HC Deb 19 December 2000 vol 360 cc194-5
24. Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury)

If she will make a statement on the consequences of the Starrs judgment. [141587]

The Advocate-General for Scotland (Dr. Lynda Clark)

The judgment of the Court of Session in Starrs and Chalmers in November 1999 indicated that prosecution before a temporary sheriff in Scotland did not constitute a fair hearing under article 6 of the European convention on human rights because a temporary sheriff had insufficient security of tenure. Consequently, the Scottish Executive, who are responsible for the administration of justice in Scotland, stopped using temporary sheriffs and judges and promoted legislation—the Bail, Judicial Appointments etc. (Scotland) Act 2000—to provide for the appointment of part-time sheriffs who would have security of tenure. The first such sheriffs commenced work in October 2000.

Mr. O'Brien

I thank the Advocate-General for that answer. Is she aware and does she agree that, despite the further ramifications following the findings of the Court of Session, that case could have serious consequences for the administration of justice involving lay members and an irreparable effect in England and Wales? Does her advice extend to advising those in England and Wales, as well as in Scotland, as this is a major issue for justice in the United Kingdom?

The Advocate-General

I am not sure whether I follow the hon. Gentleman's question. A successful challenge was made under the ECHR in particular circumstances that applied only to Scotland. Of course there may be ramifications. As he will know, the Lord Chancellor took steps to enhance the security of tenure of part-time judges in England. On the long-term consequences, any challenge that is made will be considered in the particular circumstances of the case. I am sure that our jurisprudence is sufficiently flexible to take account of any change that may be made.

Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, Pollok)

Does the Minister accept that that is an important issue, but far more important to my constituents and the people of Falkirk is the discussion that they are having in the pubs and clubs about how much better they are under the Labour Government? I was speaking to one of my in-laws yesterday, and Joyce said that we at e much better under the Labour Government than we were before. Does the Minister agree?

The Advocate-General

I am sure that Starrs and Chalmers is the talk of the pubs and clubs throughout Scotland, but I hope that there is at least some understanding in those conversations of the importance of the ECHR to Scotland and, indeed the United Kingdom.