able to give sufficient time to the work should be appointed. It therefore follows that there should be no justices ex-officio whatever, save only those who hold judicial offices in the courts in which magistrates are directly concerned, such as, as I have said, chairmen of quarter sessions and recorders.

Added to this there is now a system, as the House knows, of compulsory training for all justices of the peace on first appointment. This training cannot in general be applied effectively to the ex officio justices because of the method of appointment of these persons and the short period during which most of them hold office.

Advantage has also been taken in the Bill to make some tidying up proposals. Before I refer to those, I would like to mention the proposal in Clause 1(1) of the Bill to abolish the office of Keeper of the Rolls. Since the Bill was published, strong representations have been made for the retention of the ancient office of Custos Rotulorum on the ground that they play a useful part in the work of preserving some of the county records and archives in their respective areas. In view of this, it is likely that the Government will move an Amendment to delete the provision for the abolition of this office, but this will not affect the provision that the Keeper will cease to be a justice ex officio under the Bill.

Clause 1(2) of the Bill removes the requirement that a person who has once taken the oath of allegiance and the judicial oath as a justice shall take these oaths again if he is subsequently appointed a justice for any other area. Justices do move their residences from time to time and, under an arrangement which was introduced by the Lord Chancellor recently, a justice who has served for at least five years and then moves to another area is automatically placed on the commission for that area, though he is precluded from sitting in court until a vacancy occurs on his local bench and the advisory committee decide to recommend his appointment to the active list.

It is obviously inconvenient and unnecessary for justices who are transferred in this way to be obliged to take the oaths once again, as they are under the existing law. There are other circumstances, with which I need not trouble the House, in which a justice may at present be required to take the oaths more than once.

In addition to removing the necessity for what I might, without disrespect, call this superfluous oath-taking, the subsection also repeals those parts of the Municipal Corporation Act, 1882, which provide that the recorder of a borough and a borough justice shall not be capable of acting as such until they have made a declaration before the mayor or two other members of the council. The declaration, which is, of course, in addition to the judicial oaths, is to the effect that the recorder or justice will impartially execute his office according to the best of his judgment and ability. I suppose that if he fails to execute his office in that way he will be got rid of anyway; but, at any rate, it seems there is no object in retaining that provision.

Clause 1(3) re-enacts certain old provisions whereby the position of a justice is not affected by any change in his name or his promotion to a dignity, and proceedings before justices are not affected by the issue of a new commission of the peace.

Clause 1(4) enables mayors of boroughs and chairmen of county and district councils to exercise the same functions as justices of the peace on the Supplemental List, notwithstanding that they will cease to be justices ex officio in consequence of the Bill. Justices on the Supplemental List cannot, as the House knows, sit in court, but they are permitted to perform the useful function of document-witnessing and the other functions which are set out in Clause 1(4) of the Bill.

There has been some doubt whether all criminal courts have power to bind persons over to keep the peace and to be of good behaviour. Clause 1(5) is, therefor, declaratory of the power of all courts of record having criminal jurisdiction to bind over. The opportunity has also been taken in this subsection to abolish any right or power at common law of the Sovereign in person, or the Privy Council, members of the Privy Council or the Secretary of State, to commit to prison or to issue warrants of arrest or search warrants.

We come now to Clause 1(6) of the Bill, which may well prove to be the most and perhaps the only controversial part of it. It provides for the issue of the commission of the peace to the City of London. At present, the City of London has no commission of the peace and it is the only area in the country which is not covered by a commission. The magistrates' courts for the City are composed of the aldermen who are justices ex officio by virtue of charters and have long performed valuable services as such.

Under the Bill the appointment of justices for the City of London will be assimilated to that pertaining throughout the rest of England and Wales and according to the same principle. Aldermen will cease to be justices ex officio and the magistrates' courts in the City will be composed in future solely of persons appointed by the Lord Chancellor by name to a commission which will be issued for the City and they will no longer be able to sit singly, as they do now, to try all cases. The City commission will be similar to that issued to each of the five commission areas established for Greater London under Section 2 of the Administration of Justice Act, 1964.

In Clause 1(7) the Government are taking the opportunity of dealing with the position of the five stipendiary magistrates who are appointed under local Acts rather than under the provisions of the Justices of the Peace Act, 1949. A stipendiary magistrate is normally appointed on the petition of the local authority for a single petty sessions area, usually a large borough with its own commission of the peace, like Manchester or Birmingham, but there are five stipendiary magistrates—in South Staffordshire, the Staffordshire Potteries, Salford, Merthyr Tydfil, and Pontypridd—who are appointed under local Acts of Parliament which were enacted mainly in the 19th century. Some of their provisions are somewhat archaic. These stipendiaries are now brought within the normal arrangements of the 1949 Act.

Clause 2 reduces the retiring age for magistrates. A compulsory retiring age for lay justices was first introduced by the Justices of the Peace Act 1949, which required all justices except those who held, or had held, high judicial office to transfer to the Supplemental List on reaching the age of 75. Although some persons are no doubt well fitted to continue to serve efficiently as justices even after they have reached 75, experience suggests that the powers of the majority of lay justices at any rate tend to become impeded when they have passed 70. The Bill therefore reduces the age at which lay justices must transfer to the Supplemental List from 75 to 70.

This provision does not apply to justices who are chairmen or deputy chairmen of quarter sessions, or to recorders, who hold or have held high judicial office, but the subsection does provide that all these persons must be placed on the Supplemental List when they reach 75, and in the case of chairmen and deputy chairmen and recorders they must transfer before attaining that age if they cease to hold office after they have reached 70.

Subsection (2) applies a similar retiring age to stipendiary magistrates who are appointed after the passing of the Bill. Both Metropolitan stipendiaries and stipendiaries outside London will be required to vacate office at the end of the completed year of service in the course of which they attain the age of 70. At present, stipendiary magistrates must retire at the end of the completed year of service in the course of which they attain the age of 72, subject to the proviso that the Lord Chancellor may authorise a magistrate to continue in office up to the age of 75 if he considers this desirable in the public interest.

If the new retiring age of 70 were to be applied immediately to all lay justices there might be a shortage of experienced magistrates in some areas, and therefore, as the House will see, Clause 2(3) provides for the reduction in the age limit to be applied gradually, one year at a time, so that it will not finally drop to 70 until 1973.

Clause 3 amends Section 13 of the Justices of the Peace Act, 1949 which enables the Lord Chancellor to make rules by Statutory Instrument governing the term of office and the procedure at an election of the chairman and deputy chairman of the justices in a petty sessional area. At present, a justice may vote at the election of a chairman and deputy chairman of his bench even though he has only just been appointed to the commission and has not had any opportunity to observe the suitability of his brother justices for these offices. The Clause will enable the rules to provide that no justice may vote at an election until he has served as a justice in the area for sufficiently long to enable him to understand what is involved and to know the merits of the justices for whom he will be able to vote.

Clause 4 deals with allowances for justices of the peace. I think that it was Mark Twain who said that people will do almost anything provided that they are unpaid, but apparently there are limits. There is evidence that suitable candidates are deterred from accepting an appointment to the bench because they fear that they will incur out-of-pocket expenses which they cannot afford, and that, consequently, benches sit with an unusually large proportion of persons in the higher income groups.

This is a question which the Royal Commission on Justices of the Peace in 1948 was asked to consider. Before that time justices were not entitled to allowances of any kind. The Royal Commission recommended that justices should be paid their travelling expenses, and a lodging allowance if they were away from home overnight, but came out against any payment for subsistence or for loss of remunerative time, because it felt that payments of this nature might lessen public confidence in an unpaid magistracy. It also thought that there would be very few cases in which such payments would secure the services of people with strong claims to appointment.

The Government consider that the situation has changed significantly over the past 20 years, and during that time there has been continuing pressure on successive Governments, particularly from the Trades Union Congress, to widen the field from which justices are selected so that the bench is more truly representative of all social classes in the community. There is also abundant evidence from the Lord Chancellor's advisory committees, who nominate candidates for the bench, that many suitable people from the wage-earning section of the population cannot at present afford to serve as justices.

We therefore propose, in subsection (2), the introduction of a financial loss allowance for justices of the peace. This will be on the lines of the allowance which was introduced by the Local Government Act, 1948, for elected members of local authorities. The current rates are up to £1 12s. 6d. for a period of not more than four hours, and up to £3 5s. for more than four hours. I want to emphasise that these are not flat-rate allowances which will be paid automatically for attendance on the bench. They must be claimed, and, within the maxima that I have mentioned, they will be payable only where a justice has suffered some actual loss of income or been put to extra expense, for example, where a small shopkeeper has had to pay someone to look after his shop while he has been sitting on the bench. I hope that this will dispel any suggestion of the kind which the Royal Commission envisaged, that people might be attracted to the bench because they think that they might earn more there than by their private exertions.

In our view this modest Measure does not conflict with the concept of an unpaid magistracy. The principle is well accepted for local authority members, and no one thinks of them as being paid for their service to the community. And, more recently, jurors have become entitled to a similar allowance. Only the lay magistrate in this field of service is expected to bear any financial loss himself, so the office of justice of the peace will continue to be an office of honour, and not an office of profit.

We have brought in the reference to loss of National Insurance evidence to cover the rare situation where an unemployed justice might be denied unemployment benefit because he was required to sit in court on several successive days, and was held for this reason not to be available to take up employment.

In relation to this part of the Bill, I should perhaps remind the House that, as my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary announced in November last, civil servants who are justices are allowed special leave with pay to carry out their judicial duties. Similar facilities are also granted to civil servants who are elected members of local authorities, and this allowance has been increased from 12 to 18 days a year. The House might like to know that nationalised industries, private industry and local government organisations have agreed, at the Lord Chancellor's request, to grant similar facilities to those of their employees who are appointed magistrates.

Subsection (3) secures an improvement in the conditions governing payment of subsistence allowances to justices. The allowances were introduced in 1964, but they are not payable if the justice lives within three miles of the court. Subsection (3) removes this restriction. The House will be familiar with the case for this measure, which has been strenuously put by my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner), whom I am happy to see in his place, who has carried out untiring efforts to achieve this reform by means of a Private Member's Bill.

This is another situation which bears harder on the less well off justices. In most places it is not easy for a justice to undertake a round trip of six miles from the court to his home in the limited time allowed for a luncheon adjournment. If he cannot afford to lunch with his colleagues, he might have no alternative but to lunch in a cheap local hostelry, where he might come into contact with defendants or witnesses. Apart from any embarrassment which this might cause, the House will take the view, I think that it is in the interests of justices that the members of the bench should be able to lunch together and discuss matters touching on their work in that refreshing interval. These two financial Measures will not, however, be introduced until economic circumstances permit——

Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)

I cannot understand the right hon. and learned Gentleman's last remark. Does he mean that the justices will have a private room in which to lunch? Whether they go into a cheap hostelry or an expensive one, they are just as likely to meet someone who has appeared before them when they were on the bench.

The Attorney-General

But they will meet the more expensive crooks in the more expensive restaurants. I think that the intention is that they should meet together in a restaurant or hotel where, in the course of time, some arrangements of privacy can be laid on. I think that most restaurant owners near magistrates' courts are willing to undertake that sort of arrangement. [Laughter.] I hope that that is so. There is some derisive laughter from the benches below the Gangway opposite, but I certainly hope that that facility will be provided. I also hope that they will remember the lawyers and the Press in the course of that consideration.

As I said, these two financial measures will be introduced only when economic circumstances permit. Subsection (4) removes a disability in Section 8(4) of the 1949 Act which, as at present drafted, precludes any arrangements being made for the payment of expenses to a paid chairman or deputy-chairman of quarter sessions, except at the time that his salary is determined. The subsection continues to disqualify them, like stipendiary magistrates and recorders, from any entitlement to financial loss allowance.

Subsection (5) extends the benefits of the Clause to members of probation and after-care committees and members of case committees, most of whom are justices. Under the present legislation, the allowances for members of these committees are the same as for justices, but it is appropriate that they should continue to be so.

Clause 5 enables rules to be made for two purposes. Under subsection (1), rules can be made delegating to justices' clerks functions at present performed by justices and, under subsection (2), rules can be made prescribing the qualifications required by a person other than a justices' clerk who may have to perform the clerk's functions. My noble Friend the Lord Chancellor considers that subjection (1) should help towards the efficient dispatch of court business by relieving justices of various functions of a routine or quasi-administrative nature which could be performed entirely satisfactorily by their clerk without the need to trouble a justice.

The House will see, however, that limits are placed on this rule-making power. First, it relates only to functions preliminary or incidental to the proceedings before a magistrates court and thus clearly rules out delegation to the clerk of the court of the main functions of justices, such as the trial of an offence, the passing of sentence or the making of an order in a civil matter.

Second, the power is restricted to functions which can at present be per formed by a single justice and thus excludes anything which has to be done by a court of two or more justices. Third, the issue or endorsement of war rants of arrest and other arrants—such as warrants committing to prison for non-payment of a fine—is excluded. Apart from these limitations, it is intended to provide in the rules that the delegation of functions to the clerk shall be subject to any directions given by the court, so that there will be no question of a clerk acting contrary to the policy or intentions of his own bench——

Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)

Before he leaves that point, would my right hon. and learned Friend say something about the nomination of justices of the peace? Would he agree that the present practice, whereby political parties participate in the nomination, is possibly undesirable, and that perhaps it would be better to substitute the trade unions on the one hand and the chambers of trade on the other for the policital parties?

The Attorney-General

This is not a convenient moment in my speech to deal with that point, but I will, nevertheless, deal with it. The present arrangement, whereby the Lord Chancellor is advised by local advisory committees is, I think, now working reasonably satisfactorily. The principal test should be the capacity and integrity of the individual, but the Lord Chancellor is anxious that the bench should reflect a cross-section socially of the community, as far as that is practicable, and a cross-section of opinion. I do not think it desirable to have too hard and fast a political division on the bench. Many justices are wholly nonparty in their political allegiances.

There has been a greater awareness, however, in recent years—without making a party point of this—of the need for benches to reflect opinion fairly and generally. The practice which existed in some county commissions in particular in the past of the bench being composed almost exclusively of the members of a single political party has been changing rapidly since the war. I do not think that my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor has in mind any fundamental change in the present arrangements, which seem to be providing general satisfaction.

I was dealing with the provisions of Clause 5. The House must be assured, in regard to these interesting proposals, that the precise functions which are to be delegated to clerks under the power given in the Bill will be a matter for discussion between the Home Office, the magistrates and the clerks before any draft rules are submitted to the rule committee which, in accordance with Section 15 of the Justices of the Peace Act 1949, has to be consulted before such rules are made. As the House knows, the committee consists of the Lord Chief Justice, the President of the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division, the Chief Magistrate of Bow Street and such other persons as the Lord Chancellor may appoint.

It will, for example, be for consideration whether justices' clerks should be enabled under this power to issue summonses or to arrange adjournments in certain types of case, but, as I have said, these matters will require careful consideration before the rules are made.

Subsection (2) enables rules to be made prescribing the qualifications required by a person other than a justices' clerk who may have to perform the clerk's functions. Under Section 20 of the Justices of the Peace Act, 1949, a person may not be appointed a justices' clerk unless, first, he is a solicitor or barrister of five years' standing, second, he is a solicitor or a barrister who has served in a magistrates court for not less than five years in a capacity specified in that Section, or, third, he has served in such a capacity for not less than 10 years before 1960 and, in the opinion of the magistrates' courts committee and of the Secretary of State, there are special circumstances making the appointment a proper one.

Whereas, for example, in the big cities a justices' clerk is responsible for several courts sitting at the same time, some of those courts must be taken by a person other than the justices' clerk, who may not possess any of the qualifications to which I have just referred. Indeed, under the law as it stands at present, he need not have any qualifications at all.

It seemed to us that this was unsatisfactory, and that a person who was to perform the more important duties of the clerk, such as advising the justices on a point of law or, in future, carrying out any of the functions of a justice that may be delegated to the clerk under the power contained in sub-section (1), ought to possess recognised qualifications.

Precisely what those qualifications should be, the extent to which they should be based on the passing of examinations or service in a magistrates' court and what functions should be restricted to qualified persons will all be matters for discussions with those concerned, including the association representing the clerks and their assistants, before any draft rules are submitted to the Rule Committee.

Clause 6 deals with the provisions of the Bill applying to Scotland. If hon. Members wish to ask questions on these provisions, they will be answered by one of my hon. Friends later in the debate. The effect of these provisions is to provide for entitlement to a financial loss allowance, abolition of the three-mile limit and a reduction in the retiring age of justices of the peace from 75 to 70, on exactly the same footing as England and Wales.

The principal provision of the Bill which is not applied to Scotland—for reasons connected with the special arrangements which prevail north of the Border—is that concerning ex officio justices. As hon. Members from Scotland will be aware, justices of the peace do not sit for judicial business in all parts of Scotland. The main burden of summary trial and criminal work in the counties is carried by the sheriff courts. In the burghs, much of the summary jurisdiction is exercised by the bailies, who are magistrates by virtue of their local government offices.

It would apparently not be practicable to alter the position of the bailies by the Bill and it would be difficult, in the circumstances, to deprive other lay magistrates of their judicial functions at the present time. Further, if lay magistrates are to remain unaffected, it is thought that it would be inappropriate to do anything in Scotland to alter the position of Privy Councillors, judges, law officers and others. Clause 6 therefore omits any reference to justices ex officio.

I apologise for having taken so much time in dealing with a number of matters which are largely of technical importance, but I hope that the House will agree that this is a worthwhile Bill and one that is likely to improve the administration of justice in the magistrates' courts. As I have said, these courts play a far greater part in the lives of the ordinary citizens than any other courts in the land. Well over 1 million criminal cases are tried by the magistrates every year, in addition to the great volume of civil matters, especially domestic proceedings, with which they deal. It is essential, therefore, that we should do all we can to enable these courts to maintain high standards and to ensure that the magistrates, wherever they may sit, have the confidence of the people among whom they work and to whom they administer justice.

4.34 p.m.

Sir Peter Rawlinson (Epsom)

In his full explanation of the Bill, the Attorney-General was right to stress the important part that is played in the administration of criminal justice by the unpaid magistracy. It is right that we should reflect that well over 1 million cases a year —indeed, I believe that the number is nearly 1½ million—are dealt with by the magistrates. This illustrates the dependence which we have upon them. If one translates that into court hours and into terms of a paid magistracy or the time of jurors, one sees that, in terms of money saved, we have a great dependence on magistrates.

The extent of the burden borne by these unpaid people who give their service in the magistracy is great. They give excellent service and it is rare, out of the 16,000 or so magistrates, that one comes upon a failure. I, too, wish to pay tribute to the devotion and service which the magistracy gives to the administration of criminal law in this country.

Mr. Peter Mahon (Preston, South)

Both my right hon. and learned Friend and the right hon. and learned Gentleman have referred to the inordinate number of people who appear before magistrates' courts. I trust that they have considered the fact that people guilty of motoring offences cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be included in the criminal classes.

Sir P. Rawlinson

Motoring offences can be very serious indeed. In any case, the burden on magistrates includes indictable offences, too. About 88 per cent. of indictable offences, which are serious criminal cases, are dealt with by them.

We are speaking of a system which we have had in this country for very many years. This system necessarily reduces the amount of jury trial. I recall a conversation I had in the United States Department of Justice, when a comment was made about it being comparatively rare in Britain for there to be a trial by jury in a criminal case—this because of the vast number of cases dealt with by the unprofessional magistracy. I believe that the system works well, although I would be the last to decry the importance of the jury, both in civil cases and in criminal trials. It is important always to associate the layman with the administration of justice, and the more that can be done the better it will be for the administration of justice.

Trial by justices is, of course, trial by laymen. However, they need training, they need to know about punishment and they need to know about procedure. About 20 years ago, when I began to practise at the Bar, I recollect that sometimes an unfortunate impression would be given when the bench of magistrates would come into court, have a word with the clerk and the police officer, look at the advocates appearing on behalf of the defendants—and wonder what those strange animals were doing there—and then proceed to hear the case. However, that has all disappeared and it is vitally important that persons presiding at any court should recollect the great adage of justice being seen to be done. They must also realise that manner and procedure in court are some of the most important things in the administration of criminal justice.

To recruit 16,000 magistrates is a difficult task. I suggest to the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) that those who have taken upon themselves the duty of administering justice—I do not mind to which political party they belong—do not allow political considerations to enter into the matter. I know what the hon. Gentleman had in mind when he intervened. I heard what the Attorney-General said in reply. In the same way, when we get off political matters, hon. Members address themselves to the task in hand. I am certain that when persons come to consider the judgment of other persons, they do that wholly divorced from any form of association that they may have or any political view that they may hold.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is mistaken in saying that he knew what I had in mind in my intervention. I was not in any way referring to political considerations of that sort. I was referring to the recruitment of magistrates and I suggested that, rather than political organisations being responsible, other parties were best suited to perform the task of recruitment.

Sir P. Rawlinson

I do not think that that has become a problem. I support, and will support, certain provisions of the Bill because we need to recruit to the bench men of ability and integrity whatever experience of life they may have. Incidentally, the Attorney-General may appreciate that at present that of the four treasurers of the Inns of Court which govern the discipline of the Bar three are former Socialist Ministers.

One is a former Home Secretary, one the right hon. and learned Member for Ipswich (Sir Dingle Foot), who was Solicitor-General, and one a highly-respected and admired judge who formerly was a Labour Solicitor-General. I hope and believe that it will always be maintained that the judiciary, unpaid or professional, has nothing whatever to do with a person's politics.

The problem is finding people available to serve. Obviously, the most available to do the very arduous tasks involved in being a justice of the peace are usually elderly retired men or married women whose family responsibilities have lessened. I welcome the provisions of the Bill, for they will, I hope, alleviate the difficulties and give recompense for financial loss in recruiting from a wider section of the community. I believe that £360,000 has been mentioned as the amount needed to recompense for financial loss, plus allowances and pensions. I think that in this respect it will be well worth while.

We shall still not get to serve on the bench the young salaried executive whose work is such that he cannot give time to serving on the bench. We get occasionally, but not very often, the young woman with a family, but such people find it extremely difficult to serve. These always will be difficulties we shall have to face, but when we can get people of these age groups and experience they are useful and important to recruit for service on the bench.

Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)

Is not what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has just said a good reason for not limiting the age to 70?

Sir P. Rawlinson

I shall consider whether 70 as the maximum age is a sensible provision. This is something we have to bear in mind. Many hon. and right hon. Members who, so far as we can judge, give competent service, are over 70. As in other professions, there are men over 70. If they are competent enough to serve it should be considered whether we should permit them to do so. That is something we shall have to consider in Committee to find whether this is an advisable provision.

Generally, we want to see that we get good service at minimum cost from those who will bear the brunt of the work in administering criminal justice. A vast expenditure would be involved if we had to substitute a professional judge for every unpaid magistrate. I do not look upon the abolition of ex officio justices as a matter of principle. In the circumstances, I prefer it as a matter of good sense. In the ordinary borough when a councillor is elected mayor he becomes the first citizen and magistrate and a justice of the peace.

I do not think that that is good sense. He has had no training but comes straight to the bench as a magistrate without any experience. He remains there for a very limited period. Looking at this question as a matter of good sense and of getting good practical results, I think that there is certainly a case for the abolition and that it is sensible to abolish ex officio justices.

I ask the House to look at the merits of the matter and to look for the reasons for this proposal. Here, the Bill goes beyond looking merely at the merits and seeing whether this is good sense. The Government have decided, for reasons which do not seem to be good sense, to abolish and to extend this principle to the City, where there is a wholly different practice. This is the very opposite of pragmatic purposiveness.

There is a very different system in the City. Provided that the situation is satisfactory, and that justice is being competently administered, we ought not to overlook matters of finance. We ought not to overlook the matter of waste of man hours and court hours. This is not the time to be profligate with either. If the standard is good and administration of justice in the City is approved by the highest courts, why alter it, especially if this will mean more money and more people being needed? If their standards are high, what is the point of substituting two or three people where one would be competent? This is sacrificing sense for mere uniformity. It is an academic and extravagant attitude to adopt at present.

I suggest that it is bred from irritation that an old system has worked well for years and can still work well. This is the worst example of trying to be modern for modernity's sake and I do not think it suitable. In the City, when a man is elected to the Court of Aldermen, because the nature of his duties includes judicial duties, he has to be approved by other aldermen and he is obliged to study authorities and textbooks. He is obliged to acquire some academic knowledge, to visit prisons in the London area, a detention centre and a borstal institution, to see things for himself.

He is obliged to attend a minimum of six times at a court sitting—which is more than magistrates anywhere else are obliged to do—and he has to attend a magistrates' court outside the City. He is obliged to attend a course given by the chief clerk on the methods and problems of punishment, probation and treatment, and he is recommended to join the Magistrates' Association. This is based on the Lord Chancellor's syllabus, but it goes beyond that.

This may be concentrated into a period which gives a man benefit, if he is to be an unprofessional, unpaid magistrate, far superior to that anywhere else in the country. Twice yearly he attends sentencing exercises and other meetings. He is in close contact with the recorder and other judges in the Central Criminal Court. There is no doubt that we get the best trained and qualified unprofessional magistracy in the City of London. My personal experience as an advocate appearing before that tribunal and others is that the City is on every occasion a well-administered court with proper procedure and proper attitudes.

By the time the Lord Mayor presides, he has been doing this work for eight or 10 years. He is not the "Mayor of Little Puddletown", but the Lord Mayor of London, and after sitting on the bench for that time is a trained and experienced magistrate.

Does the system work? The character of the City is entirely different from that anywhere else. It is a place where people work, but do not live. There is very little in the way of matrimonial work and very little juvenile crime because of the particular characteristics of the City. Obviously, in that jurisdiction there must be included cases of financial magnitude and complexity in which it is very important to have persons with some knowledge of these matters presiding over the court. A Customs case in 1963 occupied 26 days. There are many occasions when cases involving such matters are heard.

How have they been discharging their duties? Who are the best judges? The Royal Commission of 1948, to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred, talked of the high standard of administration of criminal justice and did not then—at a time when the right hon. and learned Gentleman was a Member of the House, though I was not— recommend any change for the adult court. In 1948, the then Lord Chief Justice said that, although the High Court saw many cases from magistrates' courts, it was rare indeed to find one brought from a decision of an alderman of the City. I do not recall a single instance, which is a striking tribute to the wisdom and care with which those courts perform their duties. Fifteen months ago the present Lord Chief Justice said that the case for altering the system in the City had not been made out, that the judges had complete confidence in the aldermen as justices of the peace, and he hoped that second thoughts would prevail.

These are important testimonials of which we in the House, with our limited direct knowledge of these matters, should at least take account. If the present system is wholly satisfactory—as it is, according to the judges—what is the point of making this change? It cannot be on the grounds of sense. It must be for some other reason, a reason which cannot commend itself to the House when considering a Bill dealing with the administration of justice. The test should be efficiency. If the City passes that test, it should be left as it is. In 1966–67 the Lord Mayor sat 76 times and the aldermen 30 times. They dealt with 19,000 cases in 1967, compared with about 5,000 in 1950. Only six of the 19,000 cases were reversed on appeal. This is a remarkable record.

Applying the test of efficiency and of good administration of justice, the right Hon. and learned Gentleman should leave the matter where it is. The impression that there is some other reason, either prejudice or ill-judgment, which is affecting this matter. The Attorney-General said that it was an anomaly. What about the anomalous position of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who, I understand, has some say in the appointment of magistrates? The right hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Frederick Lee), who has held various offices, would not pretend to know much about the appointment of justices. If that anomaly is left, an anomaly which on the face of it is much more remarkable, why not leave the situation in the City unchanged?

We on this side will always support sensible and practical changes, changes designed to bring the law up to date and to make it better in its administration, but we shall impose the test of efficiency and of general improvement. We supported the right hon. and learned Gentleman when he wanted a Bill quickly to increase the number of justices. I wish that it was law now, because, in view of the reports I receive as to delays, I should like there to be more judges immediately so that delays, particularly in the provinces, could be reduced.

I appreciate that in this the Attorney-General is the agent for the Lord Chancellor. There was a time when it was suggested that there should be a Vice-Chancellor in charge of answering on matters of law in the House of Commons. That did not prevail. The right rests fairly and squarely upon the Attorney-General and his colleagues. I can only ask him, as a practical, sensible, man, who knows about the administration of justice, to reconsider this matter. It is an appropriate matter to be dealt with at a later stage.

We approve of much of the Bill, but I hope that the Government will be practical, apply here the criterion of efficiency, and think again. As the Bill contains certain reasonable proposals, of which I have spoken, I shall not advise my right hon. and hon. Friends to divide against it. However, I serve warning that, unless the Government think again and see sense at a later stage, we shall certainly deal with this matter then.

4.55 p.m.

Mr. Harry Howarth (Wellingborough)

I suppose that I should declare an interest, in that I still serve as a lay magistrate in one of the petty sessional divisions of Middlesex.

As the first lay magistrate to speak in this debate, I want to express, on behalf of the thousands of my colleagues, appreciation to my right hon. and learned Friend and to the right hon. and learned Member for Epsom (Sir P. Rawlinson) for their kind references to lay magis- trates. In my experience, no body of people works harder for so little return. Magistrates certainly receive very few thanks. On occasion, it does no harm to thank them for what they do on the country's behalf.

I do not wish to go into the Bill in detail. My right hon. and learned Friend dealt with it in such clarity that I do not think that any hon. Member, unless disagreeing with certain aspects of it, need repeat what has been said. I want to make a few points in giving my general support to what is contained in the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Preston, South (Mr. Peter Mahon) questioned whether motorists are criminals. Whether they are criminals or not, they appear in the court lists, which are becoming heavier every day.

Mr. Peter Mahon

That is my whole point. The work of the courts is becoming much more difficult as each day passes. Some motoring offences are of a very serious character and deserve the utmost opprobrium, but for the most part those who are brought before the courts for motoring offences have never seen the inside of a court before and are not really offenders against society. This is my reason for thinking that in the not too distant future serious thought should be given to the question whether the local police court is the right and proper place to deal with motorists.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Eric Fletcher)

Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot make a speech in the guise of an intervention.

Mr. Howarth

I am sorry that I gave way to my hon. Friend. I know that he will make an effective speech later, if he succeeds in catching the eye of the Chair.

I was coming on to point out the volume of work magistrates have to cope with as a result of the lists increasing in length day by day, irrespective of whether the offenders are motorists or those charged with criminal offences. This is one of the great problems facing us. There is an historic document pinned on the notice board in the magistrates' room at one of the courts in which I sit. It may not be historic as to date, but it shows that on a day in 1932 there were 14 cases to be dealt with. Two courts sat to deal with them. On any day of the week now at either of the two courts at which I sit, the magisrates would be very fortunate indeed if the list was less than 120. It is more likely to be 160. They would probably be sitting five courts each day.

The problem facing magistrates is that of being able to give up sufficient time from their other duties to carry out their magisterial duties effectively. This is why I welcome the provision relating to the financial loss allowance. Unfortunately, this will not solve all the problems because, despite what my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) thinks about the selection of magistrates, there still is a barrier, irrespective of political considerations. Young men with their eye on promotion do not want to upset their bosses by asking for time off to carry out magisterial duties. They therefore do not want to be considered for appointment to the bench.

We can get magistrates, but we are still not getting sufficient of the younger generation. When I suggest to my colleagues on the bench that we should have magistrates aged about 25 or 27, some of them agree but others look at me in some surprise, because this has not been known to any great extent. But that is what we should be aiming for now, to balance the ages within a petty sessional division. I hope that more employers will recognise that whether their man comes from the shop floor, the factory or the shop counter he can still make a contribution by carrying out such duties, and, in view of the financial loss allowance, will allow him to do so without prejudicing his future.

More justices will be needed as the age limit is gradually reduced. I do not know what the figure would be if all those over the age of 70 were taken off the bench now, but we should certainly need a great number even to keep up to the present strength, and we shall need even more in the future. Therefore, I hope that not only those who nominate for the bench but those who have a responsibility for allowing employees to offer themselves will bear in mind that it is a job which is well worth doing and can be done only by lay magistrates in petty sessional divisions.

I cross swords with my right hon. and learned Friend on his reference to the election of chairmen and deputy chairmen of petty sessional divisions. Section 13(2) of the 1949 Act states: In any petty sessions area there shall be a chairman and one or more deputy chairmen of the justices chosen from amongst themselves by the magistrates for the area by secret ballot. With Clause 3 we are inserting a new subsection which says that the right of magistrates to vote at the elections shall be restricted with a view to securing that the election is made by magistrates experienced as such in the area. My right hon. and learned Friend says that that means that once magistrates have passed a probationary period they will be entitled to vote for the chairman or deputy chairmen of the bench. It may well be that even if they have passed that probationary period they will not be experienced in the way we mean experience on the bench. I hope that there will be a clearer definition of the period before they are entitled to vote in any such election.

I should now like to say a word about the secret ballot which was provided for in the 1949 Act and which is carried over into this legislation. I consider that the present system of election of chairman and deputy chairmen of a bench is completely nonsensical. We all know what secret ballots are, and my right hon. and learned Friend and I know in another connection how people are elected by secret ballot. I have no objection to that. My objection is that when one is presented with a list of every member of the bench at a magistrates' annual meeting, and asked to vote for any one of those named, it is not a secret ballot as it should be operated.

In theory, every person attending the meeting could vote for himself or herself, because who does not believe that he or she would be the best chairman of the petty sessional division? In practice, this does not happen, because people know very well who are the most exeprienced members of the bench and who are most likely to be the best chairman or deputy chairmen.

Why cannot we adopt procedures which exist in other organisations and allow members to be nominated before a meeting, with the support of a certain number of justices? That seems to me a more reasonable way to deal with the matter than to present a list containing everybody's name. Perhaps the result would be the same, but there could be cases where people are elected as chairman or deputy chairman, because they are experienced and brilliant men and women, but they do not have the time to give to the job.

They are not asked beforehand if they will accept nomination, and I can imagine nothing more embarrassing than for someone eminently suitable to be chairman to be elected and then say that he is very sorry, but it is impossible for him to stand for business or other reasons. That would be a ridiculous situation which could be avoided if a new rule were adopted for the appointment of chairmen and deputy chairmen. I have corresponded on this matter with my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor, who absolutely disagrees with me, and no doubt my right hon. and learned Friend will also disagree when he replies.

I agree with the Bill. I do not intend to discuss the City of London, like the right hon. and learned Gentleman, for I do not have full knowledge of that question. I think that the Bill is a further major addition to the 1949 Act, which was itself a major step forward. I welcome it and will do all I can to see that it gets a quick passage through the House.

5.6 p.m.

Sir John Foster (Northwich)

There is certain force in what the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Harry Howarth) said about the nomination of the chairman and deputy chairmen of petty sessions, but only in his point about somebody who is nominated but is too busy to fulfil the function. That problem could be met by magistrates announcing beforehand that they did not want to be included on the list. It would be undesirable for people to be nominated and seconded, because that would need a certain amount of open lobbying, and a person elected chairman in a close division might know the people who opposed him.

Does the Attorney-General think that Schedule 1 has gone too far? He will correct me if I am wrong, but I understand the Bill to work in the following way. Section 1 says that no person shall be a justice of the peace unless he is appointed by a commission of the peace for the area, or, under subsection (2), is created a justice of the peace under the enactments mentioned in Schedule 1 as the holder of a certain office. The last offices shown in Schedule 1 are the Commissioner and Assistant Commissioners of Police of the Metropolis and the Commissioner of the Police Force of the City of London. The third column in the Schedule gives the area in which these justices may operate. I think it inconsistent with the new principle introduced by the Bill—with which I agree, except with regard to the City of London—that the Commissioner or Assistant Commissioners of Police should act as justices of the peace in a London commission area. It is rather unwise that the police, who might be prosecuting, and would certainly be witnesses, should have the Commissioner, Assistant Commissioner or both sitting as justices. The enactments which provide for the appointments are very early nineteenth-century Acts—the Metropolitan Police Act, 1829, the Metropolitan Police Act, 1839, the Metropolitan Police Act, 1856, and the City of London Police Act, 1839. In the light of that criticism, perhaps the Attorney-General will tell us what are the reasons for maintaining these offices as entitling the holders to be justices of the peace.

I agree with the principle that holding an office should no longer be an entitlement to act as a justice of the peace. I will not repeat what was said by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Epsom (Sir P. Rawlinson), except to say that the aldermen and Lord Mayor of the City of London are in a position quite different from that of the ordinary councillor. They have a continuity and a training and an association with the courts of petty sessions which are quite different. The system has worked well, and I see no reason why the City of London should not be in an exceptional position.

I agree with the Attorney-General's reasons for having increased loss allowances. However, as the system has worked well—and both sides of the House have paid tribute to the justices at petty sessions—should not even this slight financial commitment be postponed in view of the general economic situation? However little, the saving is worth making and the change ought to be put off for a year or two. It would not harm the system, for the principle would be accepted, but it would be consistent with the general economic climate for this small saving to be made.

5.12 p.m.

Mr. George Willis (Edinburgh, East)

My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General will remember that the proceedings on the last Bill which dealt with the administration of justice were occupied mainly by Scottish Members.

The Attorney-General

In Committee entirely by Scottish Members.

Mr. Willis

I was about to assure my right hon. and learned Friend that we have no intention of occupying the whole of the time of the House on this Bill. However, one or two issues ought to be raised.

My right hon. and learned Friend pointed out that with certain small exceptions the Bill did not apply to Scotland, because J.P.s in Scotland play a much smaller part in the administration of justice because of the part played in burgh courts by bailies. The right hon. and learned Member for Epsom (Sir P. Rawlinson) had something to say about ex officio justices in the City of London and about training for these duties. In the Scottish Press in the past two weeks there has been a considerable discussion about the qualifications of people to carry out the duties of bailies properly, particularly duties connected with sentencing. This is not a new subject and has been discussed by those concerned for some time. What is being done? Something should be done to make the position better. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. W. Baxter), who has some practical experience, agrees with me.

I do not understand why Clause 6 provides that Clause 4(5) is not to apply to Scotland. There is probably a very good reason, and I hope that we shall be told what it is. What would be the cost of applying Clause 4(5) to Scotland? According to the Financial Memorandum, the cost is to start at about £120,000 for the first full year, reaching a figure of £360,000 for the whole country. How much is to be spent in Scotland?

I commend the Government on the acceptance of a lower retiring age, 70 instead of 75. However, I am bound to ask a question which I have asked in the House for many years: if this is good enough for those concerned with the administration of justice, surely it is good enough for judges and sheriffs. So far as I know, there is no retiring age for judges. I remember, along with my right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State for Scotland, keeping the House here for many hours on this subject, although without success. I remember on the occasion of the Sheriffs Pension Bill having something of a battle in Committee and getting a retirement age for sheriffs, although it was more than 70. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will draw his right hon. Friend's attention to this and say that if it is good enough for J.P.s, it should be good enough for sheriffs and judges. I can see no reason why it should not be applied to sheriffs and judges, other than the fact that we have always been afraid of offering criticisms of such persons.

I have no other comments other than to welcome the provisions of the Bill as far as they apply to Scotland.

5.18 p.m.

Mr. John Smith (Cities of London and Westminster)

I would not ordinarily speak on a Bill of this sort—although I have been a justice of the peace—but I am extremely worried about the effect of the Bill on my constituents, both on the justices and on the judged. As we have heard, aldermen of the City of London are ex officio justices and sit alone. The Bill proposes to abolish this system, and many people would, without reflecting, say that it should be abolished. They would say that ex officio justices cannot be the best justices, and that justices who sit alone cannot be as fair as justices sitting in threes or fives.

If it is a bad system, it must have a bad record; but, as we have heard, it turns out to have a very good record. This is not just a matter of muttering comfortably, "It seems to work very well"; it is a matter of figures. City justices deal with 19,000 cases a year and in the last 22 years only five decisions have been reversed on appeal by way of case stated to the Divisional Court of the High Court, and in this latest year only six appeals from City justices were allowed by quarter sessions.

This marvellous record has been widely recognised. The remarks of the Lord Chief Justice in 1948 have been mentioned. He also said: The City Courts have for many years been singularly free from criticism.…I do not recall a single instance of an appeal"—from the City Justices to his own court—"which is a striking tribute to the wisdom and care with which those courts perform their duties. The present Lord Chief Justice, Lord Parker, said recently: The Aldermen are now to be sacrificed on the altar of consistency. He said that a case had not been made out for what he called "this drastic step", and he told the City justices: You must be amongst the most experienced justices in the country.… I only hope that second thoughts may prevail.…Her Majesty's Judges have always had, and still have, complete confidence in you as Justices of the Peace. That must show the argument that the system does not work to be untenable. In the passage that I have read out the Lord Chief Justice referred to the "altar of consistency." Consistency is rather a good thing, but the altar on which the Aldermen are to be sacrificed, according to the Lord Chancellor, is the altar of uniformity, which is not at all the same thing as consistency. Uniformity for its own sake is a detestable argument—the argument that "no one else does that" is a dreadful argument, unworthy even of the small schoolboys, who use it most often. Uniformity is the enemy of civilised life and it leads straight to the ant-heap. We in this House are the very last people to argue uniformity. Practically every human advance has been achieved by strictly non-uniform people, who do precisely what "no one else does".

The uniformity argument is closely allied to the argument about the danger of precedents. This is another dreadful schoolboys' argument, "what would happen if everyone did that?" If the City of London is to be left alone, people say, what about all the other ex officio justices of the peace? This argument is a non-starter. There is no danger at all of creating a precedent. The business of the courts in the City is quite unlike that of other courts. We here may be able to thrust uniformity on the justices, but we cannot make the cases uniform. As we have heard, in the City, cases about children and matrimonial matters take up very little time, and commercial cases take up a lot of time.

In my view disposing of this argument about the danger of precedents leads to the final disposal of the argument about uniformity. I reject the idea of uniformity in principle, as I have said, but the only possible justification of a uniform system throughout the country would be if the circumstances were uniform throughout the country. But they are not. We have heard of the need for "a cross-section of the public" as Justices. That will be excellent in Courts which have to tackle a cross-section of cases, but is it really to be supposed, dogma apart, that Mr. Average will be very useful or happy with a Customs case lasting 26 days, as cases do last in the City; or will Mrs. Average, or his or her employers or the taxpayers, who will have to pay five justices' wages for 26 days, be very happy, particularly since the taxpayer is now getting the whole thing free in the City of London?

What is wanted is not uniformity but consistency—a consistent system where the courts consistently suit the business that they have to deal with. In addition, confidence is needed, as the Attorney-General said. He spoke of the need for the public to have confidence in the judges. In the City those who are judged are more likely to have confidence in Aldermen than in what is described as a cross-section of the public.

There remains another reason that has been advanced against the present system, I understand by the Lord Chancellor. It is that other justices were resentful about ex-officio justices who have no obligation to undergo training. Of course in fact City justices do all undergo training, more thorough indeed than other justices: but this is also a disgraceful argument. I am extremely doubtful whether as many people feel envy and resentment as is often said. I do not believe that the electorate generally is consumed by these un-Christian passions—and if they are, the Government should certainly not pander to them. I would remind the House that in the Middle Ages envy was represented in sculpture and stained glass as a figure eating a human heart. I hardly think that that is a very attractive posture for a Labour Government. Surely the job of governments is to encourage what is best in people, not to pander to the worst in them.

Mr. Deputy Speaker, the arguments based on uniformity are not valid; the arguments based on the danger of precedent are not valid; the arguments based en envy and resentment are unpleasant and invalid: and the arguments based on inefficiency are invalid too. Indeed, as I have shown, the system works extremely well.

This is an age of disintegration. No doubt it sometimes feels to all of us as if we have dismantled practically everything. This is surely no time to dismantle something which, however much some may dislike it in theory or principle, is something which we know does work.

I have directed my arguments not to history, not to dignity and status, nor to political stuff about the Government's wish to tilt at the City, all of which I might have done. I have tried to limit my arguments to reason, and to the need for good, cheap justice in the City of London, which is provided by the present system, and which will not be provided by the proposed system. I earnestly hope that on all these excellent grounds the House will agree with me.

5.27 p.m.

Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)

In the main this is an excellent Bill, and I am particularly gratified to see the provisions in Clause 4 with regard to travelling subsistence and financial loss allowances. There are, however, points of criticism that I desire to make. First of all, with regard to Clause 2 which deals with the age limit. It may be a question of personal prejudice, because I suppose that many of us are approaching very near the age mentioned there. The point made by the right hon. and learned Member for Epsom (Sir P. Rawlinson) when he referred to the difficulty in obtaining persons fitted to discharge the duties of justices of the peace is important.

The more elderly people, if I may use that rather innocuous term, are those who have more time. It is quite true that many people attaining the age of 70 are quite unfitted, by reason of some infirmity, or by reason of the gradual deterioration in their intelligence, to discharge duties of this kind.

On the other hand, the right hon. and learned Attorney-General must recognise that there are many people over the age of 70 who can quite well discharge these duties, who have the ability, and moreover the time to do this. It may be that they have retired. It is particularly important to notice the exclusion in Clause 2(1,a,i) of persons who hold or have held the office of chairman or deputy chairman of a court or quarter sessions, or who have been recorders of a borough, and those who have held or hold high judicial office. Why are they excluded? Why are they exempted from the possibility of deterioration? I know that they are very important people and that we have great respect for them, but there are many instances of people well over the age of 70—Lord Goddard is one of them —having continued their service for many years with tremendous knowledge and ability.

I should think that there are many people well over that age who could discharge the duties of justice of the peace. The Lord Chancellor might well achieve the object in the Bill by providing diplomatically for the transfer to the supplemental list of people whom he thought were unfitted. There is nothing to prevent him from doing that and achieving exactly the same object. That is my criticism on Clause 2.

I wish to say something more strongly in support of the case put forward by the hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. John Smith) and the right hon. and learned Member for Epsom. I agree that the mayors of boroughs who are elected for one year cannot be expected to have the training necessary to enable them to carry out their duties. It is proper that the Bill should provide that such people should no longer be appointed as justices of the peace. But what is the argument concerning the City of London? I am sure that the Attorney-General will agree that it cannot be based on prejudice. We are the last party in the world to talk about prejudice in that direction. Is the argument uniformity? Or is it that the City of London is an anomaly? It is agreed that it is an anomaly, but we do not get rid of systems which work simply because they are anomalies.

Surely the proper way in which to examine this matter is to ask whether the system works. I am sure that the Attorney-General, with all his experience at the Bar, would agree that the system in the City of London works as well as, if not better than, the system in other parts of the country. I speak from personal experience. I know of very few appeals from aldermen sitting in the City of London which have been successful. There is great force in the point that many of the cases in the City of London are financial cases. They take a long time to try, and it is very suitable to have an alderman with business experience who can try them. In these days, the financial aspect is very important. Why should we discharge these unpaid gentlemen from carrying out their duties and in their place appoint other justices of the peace —two to sit in the place of one? It is true that two sit in other places, but in the City of London the system works.

I know that many hon. Members on this side, in particular, criticise the City of London and many of its institutions. I do so myself. But when it comes to administering justice we should, particularly in these days when finance matters, ask ourselves whether we should be justified in substituting another system for the present system. I suggest to the Attorney-General that we should re-examine this matter and see whether the change is justified. Those are my two criticisms of the Bill. Apart from them, I support the Bill, and think that it is excellent.

5.36 p.m.

Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)

The hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) said that the Labour Party was the last party to talk of prejudice. He should not be so modest about the prejudices of the Labour Party. It seems to me that the provisions in this otherwise excellent Bill for removing from the City of London what is regarded as the privilege of having aldermen and the mayor as justices can only be due to prejudice.

The Attorney-General made out no separate case, and nor did he attempt to do so, for dealing with the City of London. He lumped it under the umbrella of those who carry out the judicial function by reason of another office. On the test of practicability, does the City of London system work well? I have no personal experience of the magistrates court in the City of London, but all the reports that I have are to the effect that it works very well. Does the system cost the country a great deal of money? The answer is "No". In fact, it does not cost anything. The City of London pays for its own administration. If the Government's reform goes through and there are long cases to be tried, the Government will have to find the money. It may be a small amount, but small amounts add up.

The third important point is this. If the Bill is passed, it is highly unlikely that many of the aldermen and mayors will be appointed to the commission of the peace and will serve as such. This is no answer. Why should we upset a system which works very well for the sake of uniformity? Although I have no personal interest in the City of London, it seems to me fantastic to make a change of this kind, without justification for it being given, simply to have a uniform system throughout the country.

The City of London, if it is nothing else, is a unique city in the world. It has evolved in a certain way. It has been the financial and commercial centre of the world for many years. I see no reason why its present system for the administration of justice should not continue. It seems to be very good and to give general satisfaction.

The Bill should generally be welcomed, although I should like to be reassured by the Attorney-General—and this arises from remarks made by the hon. and learned Member for Northwich (Sir J. Foster)—about the financial provisions of the Bill. The Attorney-General referred to the fact that we were in an economically difficult situation and that the financial provisions would not be brought into effect until we reached a more propitious moment in the history of the country.

I should now like to refer to something which disturbs me, namely, the proposed retiring age of 70. There is a good deal to be said for laying down a retiring age. I do not think that the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North, if he reflected on the matter, would pursue with enthusiasm his suggestion that the Lord Chancellor should compulsorily retire some justices and leave others on the bench. It would be invidious if the Lord Chancellor had to give reasons why one justice retired at 70 and another continued in office. The fact that a man of 70 was regarded by friends and colleagues as no longer capable of serving on the bench might be the last thing that he wanted to know. In my younger days, I often thought that it was a pity that the Lord Chancellor did not have power to retire High Court judges. As a young Counsel, I thought that some judges kept their faculties better than others.

However, it is necessary to draw a line somewhere. What disturbs me is why the age should be 70 for justices of the peace, 72 in other respects and 75 in certain other respects. I should declare an interest as I am a chairman of quarter sessions, although, despite my appearance, I am not quite knocking at the door of the age of 70. It is difficult to justify a retirement age of 70 for justices of the peace and a higher age for chairmen of quarter sessions or High Court judges. If there is evidence in the Lord Chancellor's possession, as I understood the Attorney-General to suggest, that faculties tend to deteriorate at this age, or that it would be better for some magistrates to retire at 70, I should have thought that it ought to be of general application and apply across the board.

Mr. Weitzman

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman apply that to High Court judges as well?

Mr. Hooson

Whether it should be 70, 72 or 75 is a matter for argument, but the same age should apply when one considers the age at which one should cease to exercise a judicial function.

The Schedules of the Bill seem to provide a fertile ground for the legal historians of the future, with the Amendments and repeals resulting from them.

I was glad to hear the right hon. and learned Gentleman drop a hint that the old office of Custos Rotulorum might not cease to exist. It is one of the most ancient offices in the land which costs very little and performs a useful and practical function in that holders of the office help in the preservation of records. I am glad that the Government have had second thoughts about it in view of the representations which have been made.

Otherwise, this is an admirable Bill which carries out a necessary tidying up operation. One is glad to see that the Government have found time to bring it in. So often this kind of tidying up operation is pushed to the back of the queue and never gets done. The Government are to be congratulated on bringing it in now.

5.42 p.m.

Sir Barnett Janner (Leicester, North-West)

I want to thank the Attorney-General for his kind remarks about me, in view of the fact that I am going to make some little criticism about the manner in which the concession has been granted that I have been asking for for four or five years in Private Members' Bills and for which I was about to ask in another Private Member's Bill in a few weeks' time.

Generally, the Bill is a very good one. People do not realise what lay magistrates do. My right hon. and learned Friend referred to the number of cases in which they are involved and pointed out that 90 per cent, of cases in the magistrates' courts are dealt with by lay magistrates. No one yet has pointed out that the whole of the country's juvenile work is done by lay magistrates, with the exception of an occasional visit by a stipendiary. It is an enormous job and something which is not to be found in any other country. A tremendous expense is saved in our juvenile courts, domestic courts and magistrates' courts generally in consequence of our having some 16,000 men and women who are prepared to give of their time and abilities to perform a useful service for the community, and it is a very useful service.

If it is regarded in that light, we ought to have sufficient sense to know that any hardship incurred by the people performing those duties should be avoided. It is true that one of the Clauses makes it possible to bring in a cross section of the community who are valuable in this type of work. We have had the same problem in Parliament and elsewhere. I do not wish to cast any reflection on those who are prepared to give of their leisure time to serve in any capacity, but one cannot confine this kind of work to members of the leisured classes who can afford to give of their time without feeling any difficulty in their ordinary lives.

That is what the Bill is trying to cure. However, if one is applying a cure, the economy of the country ought not to prevent difficulties and hardships which have existed for a long time from being remedied, bad as things are. Compared with sums to which we have listened in debates over the years, with millions of £s being brushed aside as being matters of ordinary concern, it should not be forgotten that we are talking in terms here of a few thousand £s. I hesitate to employ an expression which may sound rather cheap, but that sort of figure is chicken feed compared with expenditures which are made elsewhere.

Two years ago, in 1965, a lay magistrate wrote, saying: I would like to state that less than one month ago three examining magistrates sat on what was stated to be the longest hearing in the history of the Court. The case concerned two motor dealers who were charged with stealing a number of motor cars and then converting them to their own use. There were 75 charges in all, and 62 witnesses were heard. The hearing lasted seven days. By the standards prevailing today, where it is possible to take evidence without calling witnesses, I know that it would take less. Two of the magistrates, including myself, live about one and a half miles from the court, and the other magistrate lives nearer. It was impossible to get home for a meal and on each occasion it was necessary to purchase a lunch in a restaurant. Even the cup of tea which we had during an afternoon break had to be paid for. To a magistrate who, like myself, has only one income, the retirement pension, this does create considerable hardship. On normal days when the court is sitting I am unable to arrange to have my meal at home as one does not know how long one will be required to sit until the cases proceed. Can my right hon. and learned Friend wait any longer for the economic situation to improve so that he can help a case like that? It is a ridiculous position.

I can remember talking about the crow flying three miles and suggesting that it was more a case of the crow walking down Piccadilly at a busy time and getting on a bus. The time involved in getting back to one's home is something which a magistrates cannot avoid. If he is hearing a case, he cannot tell the parties to come back later because he is going home to have a meal and lives some distance from the court.

This is not a case where something is being asked for which has not been reasonably requested for years. I appreciate that there is a new provision that other forms of subsistence should be allowed. That is very reasonable and proper. I am not at all sure that it ought not to be brought into existence straight away, because, if we need magistrates, we shall have to find them from somewhere. How on earth shall we get the kind of magistrate we want if people cannot afford to sit on the Bench?

I am therefore making an appeal to my right hon. and learned Friend. I know that he is sympathetic and understands the position. If he sits down with his colleagues, including the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and considers this matter, I think he will agree that £20,000 or £30,000 a year will not ruin the country if justice is done, but we may lose the services of these good people. I am talking about the first lot, not the subsistence allowance, which in my view will not cover a tremendous amount anyway. He ought to consider that a stipendiary magistrate is paid £4,500 or £4,750 a year.

It is true that two magistrates have to sit, but 16,000 magistrates being replaced by 8,000 stipendiaries at £4,500 a year each would run into many millions. I calculate that the country is saved about £20 million a year. It may be less than that amount if properly calculated by a person who understood arithmetic, but I managed to get it to about £20 million as the minimum sum. So we are saving about £20 million, taking into account the fact that these people do not sit as long as stipendiaries, but stipendiaries do not sit so long according to our hours of sitting here. They have reasonable hours. They do useful work, of course, but the fact of the matter is that this money is saved.

I appeal to my right hon. and learned Friend not to adopt a cheeseparing attitude on a matter of this sort. He has conceded that it is essential, in the interests of the country, that we have the best type of person, from whatever ranks they may come. For goodness sake, do not talk about waiting until the economic situation is put right. It may be put right in a week or a year. I do not know. There again, I would not claim to be an authority. But, if it is only a year, we cannot afford to lose those people who are being of great service to us and new people who will be of service to us.

I make that appeal in the hope that my right hon. and learned Friend, or whoever is to reply, will rise and say, "Well, after all, we cannot be mean about this matter. We must do the right thing in providing what we consider to be the right kind of person to do the job."

5.53 p.m.

Mr. Ian Percival (Southport)

At the outset of his speech, the Attorney-General, after certain preliminary matters and reminding us of what happened in the last changes in 1949, said that over nearly 20 years which have passed since then "the need has become apparent for changes". Those were the words I wrote down as being exactly what he said.

He would probably agree that this was the necessary foundation for all that followed. In other words, one does not change for the sake of change, but, if the need has become apparent for any particular change, no one in the House would for a moment stand out against it. I therefore take that as being the test which he set himself, and I am sure that the House would accept it as a very practical one.

One has then to apply it to these Measures. I concede at once, as did other hon. Members, that in relation to many of the provisions of the Bill that test is fully satisfied. Plainly the need has become apparent for paying some form of subsistence allowance so that there shall not be citizens, willing, suitable and fit to do this responsible duty, who cannot afford to do it. The need has become apparent. Likewise, one can put forward the same view in relation to others of the changes.

I listened with the greatest care to the whole of the Attorney-General's speech for anything in it which gave any sup- port to the proposition that a need had become apparent for either reducing the age of retirement or abolishing the existing system in the City of London. I suggest that if he looks again at his own speech, it is barren of any evidence to support either of those propositions.

The case relating to die City of London has been so fully and excellently deployed that I would not dream of saying more than that I agree with it. I confine myself to asking that whoever is to reply to this debate will address his mind to the question: what is the evidence which supports the proposition that a need has become apparent to abolish the existing system in the City of London? That is the relevant question, and it is plain that many hon. Members believe that the answer must be that there is no evidence to support that proposition and therefore one ought to make an exception.

I turn now to the other change, for which again I suggest there is no evidence, namely, the further reduction in the age of retirement. Everyone so far has agreed without reservation that magistrates do a magnificent job of work. One cannot exaggerate this too much. They are doing a job which it would be impossible to get done in any other way, save over a very long period of time, and they do it extremely well. Everybody agrees that because they are doing such a splendid job and because it is such an important job it is necessary that the best people available should be invited to do it. Everybody agrees that it is wholly desirable that the range of people doing this job should be extended to cover as wide a sphere as possible so that one gets a variety of interest and experience brought to bear on this important task.

It is for that reason that the subsistence allowance provisions are introduced. Yet illogically, as I suggest, whilst on the one hand we are trying to extend the range to cover as wide a range of possibilities as we can, we are limiting it in one purely arbitrary respect, namely, age. I stress that that is a purely arbitrary limitation. There is no magic in the age of 70 or 75. It has no particular reference to efficiency, ability, faculties or anything else. It is a purely arbitrary limitation which we are placing against our own avowed interest of making available to this important task everybody who is suitable for it. I suggest that in almost every respect we are going in the wrong direction so far as age is concerned.

It is said that 55 is the maximum age for appointment. This rather limits the field, but it is possible to get a number of people with a variety of experience at that age, though it may be that to begin with they can serve for only one day a fortnight. When they reach the age of 65 and retire, they have 10 years' experience, both in the courts and outside, and presumably are all the better for it. They also have more time on their hands and are likely to be willing to assume more burdens, but, by this provision, without any sort of reference to their ability, at the age of 70 they will be retired and the community will be deprived of the benefit of their services for five years.

What is the evidence to support the proposition that the need has become apparent for that change? Is it that a large number of successful appeals are being brought against the decisions of magistrates over 70? Is it that a lot of complaints are being received against magistrates over 70? I do not believe that it is either of those things. Is it simply the difficulty that is found on occasions in getting rid of those few magistrates who, though no longer really capable of doing the job, will not retire gracefully? If this is the reason, it is a bad one. It may be easier to deal with the matter in this way rather than in any other, but this is a bad reason for making this purely arbitrary decision in a sphere which, in every other way, we are trying to expand.

I hope that the Attorney-General and his colleagues will look again at both those aspects of the Bill, and will change their minds. I do not think that we are asking very much. It is fashionable amongst the Attorney-General's colleagues to change one's mind, and the changes for which we are asking are very small by comparison with some others. I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman to look at this again, and to apply his own test to it. Unless that test is fully satisfied, he should change his view and alter both these provisions.

6.3 p.m.

Mr. R. C. Mitchell (Southampton, Test)

It is with some trepidation that I rise to take part in this debate, first, because I am not a lawyer, secondly, because I am not a justice of the peace, and never have been and, thirdly, because, fortunately, so far I have had no direct consumer interest in the workings of the magistrates' courts. My qualifications for speaking are, first, that I am married to a magistrate, and, secondly, that over a period of time I have observed the working of the magistrates' court system in my locality, and my conclusion is that on the whole it works very well.

I welcomed the recent innovation of magistrates having to undergo a course of training of one kind or another. This involves attending a number of lectures, many of which are held during the day. Will the loss of time allowance apply to magistrates while they are attending courses of instruction, as well as while they are sitting in the performance of their duties? If it is not to apply in the former case, there may still be a considerable deterrent to people becoming magistrates if they have to attend a number of lectures and thereby lose a considerable amount of money.

I am worried about one weakness in the system. A number of magistrates do not have as wide a knowledge and understanding of all the various sections of the community as I would like them to have. I think that magistrates tend to be drawn from too limited a section of the population. I did a little homework over the weekend in connection with my local bench. I analysed the professions and occupations of its members. I found that 20 were professional people—people from universities, doctors, teachers, who, incidentally, are all heads, architects, and so on—18 were businessmen, ranging from a small shopkeeper to the managing director of quite a large firm, 5 were what I classified as office workers, 3 were full-time trade union officials, 16 were housewives, some of whom may have part-time occupations, or even full-time ones, and—and this is the sad thing—only 2 who could be classified as manual workers. The Bill goes some way—but only some way —to getting more manual workers on to the bench, and getting a wider range of people appointed as justices.

The right hon. and learned Member for Epsom (Sir P. Rawlinson) referred to payments for loss of time, but one must consider the general time factor involved in sitting on the bench. My city demands that its magistrates sit for one day a week. If someone seeks an appointment as a magistrate, he is required to give one day a week to the job. The Attorney-General referred to the Civil Service and nationalised industries giving their employees 18 days' leave a year to enable them to perform their public duties.

A colleague of mine in Southampton was recommended as a magistrate. He works for the Ordnance Survey Department, and is allowed 18 days a year to perform his public duties. If he were to add those 18 days to his annual leave allowance, he still would not have enough time to meet the obligation placed on him of having to sit one day a week, which, allowing for holidays, is about 46 days a year. I do not know whether this applies in other parts of the country. It does not, of course, usually work out like that. It often happens that a magistrate works for half a day, but the condition is for one day a week, and this debars many people, from a variety of occupations, from applying to become magistrates. They are frightened off by his one day a week requirement. The answer is, of course, greatly to increase the number of magistrates. If we were to demand one day a fortnight, instead of one day a week, it would open up the appointment of magistrates to a much wider variety of people, and we could, therefore, have more magistrates.

I think that there is a need to appoint younger magistrates. As far as I know, my wife, who is 37, is the youngest magistrate on her bench, or if not the youngest, the youngest but one. As far as I can ascertain, only two or three magistrates on my bench, which is 67 strong, are under 40.

On the juvenile bench, out of 11 magistrates, only 3 are under 50. In these days it is important to have a much greater number of young magistrates because of the greater variety of juvenile offenders who now appear before the courts. There is a need for people who have an understanding of the problems of youth to sit on these benches, and I plead for the appointment of more magistrates in the 30 to 35 age group.

The right hon. and learned Member for Epsom made the interesting observation that it might be difficult to get young women magistrates, because they had young children to look after. Clause 4 refers to: financial loss allowance where for that purpose there is incurred by him any other expenditure to which he would not otherwise be subject…". Does that provision, as the similar provision in regard to local government does, cover the case of, for example, a young woman magistrate with two children under school age who has to employ someone to look after her children while she is performing her duties on the bench? I hope that it does, because it would be an important step forward.

The Attorney-General

I give that assurance at once, as I can regarding the proposal that these allowances should apply in respect of attendance at courses of instruction, when they are introduced.

Mr. Mitchell

Very good. Now, a few words about the system for appointing magistrates. There is far too much secrecy and mumbo-jumbo in the method of appointment of magistrates. I remember with some amusement the occasion when my wife received a letter after someone had recommended her for appointment to the bench. The letter said nothing about the bench. It was signed by a firm of solicitors, who were clerks to the justices, and it said something to the effect that, if she came along for interview at a certain time, she might learn something to her advantage. On the strength of it, she nearly went out and bought a new coat, thinking that dear old Aunt Ada in Australia or somewhere had left her a fortune. She was quite surprised when she learned the truth.

I do not know whether that sort of thing still happens, but it aroused my interest and I began to go into the whole question of appointments. I tried to find out who sat on the Lord Chancellor's local advisory panel. This really was an exercise. By accident, I found out the name of one person who was on the panel. I went along and asked for the names of the others. Oh, dear—this was too much; he did not want to admit that he sat on the panel himself, let alone give the names of the others. It took me three weeks of solid detective work—I was not a Member of Parliament then, so I had the time—to find out the names of the members of the Lord Chancellor's local advisory panel. This is all rather nonsensical. I see no reason why, in modern conditions, the names of the members of the Lord Chancellor's advisory panel should not be published.

It is not generally realised that any individual can recommend another individual to become a magistrate. No matter who one is, one can write and suggest that one's next-door neighbour would be a suitable person. What happens after the nomination goes in no one quite knows. It is all wrapped up in a good deal of mystery. I understand the need for care and, perhaps, the need for private investigations to be undertaken, but I cannot help feeling that the whole thing is wrapped in too much mystery, a state of affairs which, in fact, is a deterrent against more people becoming magistrates.

I echo what has been said from this side earlier and endorse the plea to the Attorney-General not to wait for the country's economic situation to improve before bringing the monetary part of the Bill into operation. I cannot believe that £350,000, the figure which has been mentioned, will break the country at this time. This is a long overdue reform. I welcome the Bill in general. Please, may they have the money quickly?

6.12 p.m.

Mr. Gordon Oakes (Bolton, West)

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. R. C. Mitchell), I welcome the Bill wholeheartedly for both its spirit and its content. It deals with the most important branch of our judicial system for the ordinary citizen. Few citizens ever set foot in the High Court or the county court. There is a much greater chance that the citizen will find himself in the magistrates' court either as a witness or, unfortunately nowadays, as a defendant.

The magistrates' courts have changed little in their composition or their buildings in the past 100 years. We should always remember that 98 per cent, of all indictable offences are tried in the magistrates' courts, and the vast majority of cases which are tried there are, as my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, South (Mr. Peter Mahon) pointed out, motoring cases. So the defendant who appears in the magistrates' court today is not the type of defendant who may have appeared there in Dickens' time, the thug. Very often, he is a motorist, an intelligent motorist, a man who does not normally find himself on the wrong side of the law and who is much more able to appraise the tribunal trying him than, perhaps, the defendant of the past could.

One reason why things have changed little is that in this country—I speak of England and Wales, excusing Scotland of this charge—we have always tried to get our justice on the cheap. We may pay expensively for law but we have always tried to get justice on the cheap. As a result, we have our system of unpaid lay magistrates. So far, the system has worked very well. Whether it will continue to work well, however, is a matter of supposition, in view of the increasing complexity of the law and the growing volume of cases coming before magistrates.

I commend to my right hon. and learned Friend's attention the proposals submitted to my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor by the Law Society, which suggested that there might ultimately be a hybrid system, as it were, combining the present stipendiary magistrate and the lay magistrate, a system under which one would have a qualified lawyer as chairman of the bench but kept in check by two lay magistrates. However, that may well be 10 or 20 years off. The Bill is urgently needed to reform the magistrates' courts as they are now.

I welcome the proposal to abolish the office of ex officio justice. Nowadays, as a result of the efforts of my noble Friend, magistrates undergo training, and thereafter they gain experience. In such circumstances, why should a transitory population of justices sit with them? The ratio appears to be one in eight. These ex officio justices sit with their qualified colleagues on the bench, but they have been appointed not because of any capabilities as magistrates but merely because, over a period of years, they have been successful in winning local elections and have become mayors or chairmen of local councils.

What do these justices do when they go on the bench? Two courses are open 10 them. Either they sit mute and rubberstamp the decisions of their colleagues, in which case their presence on the bench is a waste of their time and their colleagues' time, or, worse still, they intervene in cases, often to the alarm of the clerk and the dismay of the public.

Ex officio magistrates can be a menace in the criminal courts, but the position is even worse in the exercise of the very wide jurisdiction which magistrates' courts have in matrimonial matters. In a matrimonial court, the magistrates may well be deciding a question far more important than a fine or even a sentence of imprisonment. They decide the future lives of the parties to the dispute. More important than that, they may be deciding the future of the innocent children of the marriage. On the financial side alone, when a magistrate in a matrimonial court makes an affiliation order for, say, £2 a week, he is, in effect, giving judgment for £1,600 over the 16 years involved.

It is ludicrous to have sitting on such a case a man who is not necessarily a man of tact, a man who has not necessarily got understanding, who has no judicial knowledge, who has no magistrate's experience in handling such cases, and who, as I have said, is sitting in the seat of judgment merely because he happens to be a chairman of a council or a mayor.

The hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. John Smith) put a most interesting case to the House. All hon. Members listen with great interest to an hon. Gentleman who deals with matters known to him within his own constituency. The hon. Gentleman presented his case very fairly. He did not put it politically, but he explained very reasonably that the courts of the City of London have special responsibilities. The hon. Gentleman is not in his place at the moment, but I should like to ask him whether it is true that, in the City of London courts, most of the time is spent, as in any other court, in dealing with motoring and similar offences, and only rarely are those experienced alder- men called upon to deal with a complicated case of fraud. By and large, the City of London magistrates' court deals with exactly the same kind of cases as do other magistrates' courts, except for matrimonial cases and the like. Therefore, even on that score, I welcome the provision, and I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will resist any pressure to withdraw the Measure's application to the City of London.

I also warmly welcome the payment of expenses to magistrates, which is all that the Bill suggests, so that they shall not suffer hardship for performing a public duty. As my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor has said before and as my hon. Friends have said in this debate, we need to broaden the basis from which people are drawn to be magistrates. This is an urgent necessity if magistrates are to have credibility with the general public.

One of the prime reasons why some people cannot accept an appointment as magistrates is simply finance. They cannot afford to lose time from their work in order to perform this public duty. If they are on retirement pension they may find even meals and travelling difficult. It is appalling for us in this House of Commons to suggest that, regardless of their means, people who do a public duty should do it at their own expense. I, too, press my right hon. and learned Friend not to delay this provision because of the economic situation, but now to give to magistrates what is due to them.

I follow my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test in his desire to have published the names of members of the advisory committees who advise the Lord Chancellor and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster on the appointment of magistrates. Why should they not be published? Why should this mystique—and a mystique very often misunderstood by the public—surround the appointment of justices? I am certain that those carrying out this responsible function would not in any way be influenced by anyone who might attempt to canvass them. If ever there was an appointment where canvassing directly or indirectly should disqualify, it is this. I should like that provision to be in the Bill, because it does not then vary according to the length of the Lord Chancellor's foot, but becomes Statute law.

Further, when a magistrate is appointed, I should like the reasons for his appointment to be published. The public should know why the advisory committee, the Lord Chancellor or the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster considered that person to be suitable as a magistrate. I can see no harm in that information being published. It would save much heartburning, and would tend to get us away, on both sides, from the system of political appointments. As it is, when certain people are appointed it is self-evident that the appointments result from their being local councillors, or being active in a political party, a trade union, or a chamber of commerce. If we can get away from that position and, instead, appoint housewives, people from the factories, and other suitable persons, and publicise the reasons for their appointment, it would help a good deal to broaden the basis of choice.

Consideration might also be given to the position of mayors who are lawyers. I have had the experience, being interested in politics and being also a solicitor, of finding myself about to be made the mayor of my own borough. I had to seek from the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, in my case, a dispensation not to be put on the bench. Had I been appointed, not only I but all my partners would have been forbidden to practise anywhere within the County of Lancaster. That would seriously have prejudiced my partners, if not myself in particular. Will the provision which allows a mayor to sign various documents as though he were on the supplementary list require a lawyer mayor to seek a dispensation from the proper authority? It should not be necessary for him to have to do that.

The Bill helps members of my profession who are interested in politics, and I hope that some of my hon. Friends who are not lawyers will not denigrate it on that account.

The Attorney-General

In order to save my dealing with a multiplicity of points when closing the debate, if I am allowed to do so, I may say that there will be no need for difficulty to arise about the function of signing documents, which is a duty that those on the supplementary list can still perform.

6.25 p.m.

Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)

I must apologise for having been absent for a very large part of the debate—I had not intended to intervene—and I hope that it will not be considered discourteous of me to say that I believe that making the retirement age 70 instead of 75 is rather arbitrary. I know a number of magistrates who at 75 are completely capable of doing an excellent job. There are others who, at 60, may not, for other reasons, be so well qualified as die older person. One infirmity that is very detrimental to a magistrate's performing his office succesfully is deafness. I would rather appear before a 75-year-old magistrate who was sound of eye and ear than before one of 55 who was not so good on those counts.

In many walks of life, men and women of over 70 are making an important contribution—in this honourable House, on the bench, practising as lawyers, and the like—and to draw the line arbitrarily at that age is a mistake. Would the learned Attorney-General consider the possibility of some kind of affirmation or readoption of a magistrate at the age of 72 or 73? Or he might be elected by his fellows. By drawing the line at 70, especially at this time, we would lose people who had the wish, the time, and certainly the energy to give the kind of public service that a magistrate can give.

6.28 p.m.

Mr. Peter Mahon (Preston, South)

I am particularly pleased that the Bill has not been represented by any hon. Member as a great move forward. It has points that people will be able to applaud, but that is the most that can be said for it. In the main, it can be described as nebulous.

I went into a factory in my constituency the other day, and commended a young apprentice on his tremendous craftsmanship. Whether he was afraid of the salutary aspect of politics today, I do not know, but he said, "Yes, Mr. Mahon—it is a pity that Members of Parliament do not serve an apprenticeship." I told him, "But they do—and very often it is a very long apprenticeship. They become members of a political party, councillors, aldermen, mayors and magistrates." This is a good and long apprenticeship.

What amazes me about the Bill is that those who have been mayors for a short or long period have been given short shrift. It does not make sense to me that a mayor should be considered not a right and proper person to be a magistrate, although he had become the chief magistrate of the town. It has always been a dual, time-honoured distinction that the mayor should become the chief magistrate of the town. Why should we seek in this Bill to dispose of that honour, which has been applied to people who are often magistrates when they aspire to the mayoral chair, or if they have not enjoyed the office thus far, become magistrates very soon after because of the added experience which they have acquired? From that point of view, I think, this is a difficult position.

The age limit of 75 is either right or wrong. If it is wrong, why continue the position for another five years? If it is wrong to have people on the bench at, say. 71 or 72 years of age, why not say so? Why continue this aspect of the situation until 1973? The acid test, as my right hon. and learned Friend said earlier in the day, must always, of necessity, be efficiency and integrity.

Has the mayor, who invariably is a man of experience, with a great knowledge of his fellow men and women, fewer qualifications for the position of magistrate than, say, the local scoutmaster or headmaster, the butcher, the baker or the candlestick maker, or the normal person who has given very good service in different capacities?

The magisterial system has grown up, as local government has grown up, out of the needs of society. The present system is not deserving at this juncture of such close scrutiny. This is by no moans an urgent priority. Regrettably, in my opinion, the services coming under the microscope today are the services which have been and are serving our country very well. Local government and our methods of administering justice have been the envy of the world and part and parcel of the great traditions of our land.

The payment to magistrates, of course, is a fair and equitable thing to do. Magistrates have given and are giving their services freely and admirably without being remunerated. Were this not to be done in this day and age, splendid people would have to be excluded from the magistrates' bench because they could not afford to take time off from work; this would be a flagrant injustice. For too long in this country we have had justice on the cheap. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Oakes)——

Mr. Harry Howarth


Mr. Mahon

I am sorry if I appeared to be looking in the wrong direction, but I am right. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West referred to matrimonial cases, which undoubtedly demand a great knowledge of human affairs. It is the person who really cares who should adjudicate in these matters. It is the person with immense patience and a tremendous sense of dedication who has invariably had a long experience as a representative on a local authority.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, West knows in his own professional capacity that the people who come into court with marriage difficulties are, sadly, the people who are enduring great inequalities—people who are living in one room, people who are living with a mother-in-law, or are herded together with many other people. These are the things which put many marriages on the rocks, as I know from my own experience.

I am speaking with my tongue in my cheek, because I began as a councillor, then became an alderman, then a mayor and then a magistrate, and I was many other things in between which may or may not have qualified me for the magisterial bench. I am certainly not alone in this. Looking back over the careers of hundreds of thousands of my own colleagues, I know that they have been in local government and remained good magistrates to the end of their days at 80, 83 or 84 and the country owes these men a great debt of gratitude——

Mr. Oakes

This is the very point which I was making about a chairman or, as my hon. Friend said, a mayor, who suddenly finds himself not only on the bench but sitting in a matrimonial court. Has not my hon. Friend usually found that when such people who have not been magistrates before sit on the first occasion in a matrimonial court, they leave with a profound sense of shock and surprise that such things go on in the world? This very often is what they say. Would it not be far better for experienced magistrates to sit to hear these cases?

Mr. Mahon

I have known this and, on the other hand, I have known solicitors and members of the legal profession who have often wished to deal peremptorily with these sad cases. It is then that the forbearance of the experienced magistrate is brought to bear, and he says, "We will not have this. We want to mend this marriage if we can". I will not give myself any bouquets, but I have had the experience in court when everything has been cut and dried even to the extent of the separation allowance having been decided and when the magistrate has been expected to act as a cipher or a rubber stamp and the good man will say, "We do not want any of this; let us hear the case ". As a result, many a young couple who entered the court giving each other unkind glances have left it together, hand in hand.

Although the Bill covers many things, it omits many others and it is these omissions which give rise to many of the fears which have been voiced by hon. Members.

6.38 p.m.

Mr. Raphael Tuck (Watford)

I welcome the Government's decision to abolish ex-officio justices of the peace. There have been murmurings against lay justices in courts, but I do not agree with those murmurings, because I have appeared in a number of these cases— I must declare an interest in this since I am a barrister—and I sometimes find that if an accused gets before the "beak" he has had it, whereas, if he goes before lay magistrates, he does have some chance of getting off. I welcome the abolition of the ex-officio justices because I cannot see justification for these people, aldermen for example, becoming justices simply for that reason.

I remember appearing as a witness before one of the aldermen of the City of London. I gave my evidence to the effect that there had been a car crash. However, the person concerned had refused to give his name and address and he said that there had been no car crash. The alderman said, "I find no evidence to the effect that there has been a car crash", and the counsel for whom I was appearing replied, desperately, "But there is at least the evidence of Mr. Tuck". I agree that this sort of thing should be abolished.

I wonder if my right hon. and learned Friend would consider slipping into the Bill, perhaps in another place, a provision in regard to justices' clerks. On many occasions I have appeared in cases which involved fact only. After the justices had retired, the clerk was called in. I knew that the justices could not be asking his advice on law, so they had to be asking about fact. As is well known, justices may not ask advice on fact. I suggest that barristers on both sides should be allowed to go into the justices' room if the clerk goes in. Naturally, they would not say a word, but at least they could hear that justice is done and they could see that the clerk's advice is not sought on fact.

I will not comment on the question of divorce because if I have an opportunity to speak at a later stage I will advocate a system of family courts for all matrimonial matters and matters affecting children.

On the question of the age limit, I differ from the view of my right hon. and learned Friend and that of the Government as a whole. We are not all cast in the same mould. As far as I can see, there is no reason for putting on a blanket rule to embrace everybody. Some people are past it at the age of 40 and should be eased out of their jobs. I could mention a few judges who reached that stage. Others can render useful service to society until they are 90. I remind hon. Members that the greatest judgments of the late Mr. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, as Supreme Court Justice to the United States, were made when he was between 70 and 90. Many of those judgments, which were dissenting judgments, subsequently became law. I therefore ask my right hon. and learned Friend to reconsider this point.

6.43 p.m.

The Attorney-General

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Member for Epsom (Sir P. Rawlinson) for giving the Bill as a whole his blessing and to the House for the welcome which the Bill has received, broadly speaking, in the debate. Many of the matters raised were matters of detail, which we will have to examine in Committee. I will refer to some of them before dealing with some of the main issues relating to the age limit and the provisions regarding the City of London.

It was suggested that there is too much secrecy and mumbo jumbo, as one of my hon. Friends put it, in the machinery of advisory committees and the appointment of justices. This matter has been considered by various Royal Commissions and in 1948 the Royal Commission recommended: Members of advisory committees are drawn from all sections of the local authority. Their identity is not disclosed in order that they may be shielded from undesirable and unwanted influences in performing their duties". Thus, the danger is that if their names were disclosed, there would be a lamentable attempt at lobbying them and an attempt to bring pressure upon them to appoint this or that magistrate. It is to avoid the risk of that sort of attempted influence that this secrecy is maintained.

I should, however, add that the name and address of the secretary of each advisory committee is published and is obtainable on application from the clerk to the council, town clerk of a borough or any clerk to the justices in the area concerned. I hope that, on reflection, and having had some experience themselves of attempted lobbying, my hon. Friends may think that the discreet arrangements whereby the identity of chairmen and members of advisory committees is kept secret is advantageous in this difficult task of selecting the best men for the magisterial bench.

Several of my hon. Friends urged the need for more young magistrates, and I entirely agree, as I am sure does my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor. I also agree with the appeal made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Harry Howarth) to employers to help young employees to come forward to undertake the responsibilities of magistracy. The financial provisions in the Bill will be helpful when we are in a position, as a country, to implement them; but I shall come to that later.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough and others criticised the election of chairmen by secret ballot and suggested the nomination process instead. This matter was also considered by the 1948 Royal Commission, which expressed the view that there should be no nomination procedure as justices might feel embarrassed in voting for someone else who had not been nominated. And, of course, in regard to a justice who is really too busy to undertake a chairmanship, there is no reason why he should not announce in advance that he does not wish to be chairman. I have no doubt that, in practice, that is often done when that situation arises.

The hon. and learned Member for Northwich (Sir J. Foster) asked me about the inclusion in Schedule 1 of the commissioners of police. I confess that I was a trifle surprised at the provision being there. The position appears to be that it would not be possible to deprive the Commissioner and Assistant Commissioners of the Metropolitan Police of their ex officio positions as justices of the peace by a short provision in the Bill. The root of the difficulty is that the Metropolitan Police Acts are drafted on the basis and assumption that the commissioner is a justice of the peace. Unlike other chief officers of police, the Commissioner is not, in law, a constable, and there is apparently a danger that a provision which did no more than deprive him of the status of justice of die peace might strike at the present legal basis of his office and put in doubt some of his powers as chief officer of police. However, the officers concerned are, in practice, debarred by Section 1 of the 1829 Act from sitting and adjudicating as justices and their position does not, therefore, call to be dealt with in the Bill in so far as the Bill's purpose is to prevent ex officio justices from sitting on the bench.

I recognise, however, that the present situation is anachronistic and should be remedied at the first convenient opportunity. I am informed that the Home Office is seized of the matter and that it will be dealt with in due course when the Metropolitan Police Acts are next revised. I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for drawing attention to the subject. The position of the City of London Commissioner is also somewhat obscure in this regard. I give a similar undertaking to have active consideration given to that and to consider further whether he needs to be included in Schedule 1.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner) and other hon. Members on either side of the House made an urgent plea that the financial provisions in the Bill should be implemented at once. Unfortunately the economic situation in this country at the moment calls for the maximum economies. In this situation every little helps. Under Clause 7(4) it is for the Home Secretary and, in Scotland, the Secretary of State to decide when to bring Clause 4 into operation. We have no doubt that sympathtic consideration will be given to what my hon. Friends have said and the implementation of these financial provisions, which I agree need implementation, will be treated as a matter of priority.

I go to the two major matters of controversy which have been canvassed in the debate. The first is the proposal to reduce the retiring age of magistrates to 70. I recognise that there is a certain inconsistency between that proposal and the intention to continue to enable High Court judges, chairmen of quarter sessions, and recorders to serve beyond that age—the doctrine, if that is the right way of putting it, that professional lawyers who have spent a lifetime in the work of the courts can well continue beyond the age that the layman could properly be expected to continue to deal with the problems of the courts. I am bound to say that I see the merit of consistency in this field and that, to express a personal view, perhaps an age limit of 70 all round may not be a bad suggestion for the future.

I recognise that this is a difficult problem. As was said so eloquently by my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Raphael Tuck), we are not all cast in the same mould. Some appear senile at 40 while others are enjoying a ripe and rich use at 80. One has to make the best of the averages in these matters. There appears to be evidence that over the age of 70 there are indications of deterioration in the capacity of magistrates to cope with the increasingly difficult nature of the work of magisterial courts.

The suggestion that the Lord Chancellor should exercise discretion and pick and choose those over 70 whom experience is showing to be incompetent would be a most odious and unattractive responsibility to place upon him. I do not think anyone in this House would care to involve himself in the problems, the complaints and protests that that method of dealing with the problem would give rise to.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

Could not my right hon. and learned Friend work it the other way—that the Lord Chancellor should pick and choose anyone who showed himself to be brilliant beyond the age of 70 and extend his time for a further number of years?

The Attorney-General

Any selection process of that kind would be invidious. I do not think it is really on. We have to decide on an age to make the thing workable. The age of 75 was fixed in 1949 because the Royal Commission of 1948 suggested that age. Before 1949 there was no age limit at all. The information I have is that since 1949 experience suggests that 70 would be a better limit, bearing in mind in particular the much heavier nature of the work of the magistrates' court which now has to be faced.

I come finally to the discussion we have had about the abolition of ex-officio justices. With one or two exceptions— and of course I except for the purposes of the discussion what has been said about the City of London—the proposals have been generally welcomed in the House that ex-officio justices should go. I now come to the field where, however, there has been strong disagreement. I readily concede in regard to the City of London that the standards of the administration of justice in the City magistrates' courts are high. I have already paid tribute to the work of generations of Lord Mayors and aldermen in those courts. Nevertheless, my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor finds no convincing reason why the system in the City should differ so fundamentally from the rest of England and Wales, as it does.

The principles he seeks to apply to the lay magistracy are that they should not be drawn from any limited section of the population, and perforce that is the situation prevailing among the aldermen of the City of London. The principle he thinks—and I agree with him—that should apply is that as far as practicable the magistracy should include both men and women of all walks of life. I mention women because the House will realise that no woman can become a justice of the peace in the City of London because women cannot become aldermen. The City justices have no domestic jurisdiction and no longer have jurisdiction in regard to juveniles for that reason.

The basic principle that the bench should include men and women of all walks of life is in this day and age a very important one. So also is the principle that justices of the peace should be chosen with the express object of finding in each section of the local popula-ion—again so far as that is practicable —those persons who are best fitted to administer justice. In no circumstances should appointment to the bench be somewhat adventitious. It should be the subject of a special and deliberate process.

The other principle which I submit is relevant and generally acceptable is that, save in certain exceptional instances, cases coming before magistrates' courts ought not to be tried by a single justice. There are High Court judges in the country sitting on magisterial benches quite happily with lay justices. The view of the Lord Chancellor is that the best number for a magistrates' court is three justices. Two make it difficult if there is a disagreement; there has to be a re-trial. That, experience has generally shown, is the best. Broadly speaking in the context of the constitution of the court representing the whole spectrum of the population, it is the most acceptable bench for England and Wales at this time.

Mr. Weitzman

I gather that the provisions of Clause 4 will not come into force at once because of the economic position?

The Attorney-General


Mr. Weitzman

Does my right hon. Friend suggest that Clause 1(6), dealing with the exclusion of the City of London, which means a greater financial provision, should come in immediately the Act has passed?

The Attorney-General1

My information is that there will be no additional expense, no additional financial involvement as a result of what is proposed. The cost of the administration of justice in the City will continue, as at present, to be shared between the City Corporation, the Greater London Council, and the Exchequer. It is my information that there will be no increase in cost by reason of the proposed changes. If I am incorrect about that, I will certainly look at the financial aspect when we reach the detailed consideration of the Bill.

Sir P. Rawlinson

If this is being introduced by the Lord Chancellor on a matter of principle, will the Attorney-General tell us why as a matter of principle the Lord Chancellor permits a situation to remain under which the right hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Frederick Lee) can appoint magistrates? Surely this illustrates that anomalies exist and that they are all right if they work?

The Attorney-General

Some anomalies undoubtedly exist. There cannot be total unanimity in our administration of justice, which is the product of long historical processes and practices. The rôle of the Duchy of Lancaster under its Chancellor has existed, and my right hon. Friend does his work on the basis of good advice that he receives.

Here we are in the realm of important principles that go to the very root of the administration of justice and the standards that we think should be applied. Although it is conceded that the standards of the administration of justice in the City are high, there is no reason why equally high standards should not be maintained when there are added to the City benches other suitably qualified justices, representing, however, a somewhat wider cross-section of the population, including women, and providing a bench more in keeping with the expectations of British society and of the public in the latter half of the twentieth century.

Those are the matters of principle which have influenced this decision, and I repudiate entirely any suggestion that what is proposed is in any sense inspired by malice or ill-will against the City. The contrary is the case. I am grateful for the very moderate way in which the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. John Smith) put objections to this provision which I can well understand.

Mr. John Smith

The Attorney-General has said several times that justices should be representative of the population. What does he mean by "the population" of the City? In the ordinary sense of the word, this would mean a bench composed entirely of firemen, caretakers and barristers-at-law from the Temple. Surely the aldermen are representative of the working population of the City?

The Attorney-General

Clearly the working population, as well as the residents of the City, is the population which I have in mind. As I understand it, the City area itself is housing, and will house, more and more residents. I am willing to be corrected on this, but I understand that there is likely to be a considerable increase in the residential population of the City in the near future. It is the broad spectrum of both workers in the City and residents in the City that I have in mind. This is the justification for the application to the City also of the principle which applies to the rest of England and Wales and which has produced such remarkably high standards throughout the country.

Tribute has been paid in the debate to the standards of administration of justice in England and Wales. Those standards are high at all levels in the administration of justice. Though I can understand that the aldermen of the City and those who have seen them at work will be unhappy about this, I ask them to accept that this proposal is inspired by the highest of principles in regard to the administration of justice and we are confident that no damage will be suffered by the City by reason of the change. I therefore hope that in the end the City will be able to accept these proposals with a cheerful heart.

Mr. R. C. Mitchell

Would my right hon. and learned Friend care to comment on the question of the amount of the time local advisory committees should be expected to demand from potential magistrates?

The Attorney-General

I should like notice of that question. It is expected that magistrates shall sit for 20 days, I believe.

Sir P. Rawlinson

That is less than the relevant figure for the City.

The Attorney-General

In the City the average sitting is 26 days for aldermen. The answer which I have now received from below the Gallery is that it is expected that newly appointed magistrates will sit for 26 days a year. If I am not mistaken, that is about the average number of sitting days of aldermen of the City of London. I pay tribute to that degree of service.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).