HC Deb 30 January 2001 vol 362 c168
29. Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

If he will make a statement about the future of the lay magistracy. [146210]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Jane Kennedy)

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his elevation—if I may call it that—to the Opposition Front Bench as junior health spokesman.

As for the question, I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (Mr. Taylor) and the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady) on 14 November 2000, and to my reply to the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Mr. Flight) on 19 December—they are nothing if not persistent. My noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor gave evidence before the Home Affairs Select Committee last Tuesday and said that he had a very high regard for members of the lay magistracy. They give their time for no reward, reflect the community that they serve and typify the quite remarkable lay involvement in this country's system of justice, and our justice system is better for it.

Mr. Swayne

The Minister is kind, but does she agree that the lay magistracy affords a welcome measure of common sense to the criminal justice system? What thought has she given to increasing the number of lay magistrates at the expense of stipendiary magistrates? She will, of course, recall that the perverse decision in Abergavenny last summer was taken by a stipendiary magistrate sitting alone.

Jane Kennedy

The number of district judges and magistrates who serve are determined by statute. We constantly seek new recruits to the lay magistracy. It is testament to the Government's efforts to increase civic involvement in our justice system that the number of magistrates has been increasing. Indeed, gender and ethnic balance have also improved.