HC Deb 06 November 2001 vol 374 cc102-3
31. Mr. Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell)

What steps he proposes to take to obtain equal representation of all areas in Leeds following the merger of the existing petty sessional areas into one area [10341]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Mr. Michael Wills)

The distribution of magistrates in the area will remain the same after the amalgamation. Magistrates in the existing petty sessional areas will serve on the amalgamated bench with effect from 1 January 2002.

On the wider question, the Lord Chancellor requires that each bench should broadly reflect the community that it serves, in terms of gender, ethnic origin, geographical spread, occupation and political affiliation. The Leeds advisory committee will continue to strive to achieve a balanced bench following amalgamation of the petty sessional areas. However, when recruiting new magistrates, the pre-eminent requirement is that a candidate must be personally suitable for appointment, possessing the six key qualities required in a magistrate.

Mr. Challen

I welcome the response, so far as it goes. I also welcome the words of the Lord Chancellor, who wrote in this week's edition of The House Magazine about the importance of community representation on magistrates benches. In Morley, 91 per cent. of those serving on the bench are local, but we are to be subsumed into the Leeds bench, on which only 66 per cent. of people who serve are local. So we need a determined attempt to secure more resources, recruit locally, and ensure that low-paid people, for example, or those who are self-employed in Morley have an opportunity to serve on magistrates benches.

Mr. Wills

I thank my hon. Friend for those comments. I pay tribute to his hard work on behalf of the magistracy in his constituency. I have been conscious of that since I took this job and since he was elected. I assure him that we share his view of the importance of local justice and of local people being involved in the lay magistracy. The Lord Chancellor has gone to much trouble to involve local people and ensure that groups in our communities that are not adequately represented on the bench at the moment are so represented in future.

It may be of interest to my hon. Friend to know about the hard work that has gone into trying to get more people from ethnic minorities involved in the lay magistracy. The Lord Chancellor has enlisted the help of Operation Black Vote, for example, to run a scheme involving job shadowing, education and training in order to encourage people from ethnic minorities to apply for appointments. The scheme has been run in seven pilot areas. People who will shadow magistrates have been identified in Bristol and Birmingham. Recruitment of participants and magistrates is—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I concern myself with getting through the Order Paper, and that is very difficult when answers are so long.