HC Deb 15 March 1993 vol 221 cc17-8
43. Mr. Hawkins

To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department if he will give the figures for the number of lay magistrates in office in England and Wales in 1992.

Mr. John M. Taylor

At 31 December 1992 the number of active justices in office in England and Wales, including those within the area of responsibility of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, was 29,686. This compares with 29,441 for the previous year and 27,926 at the end of 1987. In short, the number of magistrates is going up.

Mr. Hawkins

My hon. Friend will be aware that considerable concern has been expressed publicly among the magistracy about the effects of the Criminal Justice Act 1991. What is his response?

Mr. Taylor

I am endeavouring to travel widely throughout the country to talk to magistrates, not least about the White Paper, "A New Framework for Local Justice". They tell me of their concerns, which I pass on to the Government. I remind my hon. Friend that questions of changing criminal law are for the Home Office.

Mr. Corbyn

Will the Minister give consideration to the low numbers of black and women lay magistrates appointed? Will he also [...]examine carefully the problem that too many magistrates do not in any way reflect the communities over which they are asked to make judgments?

Mr. Taylor

The number of women magistrates is rising and is now 46 per cent. of all magistrates. The number of ethnic minority representatives varies between 4 and 5.4 per cent., which reflects their numbers in our society generally. As to the policial orientation of magistrates, I remind the hon. Gentleman and the House that they are drawn from among those who apply. One cannot appoint people who do not apply.

Mr. Boateng

We know that lay magistrates and their clerks spend time informing the Minister and the Lord Chancellor of their concerns in relation to the administration of justice. Will the Minister and the Lord Chancellor show some indication that they are listening? Lay magistrates throughout the country are sick and tired of receiving diktats from the Lord Chancellor's Department which show it to be much more informed and influenced by market policy and the Government's obsession with their own ideology than it is with the interests of justice.

Mr. Taylor

That criticism lies unfairly on the head of my noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor, who has been an exceptional supporter and proponent of the lay magistracy. He supports it on all occasions and I seek to do the same. I do not know a man to whom applying the word "diktat" would be less appropriate than my noble and learned Friend.