§ LEGAL REPRESENTATION IN CASE OF COMMITTAL ON WRITTEN STATEMENTS
§ Lords amendment: No. 158, after the words last inserted, insert:
"R. In section 6(2)(a) of the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980 for the words "is not represented by counsel or a solicitor" there shall be substituted the words "has no solicitor acting for him in the case (whether present in court or not)"."
§ Mr. Mayhew
I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.
The new clause makes a minor but worthwhile change to the law regarding committals for trial by magistrates courts. Before the Criminal Justice Act 1967 came into force, it was necessary for magistrates courts to hear the prosecution in each committal in order to ensure that there was a prima facie case against the defendant. However, the 1967 Act introduced a procedure by which a court, sitting as examining justices, may, if satisfied that all the evidence before the court consists of written statements, commit a defendant for trial without consideration of the evidence. The procedure can be used only where the defendant consents and is represented by counsel or a solicitor. The purpose of the latter condition was to ensure that a defendant was properly advised before consenting to a committal taking place without consideration of the evidence.
The difficulty has arisen that the condition has been interpreted to mean that the defendant's legal representative must be present in court. There are occasions when it will be important for the legal representative to attend court, but there are many cases in which no useful purpose would be served. Accordingly, this new clause clarifies the meaning of what is now section 6(2) of the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980 by making it clear that there is no requirement for a legal representative to attend court on a committal under that section. It keeps the requirement that a defendant should have a solicitor acting for him in the case, however, so we can be sure that defendants are properly advised before consenting to this form of committal. It will, of course remain open to a solicitor to attend when there is a need for him to do so—for instance, when a defendant in custody wants to apply for bail.
There will be a worthwhile saving in terms of legal aid expenditure. This is estimated to be in the region of £1 million a year without in any way prejudicing the interests of defendants. The amendment, which has the support of the Law Society, makes an improvement in the procedures for committals under section 6(2) of the 1980 Act. I commend it to the House.
§ Question put and agreed to.