HC Deb 01 March 1973 vol 851 cc1715-61

Order for Second Reading read.

3.55 p.m.

The Attorney-General (Sir Peter Rawlinson)

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

The bulk of the Bill relates to improving the administration of summary justice throughout the country and it eliminates unnecessary and cumbersome machinery. There are also a number of provisions in Part II which clarify and correct parts of the machinery of justice. This is a practice followed by successive Lord Chancellors, and it has its advantages and disadvantages, some of which have been the subject of criticism in the past. However, the opportunity is taken to include these provisions in the Bill.

I do not pretend that a debate on a Bill of this kind can be considered as being anything other than technical and perhaps dull. However, I believe that it will greatly improve the administration of justice.

Part I deals with justices and the administration of summary justice. I shall have to go through the Bill without being able to demonstrate any theme, save that of the magistracy which appears in Part I.

Clause 1 simplifies the procedure for the appointment of justices of the peace. Justices are at present appointed by having their names inserted in a commission of the peace at the direction of the Lord Chancellor or of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in the County Palatine.

There are at present 211 commissions of the peace in England and Wales: one for each administrative county, one for each of the larger or older boroughs, and six for London.

These commissions are in the custody of officials in the respective local areas to which they apply, and whenever a new justice is appointed, or an existing justice is removed from the commission the document has to be sent to the Lord Chancellor's Office for the name to be inscribed or deleted.

The Bill seeks to avoid this time-consuming and uneconomic operation by providing that in future commissions of the peace shall be addressed generally to all persons holding office as justices for the commission area and that it shall no longer contain the name of each individual justice.

New justices will be appointed on behalf and in the name of Her Majesty by instrument under the hand of the Lord Chancellor or the Chancellor of the Duchy who is also empowered to remove them from office in like manner. The original instrument will be kept in the office of the Clerk of the Crown in Chancery, and copies will be distributed to the local officials concerned.

This change in procedure will not involve any alteration in the present system whereby justices serve on a local basis and are appointed by the Lord Chancellor on the recommendation of local advisory committees.

This is a convenient time to revise the system of commissions of the peace because the areas of commissions will be drastically altered when the Local Government Act 1972 comes into operation next year. All the borough commissions will be abolished and will be merged in commissions for the new county areas. It will become necessary therefore to issue new commissions of the peace in any event for virtually every area throughout the country.

Clause 1 also provides for the supplemental list to which justices are transferred on retirement, to be consolidated into a single list instead of being kept separately for each county. It provides that a justice may continue to sit and adjudicate in the Crown Court despite the fact that his name is on the supplemental list, provided that he has not attained the age of 72. At present the compulsory retiring age is 70 and this will still apply to justices sitting in the courts of summary jurisdiction, but the provision in the Bill is intended to enable experienced justices, who have plenty of time at their disposal, to serve for a further two years in the Crown Court.

There is difficulty at the present time in finding experienced, justices able to give the required time to the Crown Court and it is hoped that this will improve that position. The Lord Chancellor's specific authority, however, will be required before a justice who is on the supplemental list may serve beyond the age of 70.

Finally, Clause 1 abolishes the anomaly whereby the Commissioner and Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police are justices ex officio. Although these officers may not sit in court, or adjudicate in any court, their authority is derived from their position on the Commission of the Peace. The Bill removes this anachronistic arrangement so that in future neither the Commissioner nor the Assistant Commissioner will need to be justices.

Clause 2, as the House will appreciate, deals with the appointment of stipendiary magistrates in the provinces. The present position is that a stipendiary can be appointed outside London only if a local authority petitions for such an appointment. Moreover, the stipendiary's salary is now paid by the local authority concerned, although the rate is fixed by the Lord Chancellor, and that clearly would appear to be wrong in principle. The administration of justice is a central government function and stipendiaries should serve wherever it is in the interests of the administration of justice that they should do so. The Bill provides, therefore, that the Crown, on the recommendation of the Lord Chancellor, may appoint stipendiary magistrates in any Commission area or areas outside inner London and the City where their services may be required, and their salaries will be borne by the Consolidated Fund.

Sir Elwyn Jones (West Ham)

Are there any indications of refusals by local authorities to appoint stipendiaries when in the opinion of the Lord Chancellor's Office, such stipendiaries should be appointed, and is this the secret of this interesting provision in the Bill?

The Attorney-General

Things which are secret ought to remain secret if they are to serve any purpose. The principle is one we are mainly seeking to correct because a local authority may feel hesitant about making a recommendation if it realises it has to bear the cost, and since the cost ought to be borne by central government, once this power is taken there can be no hesitation on the part of any local authority in making its representations.

As the right hon. and learned Gentleman sees and appreciates, the Bill imposes a limit of 60 on the number of stipendiaries who may be appointed in inner London—the present limit is 40 and there are now 39 in office—and it also limits to 40 the number of stipendiaries who may be appointed in the provinces where there are at present 11. That was a subject of discussion in another place and I should like to make clear to this House, as my noble and learned Friend did in the other place, my devotion and admiration for the lay magistracy on which so much of the administration of justice falls, as we well know. Secondly, there is no intention of appointing more than one or two additional stipendiaries in the foreseeable future and, equally certainly, no intention of replacing the lay justices by a system of professional magistrates.

The clause also enables the Lord Chancellor to appoint temporary stipendiary magistrates. This is intended inter alia—but still intended—to meet a point which the hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Clinton Davis) has raised with me on various occasions and it is one which has been stressed by him and also by others. It was felt there was a need for temporary stipendiaries to be appointed from time to time especially to deal with long committals where the lay justices would not be available to sit for a number of days consecutively.

Mr. Clinton Davis (Hackney, Central)

Before the right hon. and learned Gentleman departs from that point, I am grateful to him for the introduction of this provision but would be give the House some indication of the procedure that would be followed in suggesting to the Lord Chancellor that a temporary stipendiary should be appointed? Would it be done by way of application to the court and then left to the court to make a recommendation, or what would be the procedure?

The Attorney-General

Speaking straight away, off the cuff, I should have thought that where a court sees, for instance, that there is coming into its list a matter which is going to take a long time, a very long committal—and in order to appreciate that it needs the assistance of those who practise in those courts, to advise them on it—that court would apply to the Lord Chancellor's Office for this extra help. I am sure the clerk of any court would welcome the assistance of practitioners to give them forewarning. Certainly, that would be done on behalf of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Clause 3 enables the Lord Chancellor to provide courses of instruction for justices of the peace. The training of justices is of paramount importance in view of the ever-increasing volume and complexity of their work, as the House well knows. At present training is administered by the local magistrates' courts committees, subject to the approval of the Lord Chancellor. This Bill does not relieve the Committees of that responsibility but it enables the Lord Chancellor to step in and supplement local schemes of training if he thinks this desirable.

Clause 4 amends the law as to the right of solicitors who are justices of the peace to practise before the courts. The Solicitors Act 1957 precludes a solicitor who is a justice, and any of his partners, from acting in connection with any proceedings before any justices who are on the same commission of the peace as himself. This means that where a solicitor is a justice for a county neither he nor any of his partners may practise before any of the magistrates' courts within that county. It has been found in practice that this restriction has inhibited a number of solicitors who might make excellent justices from accepting appointment because of the effect it would have upon the practice of their firm throughout the whole of a county area. As a consequence of local government reorganisation and of the provisions of Clause 1 of the Bill, the areas will become even larger than they are at present.

The Bill accordingly limits the disqualification to the area of the petty sessional division for which the solicitor/justice ordinarily acts. A provision to like effect but not in similar terms was contained in the Solicitors (Amendment) Bill which failed to pass in the last Session of Parliament. Clause 5 contains consequential amendments on that and that part of the Bill which deals with the magistracy, both lay and professional.

I turn now to Part II which is properly under the title "Miscellaneous". The object of Clause 6 is to adjust the jurisdiction of the county court to take a proper account of the revaluation of property for rating. As has already been announced, the new valuation lists were deposited with local authorities towards the end of last year. They show that rateable values—not rents, I emphasise—will go up on average by about 250 per cent. These increases will take effect on 1st April.

As the jurisdiction of the county court in relation to land largely depends on the rateable value of the property in question, the provisions governing the jurisdiction of the court must obviously be altered if many cases now within the jurisdiction are not to be excluded and have to be otherwise transferred to the High Court. Clause 6 of the Bill makes the necessary amendment.

Mr. S. C. Silkin (Dulwich)

In fact, if one looks at the schedule one sees that the figures involved are, I believe, 1,000 per cent. Can the Attorney-General explain whether there is some other factor apart from that he has mentioned?

The Attorney-General

I am coming to that. When I first looked I shared the hon. and learned Gentleman's reaction. I am going to explain if I may, what is the answer to that question, but if I might complete this part first, the county court has jurisdiction at present in actions for the recovery of land whose net annual value for rating does not exceed £400. Under the Bill this figure will be raised to £1,000. That matter is set out in Part I of Schedule 2.

The figures shown in the column headed "Amendments" are those originally prescribed in the statutes specified. Looking to the left we see that the statutes are the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954 and the County Court Act 1959. These figures were increased fourfold in 1963 and the amendments are now being made with reference to the original figures, not to the amended figures in 1963. If we do not take into account the amendments made in 1963, it would be as the hon. and learned Gentleman suggested, but there have been these amendments. Therefore, it is two and a half times rather than what appears to be 1,000 per cent.

Power is being taken to make further increases in the provisions about county court jurisdiction relating to land by Order in Council which will have to be approved by each House of Parliament in draft. There is already power under Section 192 of the County Courts Act 1959 to increase county court jurisdiction in most other matters by Order in Council.

Clause 7, which corrects a matter which obviously needs correction, is designed to ensure that the mortgagor who has defaulted in making repayment shall not lose his home if he can pay off the arrears within a reasonable time. Until 1961 it had been the usual practice of the court, in a proper case, to grant a mortgagor, against whom a claim for possession was made by his mortgagee, an adjournment or series of adjournments to enable him to discharge the arrears and so avoid losing his property. But in 1961 the practice was reviewed by the court and was held to have no foundation in law, so an order for possession could only be deferred with the agreement of the mortgagee.

The Payne Committee on the Enforcement of Judgment Debts considered this matter and recommended that the pre-1961 practice should be restored. Section 36 of the Administration of Justice Act 1970 was intended to implement this recommendation. But two Homers, in the persons of the right hon. and learned Member for West Ham, South on this side and myself in Opposition, must have nodded because that Act did not have the effect that we envisaged. In April last year the Vice-Chancellor decided that, in a case where on default the whole capital sum became immediately repayable, the power of the court under Section 36 to delay ordering possession could be exercised only if it appeared that the mortgagor could repay the whole capital sum within a reasonable period. As it would be highly unlikely that the mortgagor could do so, as it was such a short period, the position has almost reverted to what it was before the 1970 Act. Therefore, Clause 7 provides that when the court is asked to exercise its powers under the 1970 Act it will be allowed to treat as due under the mortgage only the amount which the mortgagor would ordinarily have had to pay if the mortgage had run in the normal way.

Subsection (3) deals with a technical matter. Section 36 of the 1970 Act does not apply to a foreclosure action in which a claim for possession of the mortgaged dwelling house is also made. In 1970 it was considered that the length of time which foreclosure proceedings normally take to complete provided sufficient protection to the mortgagor and it was not necessary to give him the additional safeguards which would be available where possession was sought.

There have been indications that some types of mortgagee are now seeking foreclosure in preference to possession. We therefore think that it would be desirable now to adopt the view of the Payne Committee and to apply, with certain modifications, the powers available under Section 36.

Clause 8 deals with judicial salaries. At present the salaries of the higher judiciary can be increased by Order in Council, subject to a draft of the Order being approved by each House of Parliament. There has been a need, which has been met by successive Governments, for more frequent revision of judicial salaries. For 120 years, between 1832 and 1965, there were only two increases, both of which were effected by Act of Parliament. The Order in Council procedure was introduced in 1965 and was used in 1970 and in 1972. Under the Courts Act an Order in Council is not required to increase the salaries of circuit judges. These can be determined by the Lord Chancellor with the consent of the Minister for the Civil Service.

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

Does that mean that these salaries may be determined without reference to the House? Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman appreciate that this is a grave restraint upon the powers of criticism of my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis).

The Attorney-General

That may be an incidental blessing for the Law Officer concerned. I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman appreciates, first, that the salaries of circuit judges can be determined by the Lord Chancellor in that way, and, secondly, that procedure prevented increases being given retrospective effect which could be done for other public servants. That means that an order had to be brought in at a particular time which may prove inconvenient and difficult. It is therefore considered right that the salaries of the higher judiciary should be dealt with in a similar way to the salaries of other higher public servants. The power conferred by the clause is only to increase salaries. There is no question of eroding judicial independence by a Ministerial decision to reduce the salaries of judges.

The clause is concerned only with the machinery for altering judicial salaries. It does not effect any change in the salaries. Subsection (2) expressly provides that until otherwise determined judges and stipendiary magistrates shall receive the same salaries until variations are made under the clause.

Clause 9 dispenses with the cumbersome and inconvenient method of granting pensions to the higher judiciary by Letters Patent. This makes it necessary to restate the relevant statutory provisions in terms of a direct entitlement to a pension instead of a discretionary grant. This restatement is set out in Schedule 3. No change is made in the substance of the law, judicial pensions remain at the same level, and are payable on the same conditions.

Clause 10, which is large in extent, deals with a problem which fortunately rarely arises, but has arisen, and for which there is no effective solution at present.

If a judge of the Supreme Court or a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary is disabled by illness—for example, a stroke or perhaps a car accident—from performing his duties, his incapacity may be so severe that he is also physically unable to resign or express any intention of resigning although it is only too obvious that he cannot carry on. In those circumstances there is at present no way in which the judge's office can be vacated so allowing a successor to be appointed and a pension paid to the incapacitated judge.

In these days of extreme pressure on judicial time it is not desirable that a judge should remain in office when he is unable to perform his duties indefinitely. Therefore, it is proposed that if the Lord Chancellor is satisfied by medical evidence that a judge is disabled by permanent infirmity from the performance of his duties he may declare the judge's office vacant. However, there is the safeguard, if that is the right way to express it, that there must be the concurrence of another senior judge.

For example, if a disabled judge is a puisne judge of the Queen's Bench Division, the concurrence of the Lord Chief Justice will be necessary. If he is a member of the Court of Appeal, the concurrence of the Master of the Rolls will be required. If the judge concerned is the Lord Chief Justice, the Master of the Rolls, the President of the Family Division or the Vice-Chancellor, the concurrence of two of those members of the judiciary will be required.

Mr. S. C. Silkin

I am puzzled why it was thought necessary or desirable to put in subsection (1) the words, is for the time being incapacitated from resigning. If the judge is disabled by permanent infirmity from the performance of the duties of his office, surely that must be enough and embraces the phrase that follows. Is not the difficulty where the judge is disabled by permanent infirmity from performing his duties, but may refuse to resign or think that he will get better and simply not do so? That does not seem to be covered.

The Attorney-General

I shall certainly look at that. The provision is meant to deal with a person who is so disabled, for instance, as not to be able even to indicate his desire to resign and also with someone who is suffering from a permanent infirmity. I shall certainly look at the wording of Clause 10(1) to make sure that what I think the whole House believes to be a sensible provision is accurately set out.

Clause 11 provides pensions for presidents of pensions appeals tribunals. Important work is done by such presidents' and legislation relating to these tribunals does not provide for a pension to be paid to a president, his widow and children. This clause will enable a pension to be paid to future presidents and also for future loss of office by a future president. It is desirable to have this power at this time.

Clause 12 is simply to allow the Lord Chancellor to appoint as a deputy circuit judge a solicitor of 10 years' standing. It would be desirable for the Lord Chancellor to be able to do this to test the judicial qualities of a solicitor who has applied for a recordership or to make use of a suitably qualified solicitor where illness or congestion of business makes it expedient for the Lord Chancellor, as a temporary measure, to appoint a deputy circuit judge to dispose of judicial business. Under Section 21 of the Courts Act, a barrister or a solicitor of at least 10 years' standing is qualified for appointment as a recorder. It is anomalous that a solicitor should not—like a barrister—be qualified for appointment as a deputy circuit judge, and Clause 12 does no more than correct a deficiency in Section 24 of the Courts Act.

Clause 13 gives power to the Lord Chancellor to appoint deputy district registrars of the High Court and deputy county court registrars when pressure of business makes it necessary to do so as a temporary measure.

I have taken the House through the Bill, I am afraid at considerable length, although I hope with not too much tedium. The Bill comprises a collection of matters which I hope it will be agreed will be of great help in the administration of justice. I hope that the House will approve the Bill so that these improvements may be made.

4.22 p.m.

Sir Elwyn Jones (West Ham, South)

I recollect that when I occupied the seat now occupied by the right hon. and learned Gentleman and it fell to me to introduce measures of this kind there was invariably criticism of "piecemeal reform" and "rag-bag legislation". The seats are now temporarily exchanged and it is now for me to make such observations, but actually I have never thought of Bills of this kind as rag-bags. Rather they are lucky dips and sometimes one finds useful things in them and sometimes they contribute little to the reform of the law. Certainly this is an extremely modest measure, save for the historic importance of Clause 8. I think it a pity that opportunity was not taken to put far more into the Bill than it contains.

We are grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his lucid explanation of the Bill. He has pointed out that the first Part deals with justices of the peace. We on this side of the House think it high time that we had a "Beeching look" at the adminstration of magistrates' courts. We think there is a powerful case for proposing that they should be centrally administered by the Lord Chancellor's Department and that their areas of jurisdiction should be more closely allied to the new Crown Court structure than to local government administration. Last year the Government decided against such a change, but I think they do not regard this as settled for all time, or even for a short time of their duration in office.

The great lesson of Beeching was that the administration of justice should be recognised as a central government responsibility. That would be no more than an extension of the trend since the Supreme Court of Judicature Act 1873, which created the pattern for the higher civil courts. The county courts have always had this degree of central control and administration. The Beeching recommendations brought the criminal court system into line with that in the civil courts. In my view there is much to be said for an extension of those arrangements now to the magistrates' courts. After all, the Lord Chancellor appoints magistrates and in this connection I hope that the trend so determinedly maintained by my noble Friend Lord Gardiner of appointing more working people and appointing more women, qualified in both cases by character and intelligence and integrity to be justices of the peace, is being maintained.

As the Attorney-General said, there were interesting discussions in another place on the need to impose limits on the Lord Chancellor's powers to appoint stipendiary magistrates. We are glad that at the end of the day the Lord Chancellor agreed to an amendment, which is now embodied in Clause 2(6). It takes from him a power which existed in the original draft of the Bill under which Lord Chancellors could substantially, had they been so willed, have replaced the lay magistracy by the wholesale appointment of stipendiaries without having to come to Parliament for authority to do so. I believe that the rôle of Parliament in respect to the administration of the courts is an important one. It was right that Parliament should retain some power of control over the future of the lay magistracy.

I am glad that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has paid tribute to the remarkable contribution of the lay magistracy to the administration of justice in this country and that he has repeated the assurance of the Lord Chancellor that there is certainly no intention of a large-scale appointment of stipendiaries. We on this side of the House approve the power to appoint temporary stipendiary magistrates which was asked for by my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Clinton Davis) on more than one occasion in debates on the administration of justice. We also agree with the proposals in Clause 1 to simplify the appointment of justices of the peace. I knew that it was complicated, but until I read Clause 1 I had no idea that it was as complicated as it is. It is right that that should be simplified.

We also agree that there should be provision, as is made in Clause 3 (1), for moneys to be provided by Parliament to pay for courses of instruction of justices of the peace. We are a little puzzled by subsection (3). I do not want to expose any skeletons in any cupboards but is the position that certain areas have been neglecting to set up courses of instruction for justices of the peace? Will the Lord Chancellor move in, like a cross headmaster, and send down his representatives to impose these courses of instruction? Incidentally, who has been paying for these courses of instruction in the past? It is a small point, but perhaps we can pursue it in Committee. Perhaps we can be told a little more about why Clause 3 (2) proves to be necessary. There will be a number of different points to raise, on which we shall touch in due course.

I should like to turn next to Clause 7, which provides for extension of the powers of the court in an action by a mortgagee of a dwelling house. I agree that the proposal seems helpful and useful, and if the omission with which it deals was, as the Attorney-General seemed to say, due to any omission on my part, I am not at all surprised. I confess that the law of mortgagors and mortgagees I have never regarded as the high point in my legal learning, such as it is. But I am grateful that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has been willing to share at least part of the burden of responsibility for this with me.

But there is one aspect of the position of mortgagors which we shall certainly consider in Committee—namely, the position of second mortgagors. There has been a great deal of concern in the House and the country of late about the disclosure of what, in some cases at any rate, appear to have been extortionately high rates of interest charges in such circumstances. This clause seems a useful opportunity to deal with this situation. In some of the cases before the courts, it appears that the borrowers were apparently unaware of the true interest rates which they were being charged.

We shall invite the Government to consider introducing a provision to remedy that situation. Would it not be helpful, for instance, to include a provision that no mortgage on land which consists of and includes a dwelling house and which is made after the Act comes into force, shall be enforceable by the mortgagee unless it contains a statement of the amount of the principle of the loan and either the interest charged on the loan expressed in terms of a rate per cent. per annum, or the rate per cent. per annum represented by the interest charge, as calculated on the lines of the provisions of the First Schedule to the Moneylenders Act of 1927?

That Act contains strict provisions regarding the disclosure of charges and interest rates. Most companies dealing in second mortgages are not caught by the provisions of that Act. Banks are not deemed to be moneylenders—and I make no comment upon that position. Thus, the strict provisions in that Act do not apply to these transactions. Unless there is some other vehicle, like the Fair Trading Bill, which might be deemed more appropriate for embodying this kind of change, I invite the Government to consider using the happy opportunity of Clause 7 to deal with this matter.

I turn next to the most interesting part of the Bill, namely Clause 8. Clause 8 marks a watershed in the relations between Parliament and the judiciary, for it brings to an end all direct control by Parliament over the salaries and pensions of the higher judiciary. I am sure that if my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) knew the significance of this historic occasion, we would not lack his presence here. I detected almost a note of disappointment in the Attorney-General's speech when noting his absence.

This is an important change in the relations between Parliament and the judiciary. It is not just the higher judiciary who are concerned. Clause 8(1) relates to the salaries of Lords of Appeal, judges of the Supreme Court in England and Wales, judges of the Court of Session, judges of the Supreme Court in Northern Ireland, metropolitan stipendiaries and stipendiaries appointed under the Bill. The clause provides that all their salaries are to be determined with the consent of the Minister for the Civil Service, by the Lord Chancellor or, in the case of judges of the Court of Session, by the Secretary of State.

It is perhaps worth noting the history of this matter, in which I have had a certain share of responsibility. Since the Act of Settlement, salaries of judges have been determinable only by Parliament and not by the executive. The principle behind that procedure and that doctrine was to preserve the independence of the judiciary, which is an important part of our constitution and of our liberties.

But the requirement that Parliament alone could deal with changes in judicial salaries produced difficulties in practice. It resulted in delays and created the risk of unhappy conflict between Parliament and the judiciary. Accordingly, under the Judges' Remuneration Act of 1965, the Labour Government decided that the salaries of the higher judiciary could be increased by affirmative orders instead of by legislation, thereby at any rate reducing the potential for conflict.

On 30th April 1970, it fell to me to move the Judges' Remuneration Order to increase judicial salaries. I said then that, in future, many top salaries in the public sector, as well as those of Members of Parliament and Ministers, would be kept under review by an independent body, a special panel of the new Commission for Industry and Manpower that the Labour Government contemplated setting up. I told the House that the judges had agreed to those arrangements.

The present Government rejected the proposal for the Commission for Industry and Manpower, but, in May 1970, they set up the Top Salaries Review Body under Lord Boyle. In July 1972, the right hon. and learned Gentleman moved a further Judicial Offices (Salaries) Order to provide for further increases in judicial salaries recommended by that body, which had also dealt with the salaries of Ministers and Members of Parliament.

At the heart of our thinking about this matter was the idea that an independent review body should consider and advise on these judicial salaries. I do not know whether or not that is still the present Government's intention. There is no clue or hint of the need for that in Clause 8 of the Bill. That clause gives full power to the Lord Chancellor, but it is true that the Minister for the Civil Service must consent. In case hon. Members may have forgotten, the Minister for the Civil Service is, of course, the Prime Minister.

Therefore, in accordance with the terms of the clause as it stands, there is this power, which is apparently limited only in the sense that they cannot reduce judicial salaries, given to those two Ministers to deal with the salaries of the judiciary.

The position exists, therefore, of there being no requirement of a reference in the first instance to an independent review body, but a total and complete control of judicial salaries vested fairly and squarely, or at least squarely, in the two Ministers of the executive—complete executive control.

The House, I think, is now entitled to know from the Government what has happened to the independent review procedure. Are the judges, for instance, and will they be, equally involved in the pay freeze, as I am sure they would want to be? If, for instance, a situation should develop where the Lord Chancellor and the Prime Minister decided there ought to be an increase in judicial salaries, would that be capable of veto by the Pay Board? In other words, has the element of independent review which we think is the important element in inspiring confidence in recommendations for salary increases in this sphere been lost sight of? With this debate coming as it does the day after our debates on the Counter-Inflation Bill, it is vital that clear undertakings should be given about these matters.

Mr. Weitzman

Subsection (5) says: Salaries payable… shall be charged on and paid out of the Consolidated Fund…". I suppose the House would have the right to criticise this in a debate on the Consolidated Fund? I imagine that is the only thing left to the House.

Sir E. Jones

I think that is so. I suppose there will also be other parliamentary occasions if an announcement were made of salary increases, of the Attorney-General as representative of the Lord Chancellor or, indeed, of the Prime Minister himself, being called to account in the House. But procedures of that kind in the House, given the pressure of time in the House and the difficulty of finding time for debates—one hears this every Thursday afternoon and we have heard it today—are not satisfactory and very important matters of public interest, because of the absence of that most rare of all commodities, namely, parliamentary time, in practice become incapable of being discussed on the Floor of the House.

The fact must be faced that the effect of Clause 8 as it stands—and I am bound to say, as I have indicated in giving the history of the matter, that we saw a good deal of force in reducing the opportunities for direct and prolonged discussion of judicial salaries—is to give apparently total discretion to the executive unrelated to the requirement of an independent review to deal with these salaries as it wishes.

I cannot help reflecting that that does not seem to be a very reassuring position. I therefore hope that when the learned Solicitor-General winds up the debate, we shall be given some specific assurances as to the intentions of the Government in this regard.

We are grateful to the Attorney-General for his clarification of the clauses of the Bill. A number of points will arise and we hope in Committee to add some flesh to the somewhat skeletal framework of the Bill and therefore take advantage of the rare opportunities that come to us in Parliament to deal with the administration of justice.

4.45 p.m.

Miss Mary bolt (Preston, North)

I wish to comment on a number of provisions in the Bill and a number of omissions from it.

The right hon. and learned Member for West Ham, South (Sir Elwyn Jones) has mentioned the hoary perennial of women justices of the peace. I support him in all he says on that. Although the Bill provides a more simplified procedure for the appointment of justices, it does nothing to increase the number of women justices of the peace. Less than half the total number of justices of the peace are women, although the office of justice of the peace is one which married women and women with time on their hands who are suitable in character and judgment are admirably fitted to fill.

No one supposes that the Lord Chancellor personally appoints all the justices of the peace. If he did, one might hope to see more women justices more rapidly appointed. The explanation can only be that the male domination in the senior Civil Service of the Lord Chancellor's Department is responsible for this. In view of the number of occasions on which this point has been raised in the House, it is regrettable in the extreme that more women justices have not been appointed more rapidly.

I turn now to Clause 2 which deals with the whole-time appointment of stipendiary magistrates. While everybody agrees that whole-time stipendiaries perform an excellent service when they are appointed, it is at the same time regrettable that there is a drive to increase the number of paid officials when a large number of ordinary people are only too willing to perform voluntarily the work of justice of the peace. There is always an immense number of people who are not merely willing but anxious to become magistrates.

Lay justices do wonderful work, as everyone here agrees. It is a remarkable and also admirable feature of the British legal system that so many ordinary people are involved in the administration of justice. The appointment of stipendiaries ought, therefore, to be kept to the very minimum, first out of regard to the taxpayer who has to foot the bill for these highly-paid officials, and secondly because these people tend on the whole to be rather more remote from the ordinary people than lay justices.

I therefore welcome the assurance of my right hon. and learned Friend that the number of appointments will be kept very small. But I assure him that I, for one, will keep a very careful eye upon the number of appointments. I shall be very critical if I find that the numbers of whole-time stipendiaries are increasing on a very large scale.

Clause 2 of the Bill, with the greatest respect to my right hon. and learned Friend, appears to me to contain a most surprising and alarming provision. It says that a stipendiary magistrate shall not be removed from office except on the Lord Chancellor's recommendation. Later in the Bill we find that if judges are to be removed from office when they are permanently infirm, the concurrence of some independent person is required before the Lord Chancellor can arbitrarily remove them. That applies even in a case where they are permanently incapacitated.

Mr. Percy Grieve (Solihull)

I think the hon. Member for Preston, North (Miss Holt) is under a misapprehension here, if I have read the Bill correctly. The provision regarding the retirement of those holding high judicial office, as I understand it, is concerned only with the case where such people are unable, because of mental or physical incapacity, to indicate their desire to retire.

Miss Holt

I do not dispute that, and I agree with everything my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. Grieve) said. My comment is upon the provision in Clause 2 that the appointment of a stipendiary magistrate can be terminated on the recommendation of the Lord Chancellor.

One of the reasons for the independence of the British judiciary has been the fact that they could not be removed from office except on a petition of both Houses of Parliament. If a judge in the case of permanent incapacity is to be removed, there has to be the concurrence of some independent person. If a stipendiary magistrate is to be removed from office, it seems equally desirable that the concurrence of some independent person should be required.

This is an important matter because the opportunities offered for political corruption by such a provision are immense. No one in the House would say that there is any possibility at present of political corruption. We have been tremendously fortunate in the integrity of the Lord Chancellors of this country over many hundreds of years, and of the judiciary. But the matter is one in which the utmost care should be taken. I ask my right hon. and learned Friend to bear in mind the importance of an adequate safeguard in this matter and of seeing that it is not just left to the recommendation of any one person to remove a stipendiary magistrate from office.

Regarding the age limit of stipendiary magistrates, I welcome the provision that there shall be a possibility of their continuing in office until the age of 72 and that supplemental lists shall be kept under which ordinary lay magistrates may be employed after the age of 70.

Today men and women are living for much longer than they ever did and in much better health. In my constituency only recently three excellent lay magistrates were compelled to retire at the age of 70 when in the full possession of their health, strength and faculties. They are now hanging about the town with nothing to do when they could be usefully employed as the chairmen of benches, for which they have excellent experience. The average age of women now is 78 years. It seems perfectly suitable that people should continue in office at least until the age of 72. Moreover, that would have the advantage of uniformity because county court judges can hold office until they are 72.

Sir Elwyn Jones

Is the hon. Lady saying that the average age of women is 78?

Miss Holt

That is so, according to the actuaries' reports. I apologise—I meant the average longevity.

I turn now to the provisions of Clause 8 about the salaries of judges. The salaries of judges are in future to be determined by the Lord Chancellor with the consent of the Minister for the Civil Service, who is the Prime Minister. This effectively removes from Parliament the control of those salaries. I agree with every word which the right hon. and learned Member for West Ham, South said about this. If the power of control over these salaries is to be taken away from Parliament, there must be some control by an independent review body. In the taxpayers' interest it is utterly wrong that these salaries should be capable of being raised simply on the whim of the Lord Chancellor and the Prime Minister acting together. No doubt in many cases they will act most reasonably on these matters, but nevertheless there ought to be some control over them.

There is one aspect of the salaries of judges on which the House ought to be more closely informed. When a judge makes use of a judges' lodgings, is any deduction made from his salary of an adequate sum to cover the cost of board and lodgings? Near my constituency a large house called Bilsborrow Hall was purchased recently by the Department of the Environment, at the request of the Lord Chancellor's Department, for use as judges' lodgings, at a cost of £100,000—although it was valued by the district valuer at only £40,000. The cost of fitting it out for three judges is to be an extra £110,000, plus nearly £4,000 for furnishings, which has been paid to the vendor of the property. Because the three judges who are to use this house are to continue in the same area for several months, I understand that the wives of the judges are also to use the judges' lodgings. There is in the vicinity an existing judges' lodgings at Lancaster, which could perfectly well have been used by the judges.

Is the taxpayer expected to provide for the wives of these judges when there is no deduction from their salaries during the period for which the judges are stationed at Bilsborrow Hall, and are these judges' wives to enjoy food, service and attention all at cost to the taxpayer? After all, Chancery Judges in London have to provide their own accommodation. The whole arrangement appears to be one which is becoming a scandal. It ought to be ended by the Lord Chancellor.

It is matters such as these, with the greatest respect to my right hon. and learned Friend, which necessitate a very close parliamentary control or control by some independent review body over judges' salaries.

The provisions in the Bill extending the jurisdiction of the county courts are to be welcomed. I also welcome the provisions dealing with the position of mortgagees. I endorse what the right hon. and learned Member for West Ham, South said about the necessity for providing for regulation of the exorbitant rate of interest charged by some second mortgagees, although they are limited when the matter comes before a court by the existing rule that not more than 48 per cent. interest is ever allowed. In other respects I welcome the Bill.

4.56 p.m.

Mr. Clinton Davis (Hackney, Central)

I was sorry to hear about the plight of retired justices of the peace in Preston. The hon. Member for Preston, North (Miss Holt) seemed to be arguing that they ought to be allowed to stay on beyond retirement age in order to keep them off the streets. I agree with many of the points she mentioned. I should like to make certain observations on the Bill as it stands and then to comment upon specific areas which I should like to see explored during the Committee stage.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Ham, South (Sir Elwyn Jones) referred to a Bill of this kind as one which offers all sorts of opportunities. Opportunity often knocks when one has a Bill of this kind but, unfortunately, the door is not always answered. I hope to be able to show that the Bill is a suitable vehicle for introducing certain changes, which ought to be dealt with in Committee.

I want first to deal with Clause 2, and immediately to join with other right hon. and hon. Members in paying tribute to the work of lay justices throughout the country. It is work which in the main is undertaken with great dedication and with no little skill. Nevertheless, I welcome very much the provision which enables the Lord Chancellor to appoint stipendiaries outside the inner London area where they are required, without waiting for local authorities to petition. I wonder how many local authorities have petitioned in the past. I rather believe that there has been no small amount of jealousy about the appointment of stipendiaries and how they stand in relation to lay justices. This provision, therefore, overcomes that prejudice by ensuring that stipendiaries will not have to be paid out of the local rates.

Subsection (7) enables the Lord Chancellor to appoint temporary, peripatetic, stipendiaries to deal with long summary trials or long committal proceedings. That is something for which I am very grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for including in the Bill, because it was a suggestion I made, as he has said, a considerable time ago. It will overcome many of the difficulties which are so frustrating not simply for advocates—for they are the least important in this—but for those who have the misfortune to come before courts of summary jurisdiction when a case simply cannot be dealt with in any reasonable period of time because the lay bench, if it consists of three magistrates, cannot be reconstituted very easily. They are volunteers and it is unreasonable to ask them to give up their occupations for long periods in order to deal with such cases.

I well remember a situation in which I had a very important criminal case in respect of which the committal proceedings had to be spaced out over several weeks because, although there was only one committing justice, nevertheless he could sit only on two or at most three occasions during the week. This is the very sort of situation which will be dealt with by this provision.

In this connection—and this is a point I put to the Attorney-General when he was speaking—I am a little concerned about the procedure that is to be followed in dealing with this aspect of the matter. If this is to be be dealt with by the local clerk of the court, and he knows that the local justices would not welcome the introduction of a stipendiary to the particular area, there could be a certain reluctance about acceding to any application that is made by either prosecution or defence for the appointment of a temporary stipendiary magistrate. I should therefore like to see it made mandatory for any such application to be referred to the Lord Chancellor where it is quite clear that there is going to be a long trial or long committal proceedings.

I come now to the point raised in the Bill about courses of instruction. This is a matter of fundamental importance. There is no doubt at all that the initial course of instruction which, I believe, newly-appointed magistrates have to undertake is to be welcomed. What I worry a great deal about is that there are still a large number of magistrates who, once they have gone through that initial course—or perhaps they have never been obliged to undertake it—simply do not keep up with the changes that are taking place within our legal procedures or the law, and they are simply left behind.

In inner London a substantial number of lay magistrates unquestionably attend the sentencing exercises and other courses which are provided. The sentencing exercises are of the most searching character. It is important that not only lay justices should undergo these sentencing exercises but also stipendiary magistrates and indeed the higher judiciary, and I believe that many of them do. But I would like to see it made mandatory for lay justices to attend a certain number of such exercises and instructional courses, perhaps refresher courses, during the year. It is quite unfair that it is perhaps a majority or even a minority who attend these courses at the present time, while their colleagues shrug their shoulders and say they have not got the time or are not interested.

While it is true that we have a volunteer force as far as our lay justices are concerned, they have imposed upon them very considerable obligations and if they are going to fulfil those obligations properly, or at all, I think it is absolutely vital that they should keep in touch. Therefore I recommend that during the Committee stage a provision should be incorporated in the Bill which makes it mandatory for lay justices to undertake a certain number of courses each year.

I also believe that it is important that, within this framework, instruction should go beyond questions of sentencing. The whole of the judiciary, not simply the lay justices, should have every opportunity to discuss the sort of problems that come before them in a family context. There ought to be discussions of a most detailed kind with probation officers and welfare officers. In particular, as far as the civil jurisdiction of the magistrates' courts is concerned, there ought to be much closer regard to the problems which come before local authority children's officers and welfare officers so that they can see cases of this sort in their correct context, not isolated from the family problems with which such officers are required to deal on a day-to-day basis.

While I think that a great deal of progress has been made in the last few years, largely under the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner when he was Lord Chancellor, and with the great help of my right hon. and learned Friend when he was Attorney-General, but also under the aegis of the present Lord Chancellor and the Law Officers, as far as the criminal jurisdiction is concerned, to a large extent the civil aspect has been lost sight of. After all, the lay justices have very important duties to carry out in dealing with matrimonial disputes, the welfare of children, and so on, and in many ways this is no less important than their criminal jurisdiction and their understanding of criminal cases in the fundamental sense to which I have referred.

I turn to Clause 4, which deals with the amendment as to the right to practise of justices of the peace who are solicitors. I know that this clause has the approval of the Law Society, but frankly, I can see no objection to its being considerably wider than it is at the present moment. I can see that it is quite wrong for a firm of solicitors to represent a client while a partner or an employee in that firm is adjudicating. That would be an intolerable situation.

But it seems to me patently absurd to debar a firm of solicitors from undertaking proceedings, whether criminal or civil, in a magistrates' court in a petty sessional division where the partner or employee is a justice, if he is not adjudicating. Clearly the argument here is that there may be a possibility that the other justices of the peace may be more favourably disposed to that particular firm of solicitors. Actually, I would think that the contrary is more likely to be the case. But, one way or the other, I think we have to recognise that most solicitor-advocates who practise locally, just as members of the Bar, are well known to the bench before whom they constantly appear. Friendships are formed, happily, between advocates and members of the judiciary, but it does not disentitle a judge from hearing a case simply because he knows the barrister who is appearing before him and who may be a very close friend. It does not disentitle the justice of the peace from sitting if, similarly, he has a close friendship with the solicitor who appears before him.

Therefore I think that this is a rather silly provision and I would like to see the situation widened to enable firms of solicitors to practise in these courts, subject to the proviso which I have made, because we need many more firms of solicitors undertaking legal aid work, in particular, in both the civil and the criminal sphere, and this provision, even though it is to some extent helpful compared with the position previously, still represents a deterrent.

I turn now to the various proposals that I would like to see incorporated in the Bill. The first relates to the matter of interpreters' fees which I raised initially in the House on 30th November 1972. I then asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he would issue a circular to magistrates' courts recommending that a person convicted of an offence should not be penalised as to the costs incurred in employing an interpreter in cases where that person is not capable of communicating sufficiently in English."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th November 1972; Vol. 847, c. 188.] I got the short, but not very sweet, answer, "No".

I raised with him within a matter of a few days in a debate the case of a young student who had appeared at a local magistrates' court, and who had been told a day or so before he was due to appear on a not very serious charge that an interpreter would be available, but that if he were convicted he might well have to pay the costs. He did not get much of a chance to oppose the appointment of the interpreter who was in fact present. The young man was convicted and fined £10 and ordered to pay £5.25 by way of costs for the interpreter. That was grossly unfair, but it has been a practice widely used in the criminal courts to impose these charges on unsuccessful defendants.

I raised the matter again on 6th December and this time I got a qualified "No" from the Minister of State. More recently, on 1st February, I asked for a further statement concerning the Government's proposals relating to the imposition by criminal courts of interpreters' fees against accused persons who have been convicted. The hon. and learned Gentleman, the Minister of State, Home Office replied: My right hon. Friend is considering the possibility of legislation. Meanwhile he proposes to draw the attention of courts to the relevant provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights and to remind them of the availability of central Government funds to pay interpreters in indictable cases."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st February 1973; Vol. 849, c. 423.] So he was there accepting the principle I had enunciated and it is nice to observe that the Minister of State was amenable to some reason about this matter.

This is a principle, as I pointed out on 6th December, which is enshrined in Article 6(3) of the European Convention on Human Rights and also in the Welsh Language Act 1967. It is wrong that anyone who is not familiar with the language in which the business of the court is usually conducted should be penalised, and I hope that the Bill will provide a vehicle for a change of that character.

The Law Society has received a considerable amount of correspondence from both prosecuting and defending solicitors about the supply to the defence of statements by the prosecution in cases which could be dealt with summarily. The Lord Chancellor complains that too much time is taken up by the Crown Courts with cases which could be dealt with summarily. I hope this proposition will not constitute an erosion of an essential right, and, while I think that there is merit in removing from the Crown Courts cases which can be dealt with only technically so to speak, such as breathalyser cases, I hope that there will not be a substantial abandonment of the present right of election. Improvements could be effected which would achieve a quicker disposal of cases which could be dealt with summarily and where there is an election, by the prosecution being required to serve statements on the defence, where the defence asks for such statements to be supplied.

This would provide a number of advantages. Essentially defence lawyers, in dealing with cases where there is an election, might be prepared to advise their client to have the case dealt with summarily, in circumstances where at present they feel obliged to advise that the client should be tried by a higher court. They want to know the case that their client has to answer and they should be entitled to know this. A substantial number of prosecutors offer their papers for perusal to defence lawyers, which is sensible. But not enough are prepared to do it, and, indeed, some, get very shirty if they were asked.

This is a case where an obligation should be imposed. It would remove a substantial reason for electing trial in numerous cases, and thus reduce the number of elections and also give legal effect to what a large number of sensible prosecutors do already. It would not cause time to be wasted, which is sometimes the argument against the proposal, because a large majority of defended cases are put back anyway because the courts has insufficient time to attend to them on that particular day.

My next point concerns the administration procedure for legal aid in criminal courts. Some courts require forms to be filled in following committal proceedings in order that legal aid should be extended. Other courts do not require this to be done. Unless those concerned are familiar with the practice of the court a great deal of confusion may arise and mistakes may occur. My firm has unhappily been penalised to some extent because in one or two cases we had assumed that legal aid had been granted, but in fact the defendant had not filled in the appropriate form, or a barrister had attended the committal proceedings and had not drawn anybody's attention to the situation, possibly because he did not know what the procedure was himself. One then goes merrily on still defending the man in the belief that legal aid has been granted. The legal aid form may not have been received, and in a busy office that may easily have been overlooked. Ultimately one finds that one cannot claim one's costs and everything has been done for nothing, and indeed, there has been a loss because one has to pay the barrister who is attending the trial. One of the ways of curing that deficiency in the system is to enable the court to grant legal aid retrospectively where a mistake has arisen. The court would have to be satisfied that a genuine mistake had occurred and it would be within the discretion of the court to accept or reject the application. What I have suggested would be a useful reform to be incorporated in the Bill.

My next point relates to the uniformity which should exist in the payment of witness fees. As I understand it the source of the payment depends on whether the offence is indictable or not. To my mind that is ridiculous. There should be one source from which witness fees are payable and that would enable a great deal of unnecessary confusion to be obviated.

These are additional provisions that might be included in this umbrella-type Bill. I welcome the Bill, and I particularly welcome the provisions for strengthening the system of lay justices, a system which has so well stood the test of time.

5.18 p.m.

Mr. Percy Grieve (Solihull)

I am sure that the whole House is much indebted to the hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Clinton Davis) who from a depth of very great experience of the functioning of magistrates' courts has drawn attention to various points which might with advantage be dealt with in this legislation.

I found myself particularly attracted by two of the points he made. The first was that it should in some way be a condition of the continuance in office of those fulfilling the onerous, important and highly honourable office of justices of the peace that they should from time to time submit themselves to education and reeducation at courses not only on sentencing but on all the aspects of their work. The hon. Member made out a case for that very fully and I do not believe that anyone here would disagree with him.

I found myself attracted by his suggestion that some provision could be made—I do not know whether it could be properly made in this legislation, in view of the Long Title, but if not in this legislation then at some later stage in our proceedings—for the provision of statements of evidence to defendents in magistrates' courts.

I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Hackney, Central that our higher courts are appallingly over-loaded with work which could properly, expeditiously and with justice be disposed of before the magistrates. All too frequently those who are defending in the magistrates' courts say that they must know the case against their clients, and the only way in which they can do that is to seek trial by jury and go to the higher court. Frequently, when they learn of the case against them, a plea of guilty results, but with what an appalling waste of time. If this simple reform could be made compulsory it would do a great deal to facilitate the administration of justice.

I shall not repeat all the points made by the hon. Member for Hackney, Central, but the hon. Gentleman's point about the supplying of statements was one which I had in mind. I was also struck by his plea for the payment by the court of interpreters. As an hon. Member and as chairman of the Special Committee on Human Rights, it almost savours to me of a denial of justice that persons should have to pay, when they do not understand the language of the court, to have it translated into the language which they understand. I do not always agree with the hon. Gentleman and I am happy on this occasion to find myself in complete agreement with him.

I share the general welcome which has been given by both sides of the House and by all hon. Members who have spoken to this composite collection of reforms and rationalisations. I do not propose to deal with all the points in the Bill. I am sure that I would not be thanked if I did so. I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for West Ham, South (Sir Elwyn Jones) that constitutionally perhaps the most important clause in the Bill is that dealing with the power of the Lord Chancellor, in consultation with the Minister for the Civil Service, alias the Prime Minister, hereinafter to determine the salaries of the higher judiciary.

When we look at a clause of that kind we seem to be retreating from the doctrines of Dicey at the speed of light. However, we are a long way from the Act of Settlement and from the atmosphere of the realm at the time of the Act of Settlement. The fact that Clause 8 can be introduced with relatively little controversy and accepted by the right hon. and learned Member for West Ham, South, subject to certain assurances which he asked of my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General, shows how far we have come. It is a worthwhile and desirable rationalisation. We no longer fear that pressures will be put upon the judiciary by those who will hereinafter become responsible for determining how their salaries shall rise as the salaries of other members of the judiciary rise. Therefore, I welcome that clause.

I wish to concentrate on the provisions dealing with the appointment of more stipendiary magistrates in Clause 2(6). I give an unreserved welcome to the power which the Bill gives to the Lord Chancellor, subject to safeguards, to increase the number of metropolitan stipendiary magistrates to 60 or such larger number as Her Majesty may by Order in Council specify, and similarly to increase the number of stipendiary magistrates outside London to 40.

I am second to none in my admiration for our lay judiciary. I do not know whether the system is unique in the whole world, but it is unique in Europe. There is no other country where lay people are prepared by instincts of public service, and, one hopes, with vocation, to give a large part of their time to the service of the community by participating in the administration of justice. The result is that we have the smallest professional judiciary in Europe. We are able to make do with very few occupants of high judicial office, circuit judges and part-time judges such as recorders because we have laymen who, with the advice of their clerk, are prepared to give their energy and time to the service of the community, and thereby—and no one blinks at this—to acquire great honour and respect in the community which they serve.

The burden which is placed upon the lay justices today is enormous because of the great increase in crime which is common not only to this country but the rest of the world. That burden was greatly alleviated by the Criminal Justice Act 1967 which, for the first time, permitted committals to be made without going through the whole of the evidence before the justices. Nevertheless, there remains a great burden.

At the same time there is an enormous and increasing burden upon the Crown Courts and it is becoming essential to reduce that burden. The only way in which that can be done will be to give more of the work to the justices. I share the reservations of the hon. Member for Hackney, Central about depriving the subject of the right to trial by jury in cases which now entitle him to that right. However, I draw a great distinction between what the hon. Gentleman called technical cases, such as breathalyser cases, and a great number of other motoring cases, and those cases where honour is involved.—[Interruption.] Such cases must include the whole gamut of crimes of dishonesty for which a person can now elect to go for trial by jury. I shall very much regret the day when we cut down that right in any degree, but I foresee the day when we shall have to cut down the right to trial by jury in a number of motoring cases, and not only breathalyser cases.

If we have to make that restriction we shall put a corresponding burden upon the juctices of the peace and the magistrates' courts because their work will greatly increase. Therefore, we shall need more justices of the peace. At present in London there are only 39 stipendiary magistrates, and in the provinces I understand that there are only 11. It was said by the Lord Chancellor in another place that because stipendiary magistrates work regular hours regularly every day of the week one stipendiary does the work of 50 lay justices. That is no reflection upon the lay justices who, by their nature, are part-time judges.

The hon. Gentleman drew attention to the manifest inconveniences which occur when long cases have to be adjourned from day to day and week to week. It seems that although the Lord Chancellor said in another place that it is not proposed greatly to increase the number of stipendiaries, the time may well come when, if we increase the work load on the justices, it will be necessary to increase the number of stipendiaries. It is for that reason that I particularly welcome the provision.

I return to the point I made earlier about the distinction between crimes that involve a man's honour and offences that do not. I noticed an indication of dissent from one Labour hon. Member, and I should like to enlarge on the point. It seems to me—and I hope that my views are shared by many hon. Members—to be a distinction that is vital in social, private and public life. I hope that we shall never see the day when the right to trial by jury for offences of dishonesty is any way diminished.

I realise how appalling it is that the time of the Crown Court should often be taken up by long inquiries into cases of shoplifting, where the substance of what is taken is of the utmost triviality, but all too often the honour and character of an individual are involved, and in such cases it is vital, so long as we have a jury system to protect the liberty of the subject, that that right should be in no way diminished.

Mr. S. C. Silkin

I sympathise with the way in which the hon. and learned Gentleman has put the matter and with the general principle he has just stated, but may not it lead us away from cutting down the number of trials by jury? For example, alleged ticket frauds can involve the honour of the person concerned and gravely damage his reputation, and minor indecency cases can have the same effect.

Mr. Grieve

I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for making the point, and entirely agree with what he said. At times when I have had to advise and defend I have greatly regretted that cases involving the honour of a man have not been justiciable by jury. At one time there were many offences of importuning, which provide a good example of what I mean. In my view, there should have been a right to trial by jury in such cases. That is why I see such a clear distinction.

I cannot invite the House now to say that the right should be increased in certain cases. I should be out of order if I did. But I oppose its being in any way diminished where honesty is concerned. However, where the question is whether a man drove a motor car well or dangerously, we must face the realities of the present day, increasing the powers of the justices and to some extent cutting down the right to trial by jury.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, North-West)

Although a motoring offence may not involve dishonesty, it often involves a person's entire livelihood and the future of his family. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that in such a case he should continue to have a right to be tried by jury. Is not the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that a substantial percentage of those guilty of serious motoring offences are also guilty of other offences? A curious result of a recent survey was to show that while motoring offenders are often regarded as being in a separate category they tend in serious cases to be unstable people in other respects. Therefore, does not the hon. and learned Gentleman believe that it would be wrong to take away from those who may be deprived of their livelihood the right to trial by jury?

Mr. Grieve

I take the hon. and learned Gentleman's point. I do not want further to develop what I am saying. We must face the realities of life. If we are to draw a distinction at all, it must be drawn where honour, reputation and character lie on one side of the line and not on the other.

Because I believe that it will be necessary to increase the burden on the justices, I particularly welcome the giving of the power to appoint stipendiaries to take some of that burden off lay justices, without cutting down the great reliance the country rightly places on the services they render to the community.

5.36 p.m.

Mr. Edward Lyons (Bradford, East)

The Bill does not call for an impassioned or long speech, and I do not propose to follow any other speaker into a discussion of the philosophy of the criminal process. I intend simply to deal with a collection of diverse points.

First, whatever we may say about the jury system, if we are to preserve it there will have to be an end, particularly in fraud cases, of the growing practice of the Bar to use its challenges to try to knock off the jury anyone who looks remotely intelligent. It is no help to the defence of the jury system when, where there are several accused, enabling 20 or 30 challenges to be made, those challenges are used ruthlessly until in the end anyone who can judge character finds on looking at the jury that he is looking at a group of people as near to being a collection of morons as can be imagined.

That is an abuse of the process of the jury system. The Bar Council or the House should ensure that it is stopped. A man is entitled to a fair trial by his contemporaries, but not to one rigged in that way. I yield to no one in my admiration of the jury system and my determination that it be maintained.

I shall not take up the comments of the hon. Member for Preston, North (Miss Holt) about lady justices, but I cannot imagine that they would like her references to them as hoary perennials.

Ages of retirement are nowhere the same in the Bill. A stipendiary magistrate is to retire at 70, although that limit can be increased to 72. A recorder retires at 72, with no possibility of an increase. A circuit judge goes to 72, but can be kept on until 75. The High Court judge apparently retains all his wits until the age of 75.

How were those differences arrived at? By what assessment does someone conclude that it is obvious that the stipendiary magistrate's mind begins to atrophy two years earlier than that of a recorder, who in turn becomes senescent shortly before the circuit judge, who in turn remains alive and lively a little longer? On that basis, I cannot understand why the Court of Appeal judges are not allowed to retire at 78 and those of the House of Lords at 80. That is the logic of the situation. It might be a useful exercise in Committee to see whether we can introduce a rationalisation of retirement ages in the judiciary.

I welcome the clause dealing with the salaries of the higher judiciary, because I have never been present at a discussion of salaries of the judiciary that has been a dispassionate assessment of the position, in which opportunities have been taken for a sensible debate about the judiciary and the problems it faces. It is always used as an opportunity for a display of crass, ill-informed and ignorant resentment of lawyers in the House, because lay Members resent their great reliance on lawyers here, which they express on such occasions. I am grateful that the opportunity will be denied to them in future, although I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Ham, South (Sir Elwyn Jones) that an independent review board is necessary.

I have noticed during the course of the debate that the number of civil servants in the Ministerial box appeared to be greater than the number of hon. Members in the Chamber. This is always an indication of the interest the debate provokes. I know that they are obliged to remain and I am almost sorry to rise to my feet when they probably have tube trains to catch—this is the modern age. However, I must say something about the stipendiary magistrates. The Bill is bringing about a sea change for stipendiaries. A stipendiary was always allotted a particular town, such as the Leeds stipendiary magistrate or the Hull stipendiary magistrate.

Under this Bill he becomes a homeless peripatetic, like the recorders. It is interesting that the office of stipendiary does not attract the ennobling treatment given to recorders in the Courts Act whereby they may be honorary recorders for a borough. There is nothing in the Bill to suggest that there should be an honorary stipendiary for Leeds or Hull or whatever. I wonder why there is such a distinction.

I believe that it was a silly thing to create honorary recorders and am grateful that we are not doing the same for stipendiaries. It is sad however that they are to have no name, that they are apparently assigned within a county, going from court to court, from place to place.

Mr. Clinton Davis

What is the distinction between this and the appointment of a commissioner to deal with a long trial?

Mr. Lyons

I am not suggesting that there is any distinction nor am I saying that the change should not have taken place. I am permitting myself a little nostalgia because it is true that people like to have a "handle". I can think of stipendiary magistrates who will feel that they are losing something by not having the name of a town or city behind them. It is arguable that when we take away that identification a certain amount of pride in the job is lost. It is strange that we no longer have a county court judge for so and so, and can see a judge wandering about the city at three o'clock in the afternoon quite happy to have finished his work at noon. One feels that that attitude would not have grown up so readily had they retained an identification with a borough as did the old county court judges.

It is true that the anomalies in the present stipendiary system mean that Hull with a population of 300,000 has a stipendiary whereas Bradford, with the same population, has not. This is presumably because when, 10 years ago, Bradford lost its stipendiary magistrate, someone decided that there should not be another. Maybe that was because they did not care for the previous one, maybe they did not like to spend the money. Maybe the clerk to the justices did not want to be hampered by the services of a professional lawyer.

Whatever the reason, there are such anomalous situations. If there is no stipendiary and a highly technical case arises, then the lay justices are absolutely at the mercies of the lawyers unless the clerk to the justices is of a substantial quality. The trouble is that the clerks are of a patchy quality. Some are good, some are biased. I do not say that they do not do a good job. It is certainly an excellent idea that there should be someone with legal experience to deal with difficult cases and difficult points of law when confronted by solicitors and counsel, many of whom are extremely able. I welcome wholeheartedly the rationalisation of this system.

I have the greatest doubts about the amendment moved in the other place by Lord Gardiner. I do not entirely agree with my own Front Bench about putting a number to stipendiary magistrates. The Lord Chancellor said that he intended to appoint one or two extra stipendiaries above the present figure of 11. It was argued in the other place that the Bill gave the Lord Chancellor or some future Lord Chancellor unlimited power to get rid of the lay justices and to replace them with stipendiaries because there was no limit on the number. That was a legitimate but rather fanciful consideration.

The effect of setting a limit of 40 will be that within 10 years we shall have 40 stipendiaries. I know that the Lord Chancellor says that he will not do this, and we believe him. But Lord Chancellors come and go. When we abolish the town and city as the headquarters of the stipendiary and make him a stipendiary for a group of towns, an area or a county, then there is a strong case for more stipendiaries. A group of towns which did not have a stipendiary and would never have thought of having one might feel, or some future Lord Chancellor might feel, that they should have one assigned to them.

I do not propose to try to undo the compromise reached between the present Lord Chancellor and the previous one. I rather wish that matters had been left as they originally were in the Bill and that we relied on the strength of the Treasury to prevent an undue increase in the number of stipendiaries. It is impossible to imagine the Treasury as we know it sanctioning the money necessary for the large-scale increases in the number of stipendiaries.

I suppose that some of these points are Committee points. I welcome the Bill. If we look at the main Title it will be seen that it gives ample opportunity to those who wish to insert new matters into the Bill in Committee. It is a Bill which is capable of infinite enlargement. I am not suggesting that I shall undertake that task but there may be others who could. If there is anything missing they will have the opportunity to put it right.

5.48 p.m.

Mr. S. C. Silkin (Dulwich)

I begin by adding my welcome to that given to the Bill by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Ham, South (Sir Elwyn Jones) at the outset of the debate. That is not to say that it may not become even more useful after it has been subjected to the scrutiny which it will receive in Committee.

A number of points have been made—some by myself in interventions—which are no doubt Committee points. I agree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, East (Mr. Edward Lyons) that in this sort of Bill it is not easy to disentangle the Committee points from those which are wholly appropriate to a Second Reading debate. It has been almost inevitable that all of the speakers have been lawyers. If, from time to time, one has looked around the Chamber to see who was listening, it has been almost impossible at any time to see anyone who was not a lawyer—except for the odd Whip or two, but perhaps we can leave them out of account.

Lawyers in the House have not always the best of reputations among their lay colleagues. We are regarded as being a closed circle. When we debate what is clearly a lawyer's Bill it is a pity that there are no lay Members of the House present. It does not lie very well in the mouths of our colleagues who criticise us for being a closed circle if they do not take advantage of the opportunity when it comes of scrutinising these matters which, although they are lawyer's matters, are none the less of great importance to the community.

I do not intend to deal at length with the Committee points, but there are two issues of importance in principle about which I should like to say a few words. Each is a matter upon which I should have liked to hear the views of lay Members as well as of lawyers.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Ham, South emphasised that under the provisions of Clause 8 we appear to be removing altogther from direct parliamentary control—although there will be indirect parliamentary control—the salaries of the higher judiciary and handing the whole question of those salaries in England and Wales to the Lord Chancellor and the Prime Minister, in his capacity as Minister for the Civil Service, and in Scotland to the Secretary of State alone. The Secretary of State for Scotland does not even have the filter of the Prime Minister or the Lord Advocate to go through.

That brings me to an extremely important point. Last night the House gave the Third Reading to the Counter-Inflation Bill, which contains elaborate provisions for keeping within control the rises in income of a vast section of our community. Leaving aside formulae which would be difficult to apply to the judiciary of an extra £1 plus 4 per cent. to be shared between them—although it might be interesting to see how it would be shared if it were applied—there is an overall limit of an additional £250 a year. It is vital that the Government should say whether this limit will apply to the judiciary, notwithstanding that it is not referred to in the Bill, and tell us how the Counter-Inflation Bill and the Administration of Justice Bill will interact upon each other, if at all. Which of them will become law first I do not know, but the Administration of Justice Bill leaves the matter extremely vague.

The intention of the Labour Government was that the salaries of the important people dealt with in Clause 8 should be considered by the Top Salary Review Board, which is part of the Office of Manpower Economics—a body which hon. Members and Ministers have much to be thankful for. Will the board recommend what salaries the higher judiciary and stipendiaries should receive, so that it will be for the Lord Chancellor and the other Ministers concerned to consider its recommendations and decide whether to accept them, or will this body have nothing to do with the salaries and conditions of service of the judges and others referred to in the clause?

The lay Opposition Members of the House, who have not put in an appearance, and the lawyers, who have, would take it ill if this were to be a matter solely for the Lord Chancellor and the Prime Minister in one case and for the Secretary of State in the other, wholly unrelated to the wages and salary restraints applied in the rest of the community. If that were to be the position it would show a degree of insensitivity which, even during the lifetime of this Government, has not been shown up to now, and it would cause grave resentment among our colleagues and among those whose incomes will be held down far below those of judges and others. I hope that we shall receive a clear assurance on this. I warn the Government that unless we do we shall return strongly to the matter during the later stages of the Bill.

The other matter on which I should like to spend a little time is Clause 2 which deals with stipendiary magistrates and various other matters in relation to stipendiaries and the lay magistracy. I yield to no one in my respect and admiration for lay magistrates, who voluntarily give up their time for no financial reward for the benefit of the community. Lay magistrates take the courses that have been referred to—there are to be more centralised courses now and that is highly desirable—and they regard it as a public duty to perform their functions.

In my personal experience I believe that lay magistrates, even with the utmost training and long service on the bench, can benefit from the help that is available when a stipendiary or other trained lawyer sits with them or assists them as clerk. I have never understood why up to the present time in the petty sessional courts we have always shied off the possibility of having a stipendiary chairman sitting with lay magistrates. We follow that practice in the Crown Court and we used to operate it in the county quarter sessions, but it is not part of the magistrates' courts procedure. And it must be remembered, as was emphasised by the hon. and learned Member for Solihull (Mr. Grieve), that many important matters are decided by magistrates.

I should like to see in operation a system in which the stipendiaries would be itinerant and would not remain in one court all the time. Those who remain in one court all the time tend to get a little set in their ideas about those who appear before them. If the system which I am suggesting were implemented, it would mean that the background of legal experience possessed by a stipendiary would be added to the practical and local knowledge of lay magistrates. I believe that this could prove to be an ideal system. I appreciate that for it to be applied generally throughout the country would involve far too many stipendiaries, but that is no reason for failing to make a start. I hope that this suggestion will provoke discussion either in this debate or when the Bill reaches Committee so that we may know what the Government think about the proposal.

Some of the provisions in the Bill will give a greater measure of control to the Lord Chancellor in the appointment of stipendiaries and their payment, and over the courses provided for magistrates, and these measures inevitably point the way towards a fully centralised court system.

We have argued about these matters in the past and we have not managed to persuade the Government either to initiate such a system or even to set up a review body to consider it. It is interesting, and indeed significant, that in a Bill of this kind which will make miscellaneous changes in the system of judicial procedure and appointment we find the central authority taking over more and more control.

I have long been unable to see—although I am always prepared to be shown to be wrong—why the lower court system should not be fully integrated as is the higher court system as a result of Beeching and the Courts Act. I believe that that would be a better system from the point of view of training, distribution—and, perhaps even more important in many ways, a better system in terms of the career structure for clerks and court officials, which is a matter of great importance. Although the Bill appears to point the way, I feel that it could have gone very much further.

I promised that I would not go into detailed Committee points, and I shall not attempt to do so. One of the advantages of a debate of this kind is that it is possible to go a little beyond the ambit of the wording of the Bill, and advantage has been taken of that today. Those of us who are now present on the Opposition benches, even though we are only lawyers, are unanimous in commending the Bill. We shall await with interest the opportunity to deal with various matters in Committee.

6.7 p.m.

The Solicitor-General (Sir Michael Havers)

I am grateful to the House for the welcome given to the Bill, and indeed for the opportunity we have had to range for a little over two hours over some favourite subjects raised by lawyers in the House. There have been some well-argued and interesting points and, although some of them may not relate to the Bill, it must be said that they needed airing and discussion and no doubt will give rise to much further thought.

The right hon. and learned Member for West Ham, South (Sir Elwyn Jones) raised what was probably a Committee point but one which it may be convenient to deal with now. He mentioned the cost of courses of instructions for justices of the peace. Until the Bill becomes law those costs will be borne by magistrates' courts committees from money provided by local authorities. There has been no case of any magistrates' courts committee failing in its duty to provide these compulsory courses. In some counties and boroughs there has perhaps been rather more zealous application to this matter than there has been in others.

From my experience as both a chairman of quarter sessions and as a recorder I know that local authorities were always very pleased when I was able to attend courses or when I arranged for another leader to attend. There was always an extremely good attendance by justices of the peace, who were interested and who learned a great deal from those events. They were told not to look over their shoulder and become too upset when their decisions were reversed, as sometimes happened, by quarter sessions.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman also mentioned the question of second mortgages. It can be seen from the Long Title to the Bill that it would be difficult to include that matter in the Committee consideration of the Bill. It is a matter of consumer credit which to some extent has already been considered by the Crowther Committee and it would probably be better dealt with by legislation other than that which is now before us. I appreciate that there has been anxiety on both sides of the House and on the part of the Government in face of some of the sums charged.

Perhaps the most important issue which has worried many people—it was raised by both the right hon. and learned Member for West Ham, South and the hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin)—is what will be the position about judicial salaries when the Bill becomes law. Judicial salaries, with those of the higher Civil Service and those of the chairmen and members of the nationalised industries, are determined, in the sense that they are considered and recommendations are made, by the Top Salaries Review Body, the chairman at the moment being Lord Boyle. That system will continue throughout phase 2 of the Government's counter-inflation policy and those salaries will not fall to be considered by the Pay Board.

I understand that the review body is engaged in a substantive investigation at the moment and its report is not expected for some time. If, however, it made a recommendation, it would take into account the pay code and the Government would also bear in mind the pay code when making up their minds whether to accept that recommendation. In any event, during the operation of phase 2 the effect of the pay code would mean that, whatever determination had been arrived at by the review body and the Government, the salary increase would have to be restricted to a maximum of £250 a year which is the maximum present arrangement. Therefore, there is no question of any increases in the salaries of judges or of anyone else which are under consideration by the Top Salaries Review Body exceeding the £250 a year.

One has to bear in mind also the point raised by the right hon. and learned Member for West Ham, South. It is not simply a matter of the Lord Chancellor and the Prime Minister making up their own minds. They will always have the guidance of the review body, and one would not expect it to be departed from in any measurable way.

I do not want to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Miss Holt) down some of the byways into which she strayed, especially that concerning circuit lodgings and judges' lodgings, which seem far removed from the purposes of the Bill. However, it is no good comparing the responsibilities and obligations of a High Court judge on circuit with those of a Chancery judge in London by saying that the latter has to provide his own accommodation. A High Court judge has to do so as well because he is not always on circuit. He has to sit in London too. It does not seem unreasonable, when he is forced to be out of London for two or three months at a time, not only that he should be provided with accommodation but that from time to time his wife should be allowed to join him. If the effect of that means that the allowance is exceeded because he is also feeding his wife, the balance comes out of his own pocket. The comparison made by my hon. Friend does not assist at all.

My hon. Friend also said that she wanted to have changed the power granted to the Lord Chancellor to remove stipendiaries. That power has existed and it continues to exist under the Courts Act in respect of circuit judges. However, the power granted to High Court judges has always been restricted to them. There has never been criticism before, and I imagine that no one would visualise that system being changed.

The hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Clinton Davis), with whom I have debated on a number of occasions, provided a thoughtful, constructive and helpful speech. The procedure for temporary stipendiaries is that it will be made known to all clerks of magistrates' courts and to chairmen that this procedure is available. It will be for them to make application, if it is known that a case requiring several consecutive days is to be tried, to the Lord Chancellor's Department for a temporary stipendiary to be provided. But it is not confined only to the clerks of magistrates' courts and chairmen. It will also be open to the prosecution or the defence, knowing that the case is coming on, to make representations to the Lord Chancellor's Department drawing his attention to what is happening, giving an estimate of the time and asking that steps should be taken to provide this service. It will not be a matter in which an awkward-minded clerk or chairman refuses to have a stipendiary anywhere near his court. His word will not be the final say.

As regards courses of instruction, I should not like to see it mandatory upon justices to have to attend refresher courses. The degree of interest has always been high. I should prefer not to have any element of compulsion in what is basically a voluntary framework. However, it is a matter which could be kept under review. As I have said, in my experience attendance has always been very high.

I was asked about partners practising in petty sessional divisions. This also is very much a Committee point. It is not only that there is no question of magistrates being influenced because last week the partner of the advocate appearing before them sat with them. It is much wider. It is that those who appear as litigants should not feel that "The man against me has a solicitor whose partner is a member of this bench and therefore there is some risk that I shall be unfairly treated". It goes back to the principle, about which the hon. Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Arthur Lewis) constantly reminds us when referring to the Order Paper, that justice must also be seen to be done. This may be a more appropriate occasion on which to apply that principle than many of the examples with which the hon. Gentleman provides the House.

I am happy to say to the hon. Member for Hackney, Central that not only can I answer the various matters that he has raised but that I can give him something, which I am delighted to do. He asked about interpreters' fees. He has given the history of his negotiations with my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, Home Office. I am happy to tell the hon. Gentleman that I have the authority of my hon. and learned Friend to say that it is now proposed to introduce in Committee a clause dealing with interpreters which will make it clear that if any order for costs is made against a defendant, those costs are not to include any sum which may have arisen by reason of an interpreter having to attend the court. I hope that that will provide the answer to what the hon. Member for Hackney, Central has been seeking to establish over the past few months.

The obligation to disclose the case for the prosecution before getting to court or before committal is a matter which was raised by the hon. Member for Hackney, Central and by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. Grieve). It is a matter in which the practice varies. It is possible that prosecuting counsel will be prepared even a day or two beforehand to give a summary of what it is to assist the defence counsel to advise his client whether to go for trial or to be dealt with by the magistrates. It is a practice which has increased in the right cases. But, like the other observations made by the hon. Member for Hackney, Central, this is a matter which needs a great deal of further thought. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that all the matters he has raised will receive the careful attention they deserve.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Solihull repeated both that and the plea for interpreters' fees, and I have given those assurances. I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for speaking of the rationalisation which follows with regard to judges' salaries now being excluded. It is a rationalisation, especially after those whom we have been calling the "Beeching judges" were put into a special category in 1971.

Bearing in mind the constructive help that has come from both sides of the House, it seems that this is a Bill which, although it may combine a number of different provisions, has a great deal of merit. It is tidying up a number of matters which require it. I too was a complete novice about mortgages. I had no idea what the consequences could be. I share with others surprise that the vice-chancellor was able to shoot down so effectively what was sought to be provided in 1970.

It may be that in Committee other matters that have been discussed will come up. The Bill is a useful one. It will tidy up some of the things that needed tidying up. Even if it means that the hon. Member for West Ham, North has some of his future enjoyment in the House taken from him, I hope that the House will welcome the Bill.

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).