HL Deb 13 November 1961 vol 235 cc507-37

2.15 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I rise to move the Second Reading of this Bill. The Bill, as your Lordships will see from the Explanatory Memorandum, seeks to give effect to such of the recommendations of the Interdepartmental Committee on the Business of the Criminal Courts as require legislation.

The Committee, of which Mr. Justice Streatfeild was the chairman and the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, was a member, was set up by the Home Secretary and myself in 1958 and reported last February, and I should like to take the opportunity of paying a tribute Ito the Committee for having produced such a fascinating and instructive Report.

The Committee were asked to consider two subjects which it is as well to keep distinct in one's mind. Its first duty was to review the present arrangements in England and Wales for bringing to trial people charged with criminal offences, with a view to ensuring that cases are brought before the courts expeditiously. Its second duty was to consider what improvements can be made in the arrangements for providing the courts with the information necessary to enable them to select the most appropriate treatment for offenders. There is, of course, a close relation between these two problems, but, as I say, it is convenient to keep them distinct.

The second part of the Committee's terms of reference raises most important questions, but, with one exception, which is dealt with in the Bill, they are matters which do not require legislation. Most of what I shall have to say this afternoon will therefore be confined to the first part of the Committee's terms of reference, but I do not wish it to be thought on that account that the recommendations made by the Committee in the second part of their Report are any the less important, and I shall have a word or two to say about them later on.

The Committee were concerned only with persons committed for trial or sentence at the superior courts; that is to say, courts of Assize or Quarter Sessions. The Committee had the benefit of an inquiry made by the Home Office Research Unit into the length of time that persons do in fact spend awaiting trial and sentence. This showed that the waiting periods at present are in some cases far too long.

The figures which the Streatfeild Committee give in their Report relate to the year 1957, but, as they say, it is unlikely that the general pattern has changed significantly since then. These figures show that the average waiting period before trial is five weeks, but it can range from less than two weeks to over four months. In 1957 over 1,200 people had to wait more than three months and 400 for more than four months before being brought to trial. In considering the figures, it is important to remember that 40 per cent. of those committed for trial are committed in custody and not on bail. Of those committed, 76 per cent. plead guilty at their trial. Of the remaining 24 per cent., who plead not guilty, 7 per cent., some 1,700 people, were committed in custody. Of these 1,700, 300 were subsequently acquitted after having spent a varying length of time in custody awaiting trial.

My Lords, it is of course inevitable in some cases that people who are found to be not guilty should spend some time in prison before they are acquitted, but society clearly owes a duty to such people to ensure that the waiting period is as short as possible. The same is true, though perhaps to a lesser degree, of those who are subsequently convicted. The Streatfeild Committee, however, found that in as many as 5,000 cases a year—nearly a quarter of the whole—the waiting period is longer than eight weeks and that, as I have said, 1,200 wait for more than twelve weeks, and another 400 wait for more than sixteen weeks.

The Committee said they regarded these last figures as indefensible, and I think most of your Lordships would agree that this is not too strong a word. No doubt, as the Committee said, the position in this country compares favourably with that in other countries, but that is no reason for complacency. The Committee gave some excellent reasons in paragraphs 15 to 18 of the Report why delays of this kind should be avoided if at all possible, and I refer those to your Lordships.

The Committee therefore concluded that the object to be aimed at should be that no one should have to wait for more than eight weeks before he is tried.

The Committee contrasted the waiting period at what they called the continuous courts—the Central Criminal Court and the Crown Courts at Liverpool and Manchester, which are in virtually permanent session throughout the year—and the waiting period at Assizes and quarter sessions. As your Lordships know, Assizes are held only three times a year at most of the Assize towns, though in the case of the larger towns, such as Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham, there are four Assizes a year. There are also long intervals between the sittings of quarter sessions, although they are not necessarily confined to four sittings a year.

Not unnaturally, the Committee found that the waiting periods were much shorter at the continuous courts than at the other courts, and they came to the conclusion that what was needed was a change in the organisation of Assizes and quarter sessions which would bring them more closely into line with the continuous courts.

Your Lordships may wonder why the Committee did not take what may at first sight seem the obvious course of recommending an extension of the system of Crown Courts on the lines of those at Liverpool and Manchester, which have worked so well since they were first set up in 1956. The Committee fully recognised the great merits of Crown Courts, but they thought these tended to be outweighed by the risk of staleness and the sense of isolation to which Judges of the Crown Courts are exposed. After giving careful consideration to the Committee's views on this subject, the Government have come to the conclusion that they ought to be accepted, at any rate for the time being. It may well be that the objections to the Crown Court system to which the Committee drew attention can be overcome, but I think that there is no doubt that the Assize system to which we have been so long accustomed is preferable if only it can be reorganised and brought up to date.

What we propose is that this should be done on the lines recommended by the Streatfeild Committee. They thought that on each of the seven circuits into which the country is divided for Assize purposes the itineraries of the Judges should be altered so as to enable Assizes to be held simultaneously at more than one town on each circuit. The Committee have set out in their Report a detailed plan for the reorganisation of the itineraries of the Judges on the lines worked out by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chief Justice. Under this scheme each circuit will in effect be divided into two so far as the itineraries of the Judges are concerned, thus enabling the Judges to spend much longer at each of the busier towns and to visit them more often. This reform is urgently needed, not only in order to enable criminal cases to be brought to trial more quickly but also in order to ensure the more speedy disposal of civil business at Assizes.

At present, in spite of the increase in the number of Judges which Parliament authorised a year ago, the delays are most unsatisfactory and at many of the busier Assizes such as Durham, Leeds and Birmingham, litigants find their cases being postponed not only for one Assize, but often for two, and the delays at some Assize towns have been such that many actions are settled on unsatisfactory terms because there is no early prospect of their being tried.

The reorganisation of the itineraries of the Judges does not need legislation, for it can be dealt with by means of an Order in Council made under the Supreme Court of Judicature Act, 1925, and I hope we shall be able to bring the new arrangements into force in time for the Summer Assizes next year.

But more Judges will be needed for this purpose and Clause 1 of the Bill accordingly authorises the appointment of five more High Court Judges beyond the present statutory maximum of 48. With the latest appointment to the High Court Bench, which has just been announced, the last vacancy on the Bench as the law now stands has been filled and it is essential that there should be power to appoint more Judges. I am not saying to your Lordships that five more appointments will necessarily be needed in the Queen's Bench Division, and indeed I hope it will be possible to work the new Streatfeild itineraries with fewer than that. But it is important that there should be some reserve for contingencies and, indeed, that I should be in a position to take account of the needs of the other Divisions. For example, as I have told your Lordships on a previous occasion, I am anxious gradually to replace the Divorce Commissioners by High Court Judges and I hope that these new powers will enable further appointments to be made in the Divorce Division in due course. If the circuits are split in two there follows the need for assistant clerks of Assize, and there is power to appoint them under Clause 2 of the Bill.

The need for Clause 3 springs from the new arrangements which the Lord Chief Justice and I have in mind for the Assizes on the North-Eastern circuit. That causes a need for a new High Sheriff when Leeds and Sheffield Assizes sit simultaneously. For this purpose the Sheffield Division will be known as Hallamshire. I should like to say that I have discussed this matter with my noble friend Lord Scarbrough, who is the Lord Lieutenant of the West Riding, and he supports the view put forward in the Bill.

I now turn to quarter sessions. The Streatfeild Committee thought that Quarter Sessions, in both counties and boroughs should, like Assizes, sit more often in order to enable cases to be tried within eight weeks of committal. In order to achieve this, they recommended that quarter sessions should be given the maximum flexibility in arranging their business and should be able to sit as often as might be necessary. Provision is made for this by Clause 4 of the Bill. The principal effect of this clause is to remove all restrictions on the times at which quarter sessions may sit, so that they will be free to arrange their timetables to the best possible advantage and dispose of cases with the least possible delay. They will remain subject only to the condition that they must continue to meet not fewer than four times a year, and in view of this it has seemed unnecessary to abandon the ancient title of "quarter sessions".

The clause will permit quarter sessions to arrange as many fixed sittings in the year as their business demands. They will also be able to hold additional "special" or intermediate sittings by adjournment, at which the business to be taken will be entirely at their discretion. By this means it will be possible for them, as the Streatfeild Committee recommend, to arrange special sittings to take a particular class of business—for example, appeals or committals for sentence—without having to deal with any cases which may have been committed for trial since they last met, though they will be free to try these also, or some of them, if they wish.

The ideal I am aiming at is that in every part of the country neighbouring quarter sessions should co-ordinate their arrangements and adjust their timetables so as to ensure that, in any part of the country and at any time of the year, there will always be a sitting of a court due to be held somewhere within a convenient distance to which cases can be committed under the convenient court procedure with a reasonable certainty that they will be disposed of within eight weeks.

Clearly it is best that these matters should be settled locally, and I have no reason to suppose that they will not be. But subsection (1) of Clause 4 gives me a residuary power to direct that quarter sessions for any county or borough should be held at such times as may be necessary for the prompt disposal of business.

I think I ought perhaps to make a brief mention of subsection (4) of Clause 4 which is not based on any recommendation made by the Streatfeild Committee. It will enable the legally qualified chairman of any county sessions outside London to deal with a case by himself if no lay justice is available and the chairman thinks that it would be undesirable, owing to the delays involved, to postpone the hearing in order to enable a lay justice to attend. The present need for at least one lay justice to sit with the chairman or deputy chairman can impose a heavy burden on the justices in the busier counties like Middlesex and Kent, more particularly during the hearing of the longer cases which may take several days.

I should like to stress, my Lords, that the very last thing I want to do is to squeeze out the lay magistrates, for whose part in the administration of justice throughout the country I need hardly say I have the greatest admiration, although my admiration has shown itself only in the somewhat doubtful way of addressing them on no fewer than forty occasions since I became Lord Chancellor. But I am satisfied that nothing in subsection (4) will have this effect, for it provides quite clearly that the legally qualified chairman is not to sit alone unless he is satisfied that an adjournment would be undesirable having regard to the delays involved.

The Streatfeild Committee made a number of other recommendations about county and borough quarter sessions to which we have given effect in Clauses 5, 6 and 7. In view of the increased number of sittings of quarter sessions which may be expected when the new arrangements come into farce it is essential to give some relief to Recorders, who are, of course, all of them barristers in active practice at the Bar. Clause 6 will accordingly enable a Recorder to appoint a deputy to sit for him at any number of sessions in excess of four, but the Recorder himself must still sit at not less than four sessions a year. Then in Clause 7 we have provided that Deputy Recorders are in future to be paid by the borough council and no longer out of the Recorder's own pocket, which I am sure your Lordships will agree is only right and proper. Clause 7 will also enable me to make new arrangements for the remuneration of Recorders and Deputy and Assistant Recorders, as well as of the paid chairmen and deputy chairmen of county sessions, in a way which will, I hope, take account of the very heavy burden of work now falling on the busier courts and will bring about some standardisation of salaries and enable them to be kept in line with the salaries paid to other judicial officers.

I have dealt with the new arrangements I hope to see introduced in the course of next year for the reorganisation of Assizes and quarter sessions. I now turn to the other recommendations made by the Streatfeild Committee with a view to reducing the delays which take place before a person is brought to trial. The Committee thought that one way of doing this would be to relieve the burden on the superior courts by extending the jurisdiction of the lower courts. To this end they recommended that some of the offences at present triable only at Assizes should be triable at quarter sessions. These included bigamy and cases of intercourse with girls between 13 and 16.

The Committee also recommended that the jurisdiction of the magistrates to try indictable offences should be extended to cover a number of offences, the most import of which are breaking and entering premises other than dwelling-houses. Effect is given to these recommendations by Clause 9 of the Bill, and I hope that these extensions of jurisdiction will go some way towards easing the burdens falling on Assizes and quarter sessions respectively. There are safeguards which I will elaborate later if it is desired.

The other way in Which the Streatfeild Committee thought that cases could be brought to trial more quickly than at present was by an extended use of the "convenient court" procedure. As your Lordships know, cases are normally committed for trial to the Assize court or quarter sessions for the area where the committing justices act. But the magistrates have power, if a case will have to wait more than a month for trial at the local court, to send it to some other convenient court if they think this would be desirable in order to expedite the trial or save expense. This power was first introduced in 1925, but it has not been used as much as it might have been, partly because there were no regular arrangements for coordinating the dates on which neighbouring courts sit. Such arrangements will in future exist, as a result of the changes in quarter sessions organisation introduced by Clause 4 of this Bill.

Clause 12 extends the use of this procedure by making it obligatory for the magistrates to follow it in cases where the accused is unlikely to be tried or otherwise dealt with within eight weeks of his committal, unless they are satisfied that there are circumstances which would make the use of the power undesirable. For instance, the nearest convenient court to which the magistrates might otherwise decide to commit a case might be the Assize at the last town on a circuit. But if the lists of that town were known to be overcrowded, the magistrate would have a good reason for not sending cases to it. There is a further extension of the convenient court procedure in Clause 12, in that it is made applicable not only to the committal of accused persons for trial, but also to the committal of offenders who have been convicted by the magistrates, to quarter sessions to be sentenced or otherwise dealt with.

The Streatfeild Committee recognised that increased use of the convenient court procedure, and the provisions for the transfer of cases from one court of Assize or quarter sessions to another, would require some financial adjustment between the local authorities concerned and provision is made for this in Clause 15. Again, I shall be very glad to explain further if anyone raises a question.

With the introduction of the new Assize itineraries it should be possible for Assizes to take the longer cases and so relieve quarter sessions of cases of a kind for which they are not really suited. The Streatfeild Committee thought one of the reasons which the magistrates should be entitled to take into account when deciding whether or not to send a case for trial at Assizes, was the probable length of the trial, and subsection (2) of Clause 11 will enable them to do this.

Although the Streatfeild Committee believed that the changes of organisation and jurisdiction which they recommended would enable cases to be brought to trial more speedily than they are today, they recognised that there would still be cases in which accused persons are bound to wait in custody for some time before being dealt with. To mitigate the effect of this and to remove a cause of grievance they recommended that the length of any sentence of imprisonment, corrective training or preventive detention, should be reduced by the period spent in custody after committal by the magistrates, and provision is made for this by subsection (2) of Clause 14. A minor anomaly will be put right by subsection (1) of that clause, which provides that sentences imposed at Assizes are to take effect from the day on which they are imposed and not, as at present, from the Commission Day.

Finally, my Lords, I come to the one feature in the Bill which arises out of the recommendations in the second part of the Streatfeild Committee's Report, dealing with the arrangements for providing the courts with the information necessary to enable them to select the most appropriate treatment for offenders. This part of the Report opens with a valuable general statement of principles which I should like to commend to the attention of all who have the responsibility of passing sentence on convicted offenders. I refer to chapter 9.

The Committee considered the problem from two aspects. The first was the provision of general information about sentencing for the assistance of the courts. On this I will simply say that the Government certainly intend to do all they can to meet the various points the Committee made. The second aspect of the subject was the provision of information relating to individual offenders, and here the Committee made a series of recommendations for improving the arrangements by which courts can be given information about an offender's personal circumstances and background before they decide how best to deal with him. These are matters which can be dealt with by administrative action, and my right honourable friend and I are studying how the Committee's recommendations can best be implemented.

The one point arising from the second part of the Report which does require legislation, since it affects criminal procedure, is dealt with in Clause 13, which is designed to mitigate the delays which may otherwise result if a case is adjourned after conviction so that a report on the offender can be obtained before sentence is passed. Subsections (1) and (2) will permit such a case to be resumed before some other court having jurisdiction to deal with the offence, if that would enable it to be disposed of more quickly than adjournment to a later sitting of the court which tried the case. Subsection (3) will permit quarter sessions to resume such a case, notwithstanding that the same members of the court may not be available to deal with it.

My Lords, I do not think the Government can pay the Streatfeild Committee any greater compliment, or show their appreciation of its work in any better way, than by introducing this Bill which seeks to do what it has recommended. We are greatly indebted to it for its labours and constructive proposals, and are confident that the implementation of those proposals will confer notable improvements on the system of administration of justice in this country, of which we are so rightly proud. In that spirit I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Lord Chancellor.)

2.44 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to begin by joining the noble and learned Viscount in expressing appreciation and thanks to the Streatfeild Committee for their very arduous labour extending over 2½ years which resulted in this most valuable social and historic document. It is a Report which I would recommend everybody interested in the social life of this country to study, and I can assure them that they will be amply rewarded in doing so. It sets out the case with the utmost clarity, as one would expect from Mr. Justice Streatfeild and his Committee, and it must be a source of gratification to them that the Government have seen fit to introduce legislation to implement the first part of their Report at so early a stage. One does not often present bouquets to the noble and learned Viscount and his Government, but on this occasion I should like to compliment them on having set up this Committee, with its very important terms of reference, and on having accepted and implemented its recommendations in so short a time.

As the noble and learned Viscount said, the Report is in two parts and this Bill deals almost entirely with the first part of the terms of reference to the Committee—namely, the proposals for expediting the hearing of cases of persons charged with criminal offences. I propose, in the first instance, to say a word about that. The noble and learned Viscount has explained in some detail what is the evil that it is designed to remedy; that there are cases, a considerable number of cases, of persons who are remanded in custody for long periods, sometimes extending to four months, and even more than that, before they are finally tried. This is most undesirable for all the reasons that he gave—among them, that a certain number of the accused are eventually acquitted, and it is most unfortunate that people who are eventually acquitted should have to spend long terms in custody before their trial.

The figures given in the Report and quoted by the noble and learned Viscount relate to the year 1957 and, in some cases, I think, to 1958. But since then the amount of crime has substantially increased, and I regret to say that it shows no sign of coming to a standstill, still less of being reduced. I am afraid that the evil to-day is greater than was the evil at the time the Committee reported. But one of the incidental evils is that our prisons are occupied with a substantial number of persons who are awaiting trial and to that extent, therefore, they are increasing the amount of overcrowding. The Bill, by and large, follows the recommendations of the Streatfeild Committee as to the first half. Some of them are debatable. Indeed, there is one particular recommendation, that of increasing the powers of the magistrates' courts to deal with certain offences, which the Law Society in particular think is ill-advised. I do not propose to develop that at this stage. That particular point—and there are many others—can be more appropriately dealt with at the later stages of the consideration of the Bill. In fact, in my view they are not at all major questions and it would not be right to take up the time of the House on matters of detail which the noble and learned Viscount has very lucidly explained to the House.

But I want to ask the noble and learned Viscount a number of questions and to deal with a number of more general points that arise on the Bill, and the first is this: How far do the Government consider that this Bill meets the difficulty, having regard to the increasing volume of crime? As I have indicated, the figures upon which the Report is based are already somewhat out of date, and one would like an assurance that there is some slack left so that we can take care of any substantial increase of crime and so that we shall not in the course of a very short time find ourselves in the same position as we are in to-day. My next point is that I should like the noble and learned Viscount to elaborate on the powers which he asks to be conferred on him under Clause 4 (3) of the Bill. This is what the clause says: The Lord Chancellor may by rules made by statutory instrument, which shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament, provide for such arrangements to be made for the disposal of business at courts of quarter sessions as appear to him desirable; … These are very wide powers but they are also very vague, and I should like to know what the noble and learned Viscount has in mind. Could not these powers that he requires be somewhat more clearly set out and more definitely circumscribed? As he knows, the power of Parliament to annul a statutory instrument is not really an effective one; in any case Parliament has to take or leave the instrument, and it is not very often that it takes the course of not accepting an instrument, even though it may be satisfactory only in part. I should have thought that the noble and learned Viscount might at least undertake to submit to Parliament a draft instrument for discussion in the first instance, before he introduces the statutory instrument, I should be glad to have his views about that. He is, of course, dealing with the liberty of the subject, and he seems to me to be seeking wide and undefined powers.

The noble and learned Viscount has referred to Clause 1, which empowers him to increase the maximum number of High Court Judges from 48 to 53. I have no quarrel with that and I appreciate what the noble and learned Viscount has said: that he may not necessarily require them all at once. The House may have seen some recent discussions in The Times as to whether we have available a sufficient number of people who are qualified to act as High Court Judges—whether their quality is good enough—and, as a corollary to that, whether, if he did cream off the best of them, the quality of the Bar that would be left would be sufficiently high to maintain the great prestige that the Bar has at the present time. There are differing views about it. I do not propose to express a personal opinion, because my own present-day personal experience is limited and I have not the privilege of knowing a great many members of the Bar. But there are two views about it, and, speaking as a solicitor who sometimes has to brief counsel, I am bound to say that it is difficult to find really good people for all the occasions when one needs to get counsel. From that point of view it would seem to me, speaking without authority, that there is a considerable shortage to-day of really good people, and if you are going to cream them off by taking off the best of them to appoint as High Court Judges, it will very much dilute the quality of those that remain.

Furthermore, that is not the end of the story. I imagine that if you have 53 Judges, then, by natural causes every year—I tried to make a rough calculation based on the expectation of life and promotion and retirement and so on—you might have to appoint six or seven Judges to fill the natural vacancies that would arise; and the question is, have we really got the quality and are they likely to come forward? I should like to have the noble and learned Viscount's views on that point. I am glad to see that the Lord Chief Justice is to speak, and perhaps he would venture to say a word on this point as well. I see that the Chairman of the Bar Council, Mr. Geoffrey Lawrence, has expressed his own view on the matter; he thinks there is no difficulty about it at all; that the quality is quite high. But, of course, without making any imputations against the Chairman of the Bar Council, he would be predisposed to take that view, and I should like to have other views as well.

One question is how we are to deal with this recruitment of High Court Judges. I have in the past suggested that one method would be to regard the Judiciary as a kind of ladder; that people might be appointed in the first instance as stipendiary magistrates or county court judges and that there should be a possibility, a real possibility, of promotion all the way up from the beginning. Even from the point of a master of the High Court or a registrar of a county court there ought to be a possibility of promotion. And I say "a real possibility" because it is no good saying that the possibility exists already; I know it does, but the number of county court judges who have been promoted to High Court judgeships could, I imagine, be counted on the fingers of one hand, certainly on the fingers of two, and there must be, and I know there are, far more county court judges than that who are capable of filling High Court judgeships. I should like to have an assurance from the noble and learned Viscount that that will be seriously considered.

Now when we are considering crime and criminal work I should have thought that stipendiary magistrates up and down the country were eminently suitable for promotion to the kind of work for which we are now about to appoint High Court Judges. I should like to know whether there is any inherent difficulty in promoting the best of them to the position of High Court Judges or to recorderships or as the new chairmen of quarter sessions who are going to be paid.

There is one other aspect I would mention, and that is to ask whether there is any reason why suitably qualified solicitors should not be appointed to positions in the Judiciary and in due course take their place for promotion. I know personally a large number of solicitors who would fill these posts admirably. They have all the qualities necessary: the judicial, objective mind, the legal knowledge, in many ways the personal experience, and contact with individuals, which is sometimes lacking in the case of members of the Bar. I do not know whether this would require legislation or whether it is possible to do it without legislation. I know that there are masters at the High Court and registrars in the county courts who are solicitors, and I wonder whether the other branch of the profession could not be brought into this field of the Judiciary.

Now I would ask a question about recommendation (5) (c) of the Committee, which I do not see directly implemented in the Bill, and that is that a certain number of Judges should hold supplementary Assizes in the latter half of September in areas where there is an accumulation of cases waiting a long time for trial because of the long vacation. I take it that that can be carried out without legislation because the Bill makes no provision for it. This involves encroachment on a sacred principle: that in no circumstances must the Judiciary work in the months of August and September. I have on several occasions referred to these extremely long holidays, which interfere, as has been pointed out in the Report, with the speedy trial of cases of people who are charged with offences.

If it is intended to go as far as this, I wonder whether one could not go a little beyond this rather timid approach of having just two or three Judges acting as a sort of flying squad in the second part of September. I am not suggesting at this stage that we should depart from the general doctrine of having no High Courts, apart from Vacation Courts, sitting in these two months, but I should have thought that we could be a little more venturesome and use a number of Judges to a greater extent than is proposed even in the recommendation. I do not know whether the noble and learned Viscount has had conversations with the Judges on this point and what has been the result of any such conversations; but I should have thought that they would be quite willing to agree that a number of them in rotation should take part in this important work.

I want now to say a word about the reasonable remuneration which it is proposed to pay to recorders, deputy and assistant recorders and also, I understand, to chairmen and deputy chairmen of county quarter sessions, who will, under the Bill, in future have to be legally qualified persons. I am glad that the Government are accepting this recommendation, because it is high time that recorders were paid a reasonable remuneration. As the Report points out, the position is somewhat uneven: some are fairly paid, some work for an honorarium, and even those who are paid are usually making a considerable sacrifice. The theory was that it was a great honour to be a recorder, and that somehow there were some benefits to be obtained by a practitioner who accepted the position. That is hardly the case to-day. To-day, it involves an intolerable sacrifice on the part of persons who occupy these positions which we have no right to ask them to accept.

It is all very well for people who give of their time freely in voluntary work, but when it comes to giving of their earning time and their earning capacity and so depriving themselves of a portion of their livelihood, I think it is asking too much; and I hope that when the noble and learned Viscount comes to fix the remuneration he will fix it adequately, having in mind the sacrifices which these officers are being asked to make, and particularly having regard to the extended period over which they will now have to carry out their duties in order to meet the problem. I see in the Report that there is a possibility of making payment on a sessional basis. I would rather deprecate that. I do not think that it is consistent with the dignity of the office that the holder of it should be paid so much a session. I hope it will be a remuneration which will be paid on an annual basis.

The Report points out one extraordinary anomaly—namely, that even though the payment of recorders is in many cases very small indeed, almost amounting to an honorarium, they are not entitled to charge their travelling, subsistence and other expenses for the purpose of Income Tax. I believe that that is not statutory but is the practice of the Inland Revenue authorities. I hope that that will be put right. The expenses incurred in travelling to do one's job are as much a part of one's expenses as ordinary business expenses, and I see no reason why there should be any differentiation between these and other persons.

My last point on this part of the Report is on the question of the costs of the prosecution in indictable cases. I have been asked to raise this point by the County Councils Association, and I understand that the Association of Municipal Corporations are also supporting the plea which I am about to make. As the House will know, the present general principle is that the costs of the prosecution fall upon the county or county borough council in whose area the crime was committed. The point that is made by the local authorities is that these costs ought to be met by the Treasury, as is the case with the costs of defence where the person is legally aided. In the first place, the mobility of criminals to-day is such that it is all very easy for them to operate systematically over a wide area. The hue and cry may often go far beyond the areas where they happen to live, and there is no longer any special significance in the particular locality in which an offence may happen to be committed.

An outstanding example is the Rouse murder case of 1931, in which the murderer conveyed his victim from a county in the South of England where he was living to Northamptonshire, where he committed the actual murder, although his ultimate destination appears to have been a county further to the North. He was not in any way connected with the County of Northamptonshire, but the costs of the prosecution, amounting to £1,700, cost the Northamptonshire County Council a halfpenny rate. They point out that, to add insult to injury, the county council even had to pay in the same case the costs of a charge of bigamy alleged to have been committed in the South of England, even though the prosecution decided in the end not to proceed with that case. They then point out that it seems unreasonable that the ratepayers of a particular area should be called upon to bear the costs of bringing to trial a criminal whose offence had no connection whatever with their area other than some such circumstance as the existence of a government office in whose area an offence may be deemed technically to have been committed.

A glaring example of this was the prosecution about a year ago of a man who lived at Olney in Buckinghamshire, who was convicted on a number of tax offences at the Northampton Assizes. The only reason for proceedings being instituted in Northampton was that the office of the No. 2 Tax District happens to be there. This office covered a wide area which included Olney in Buckinghamshire. Apparently the view was taken that, since certain false returns must be deemed to have been made at Northampton, at the office of the tax district, the proceedings should be instituted there. The trial of that case lasted three weeks, the costs of the prosecution amounted to £3,186, and the local authority was called upon to bear the costs which were equivalent to a threepenny rate. I will not weary the House by developing this point further, but I hope that the Government will see their way to considering this question of bearing the costs of the prosecution in the same way as to-day they bear the costs of a defence.

Now I want to say a word about the other part of the Streatfeild Report which the noble and learned Viscount has touched on but which he has not dealt with except for one small section of the Bill—that is, the part of the Report which deals with the information necessary to enable the sentencer, as he is described in the Report, to select the most appropriate treatment for offenders. It is hardly necessary for me to point out that the function of a court is two-fold. The first is to decide on the question of innocence or guilt, but the equally important question of what is the appropriate treatment to be afforded to the offender has also to be decided. The courts are, of course, well qualified to deal with the question of innocence or guilt, but in many cases they are hardly qualified to deal with the question of sentence.

In the olden days, as the Report points out, it was simply a matter of passing a sentence commensurate with the seriousness of the crime, but to-day, with the advance of criminology, social science and so on, we take the view that other factors have to be taken into account, and the purpose of a sentence is to be a deterrent it is punitive; but it must also be reformative. All these factors have to be taken into consideration. It is therefore of the greatest importance that the court inflicting sentence should have adequate information to enable them to consider all three aspects of the punishment before actually deciding upon the sentence. The Streatfeild Committee in this Report have gone at great length into these factors—the kind of information that is needed, who should give it, and so on, and it is, in fact, a most fascinating document.

This Report was published at the time when the Criminal Justice Bill was in Committee in another place, and a number of members of the Committee asked that this part of the Report should be taken into consideration in the Criminal Justice Bill of this year. The Attorney General said: If we are to make a big reform following upon this Report, it really is not possible to divorce Part B from Part A and to treat them entirely distinctly. The two parts must fit into the new pattern. Legislation will be required for the implementation of that pattern. Now, my Lords, if that statement means anything it means to me: "When we come to implement the Report of the Committee we shall incorporate both parts of it in the projected legislation". Here we have the legislation but scarcely any reference is made to the recommendations in Part B; they are almost completely ignored. The point was raised again in this House when the same Bill came before us, and on the Report stage the noble and learned Viscount made this statement [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 232 (No. 90), col. 26]: …the Government have accepted the recommendations of the Streatfeild Committee, which means that they fully endorse the view that every sentence should be based on comprehensive information about the individual offender. So there is no doubt about the need to get these full reports on the lines of the Streatfeild Committee Report, before sentence is passed.

The noble and learned Viscount went on to say that the Government were already preparing to take all necessary action with a view to bringing to the notice of those concerned the recommendations in Part B of the Report and to facilitating their implementation. But I understood him to say this afternoon that legislation was not necessary, and it could be achieved by administrative machinery. He also thought that flexibility was necessary and that it was undesirable to lay down a fixed form of Inquiry in every case; and there I agree with him.

The issue really comes to this. The Government accept the Report, they accept the importance of providing the courts with the information before passing sentence, and it is really a question of whether or not legislation is necessary to achieve some of the recommendations in the Report. It is true that much is already being done along the lines of the Report by many judicial authorities, but there is a minority where the information is not being provided or used, and it is for this minority that legislation is required. There are still too many authorities who take the view that this new-fangled stuff about probation officers, reports and so on, is just a lot of nonsense; that the inflicting of the sentence is going to be the deterrent; that that is all there is to be done about it, and that the question of reformation of the criminal or taking all the circumstances into account simply does not arise.

The Committee, itself, gave some consideration to the question of whether legislation would be necessary to implement this part of the Report and this is what they say, in their own words: A number of these recommendations will require legislation, but except in obvious cases, we have not attempted to say, ourselves, the kind of legislation that would be required. I feel, therefore, that the Government have neglected this part of the Report, which I submit is as valuable as the first part, and they are apparently not proposing to do anything that may be necessary by way of legislation in order to implement it. I have already expressed the view that, on the whole, the machinery recommended in the first part of the Report has been satisfactorily translated into legislation, but I feel it is a great pity that the corollary to that, the section which the Attorney-General in another place said earlier is going to be taken together with the first part of the Report, is not being implemented so far as it is necessary to do so by legislation. I hope that there may be ample opportunities, as the Bill proceeds through this House, to discuss this part of the Report at greater length.

The House will have gathered, therefore, that I welcome the Bill, with qualifications. I think there is a good deal that will have to be considered as we proceed, but I hope that by the time the Bill leaves the House, after we have given adequate time to it, we shall have been able to put right such defects as at present exist.

3.10 p.m.


My Lords, may I say at once that I welcome this Bill. It may seem to some to be highly technical, but I think that it carries out all that is necessary by way of legislation to implement the Report of the Streatfeild Committee. Those recommendations, it seems to me, go a long way to improving the administration of criminal law, and I certainly think that the authors deserve sincere congratulations. So far as principles are concerned, of course the most important one at which they arrived was the decision that the increase in crime and work generally should be dealt with by a system of extended Assizes rather than by Crown Courts. That, I think, was a difficult decision for them to arrive at. There are arguments on both sides. But I, for one, am quite clear in my own mind that they have arrived at the right decision. I say that against my own personal interests, because I think that the system of extended Assizes is far more difficult to adminster.

May I mention just a few of the matters that weigh with me? It has always seemed to me that the virtue of our Assize system is that the criminal law is administered by what I call the "anonymous Judge". With something like 30 Queen's Bench Judges travelling round the country, one Assize town sees a particular Judge only once in a comparatively long time. They do not know him personally, and he does not know the local officials, the police, the lawyers or, indeed, the prisoners. How different is that from a Judge of a Crown Court, who has to live in the locality, who has to know all the officials, who comes to know all the police, the lawyers and, only too often, the prisoners who come back again and again before him.

Again, there are, as it seems to me, real dangers in the system of Crown Courts. Let me say at once that, of course, there are many notable exceptions today; but. looking to the future it seems to me that it has inherent dangers in the fact that the Judge sitting there trying crime day in and day out is bound to become stale and tray, indeed, become, as it is called, prosecution-minded. Compare that with the Assize Judge, who may be trying crime for something like only three weeks at a time and then goes off to varied duties—it may be the commercial court, it may be civil work, it may be a Divisional Court or a Court of Criminal Appeal. I would add that, having regard to those dangers, I personally think it is difficult—it is bound to be difficult—to get a Judge of the right qualities to man a Crown Court. As I have said, he must live in the locality, he must know the people, and yet he must remain in comparative isolation. Above all, he has to be prepared to try, almost continuously, these sordid cases without becoming stale. Indeed, it seems to me more than any human being can do to continue that work for more than a comparatively few years. How often have I heard, both at the Bar and, indeed, on the Bench, of the prisoner in a provincial town who will say to this legal adviser, "Can't I be tried by the red Judge and not by the local judge?"! It is the fact that the anonymous Judge inspires confidence.

Such experience as I have had leads me unhesitatingly to the conclusion that, if it can be worked, an extended Assize system is by far and away the better and the safer system—I say "if it can be extended and adapted", because it requires the appointment of more Queen's Bench Judges, and it is clear that there are some who deplore that. No one is more conscious than I am of the dangers of which I may call dilution, but I am far from believing that we have anywhere near reached that mark. There are, I am sure, many members of the Bar still well fitted to become Judges. Indeed, it would be odd if it were not so. We in this country have always prided ourselves on having one of the strongest Bars, and it would be odd in those circumstances if there were not a sufficient number of the right calibre to be High Court Judges. May I look at it from a slightly different way? I happened to look up and find that the population of England and Wales in 1861 was (taking round figures) 20 million, and the three Common Law Courts then—Queen's Bench, Exchequer and Common Pleas—consisted of 18 Judges. The corresponding figure to-day, at the moment, is 32. But the population is something like 45 million, so there is little doubt that the number of judicial appointments has by no means kept step with the increase in the population. Quite apart from that, I think it is well recognised that we have, per head of the population, less judge-power in this country than any other country in the world has.

Now, members of the jury—I am sorry; I should have said "Members of the House of Lords", but I have just come back from the Court at Liverpool—there is the civil work to remember. Of course, that did not concern the members of the Streatfeild Committee, except incidentally, but it is important to-day that the civil work on Assize should be dealt with, and dealt with expeditiously. One of the objects of this extended Assize scheme is to allow sufficient time, not merely for crime to be dealt with but also for the civil cases—which, unfortunately, only too often to-day have to be ignored—to be dealt with as and when they are ready for trial. Of course, no one can tell what will happen in the future. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Silkin, has said, crime is increasing. I think the tendency is for there to be more civil work. Therefore, it may be that at some time in the future we shall have to consider the matter again. But certainly at the moment I am quite satisfied in my own mind that we ought to try to administer the law as recommended by the Streatfeild Committee.

Now, one word on what I would refer to as "the flying squad". The noble and learned Lord, Lord Silkin, referred to the fact that there was no mention in this Bill that a certain number of Judges should, as recommended by the Report, go out in September to deal with any arrears of crime where necessary. For my part, I do not think that any legislation is required. I certainly have had it well in mind and have tried, I hope successfully, to carry the Judges with me. After all, there is a precedent in that every year one Judge goes down in September to the Central Criminal Court, which is in the nature of an Assize; and it is contemplated that, say, up to five should be available to go to that part of the country where they are most needed. Of course, we all dislike anything which curtails our vacations. I think that is only human nature. Indeed, I would remind the House that the Judges gave up that part of their vacation which fell in October. I know the noble Lord will not take offence if I say that the only people who objected to that were the solicitors.

Finally, as to the recommendations in Part B, certainly so far as the Judges are concerned that part of the recommendations has not been, and will not be, ignored. I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Silkin, that it is important, and I would only quote what I said in giving evidence before that Committee. I said, and I sincerely believe, that sentencing is the most difficult task that any judge can have, and that he can never have enough information on which to do it. Clauses 13 and 14 of this Bill do implement Part B of the Report, and so far as I know those matters covered in those clauses are the only ones which require legislation. The rest, as it seems to me, can be done by direction and co-operation and, above all, by good will.

3.32 p.m.


My Lords, I am rather apprehensive in following immediately after the noble and learned Lord Chief Justice, because if I say anything which displeases him I might well find myself absent for a period of six months in a place which I shall not mention. However, I do not believe that he will take any umbrage at any observations which I have to make. I think this is a very important Bill, and Her Majesty's Government should be congratulated upon having introduced such a useful measure. So far as the Report of Mr. Justice Streatfeild and his colleagues is concerned, this is not only an important document but an interesting one. I must confess that generally when I read these reports I find them important but certainly not interesting reading; however, this is a very interesting Report. I see that in one place the honourable Mr. Justice Streatfeild has embarked upon poetry, which, of course, merely indicates me artistic and cultural nature of his approach to this problem.

I do not propose to say very much to-day, because it is quite clear from the presence of the noble and learned Lord Chief Justice and other noble Lords that there are many experts in your Lordships' House, and it would be quite out of order if I were to "wade in" and take up public time. However, there is one matter to which my attention has been drawn in other quarters, and that is the jurisdiction of petty sessions. I was wondering whether the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor would care to consider the question of any further increase in the jurisdiction of the petty sessional courts. There is always a certain reluctance, and indeed nervousness, about increasing the jurisdiction of lay magistrates. I would suggest, first of all, that the maximum penalty of six months should be increased to twelve months for each indictable offence. That matter has been discussed, and it is entirely a matter for the Government to decide whether or not it is worthy of further consideration. It might, however, have the effect of relieving the pressure on higher courts.

Then there are certain other offences which, I think, might be tried at petty sessions. I have read the Report in regard to the distinction between warehouse-breaking and ordinary dwelling house-breaking, and I am not at the moment able to follow the Report in that connection. Breaking and entering a warehouse may involve stealing a very large sum of money, whereas breaking into a dwellinghouse may involve stealing a comparatively small sum; and, of course, the very opposite may obtain. But I do feel that if magistrates have power to try warehouse-breaking, they ought to have power to try cases of ordinary house-breaking; that is to say, where a person enters and breaks into a dwellinghouse. There are a few other matters in respect of which I think the magistrates might have increased jurisdiction. I am quite unable to see why they have no jurisdiction in regard to the stealing of horses and sheep. I suppose the real reason is that in some country districts some of the magistrates sitting on the bench are too friendly or too closely related to some of the people who have stolen the horses and sheep, and perhaps find it rather embarrassing. I have heard one or two quite amusing stories in this connection, but it would not be proper for me to repeat them in your Lordships' House. I must apologise for not being here when it was my turn to speak, but I have spoken now because the other noble Lords who are due to speak are not here. I merely put forward these suggestions for the consideration of the Government.

3.36 p.m.


My Lords, I am very grateful for the reception that has been given to this Bill, and I do not in any way resent the points that have been raised. I should like to deal with some of the points which the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has put before the House. The first point was to express doubt as to enlarging the jurisdiction of magistrates' courts. Your Lordships will have observed from the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Meston, that there are certainly two views on that point, but I should like to put this quite generally to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin. At the moment, as Lord Meston pointed out, magistrates' courts can give not only up to six months for a single offence, but up to twelve months for two offences. That is quite a considerable sentence. Without going through the list, I should be very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, if he would look at the existing list and compare it with offences which are very similar to those in the list which cannot be brought within these courts at the present time. However, as he said, that is a point which we might discuss more fully on the Committee stage and, beyond asking him to take that course, I will say no more at the moment.

He also asked me, did I feel that the proposals contained in the Bill would be adequate to deal with the situation as it exists to-day? I think that with the increased numbers of Assizes, with, as I said, the power given to the Judges to remain longer at the larger towns, and also with the increased sittings of quarter sessions, we can cope with the situation as it exists to-day; but, of course, that is a matter which I shall keep examining the whole time. All I can say is that we have designed the Bill to deal with the present situation, with the present high rate of crime.

The noble Lord asked me about the scope of Clause 4 (3). The object of the rules is to govern the arrangement of business by courts of quarter sessions in such a way as to dispose efficiently of their work. The rule-making power is limited to the arrangement of business and does not extend to rules of procedure to be followed by the courts. As the noble Lord will appreciate, from one point of view the clerks of the peace come in in an important way and from another point of view prison governors have to arrange calendars, and so on; and, of course, the rules will have to be concerned with provision for the exchange of information between the committing courts and quarter sessions. If the noble Lord cares to put down the usual exploratory Amendment on Committee stage, I will give him a more complete answer, but I wanted to show him the type of rules I have in mind. When the noble Lord has considered that, he will make up his mind whether it is a matter for negative or affirmative procedure, bearing in mind the subject matter of the rules and the various precedents in that regard. It is a matter which I am always ready to consider, as he knows, but as an ex-Minister he realises, I am certain, that one does not want to over-weight the procedure in the House of Commons in a case where it is not necessary for effective Parliamentary scrutiny. I leave that for his consideration when he has seen the full scope of the rules.

The noble Lord asked whether there was an adequate supply of potential Judges for appointment. I can say this with my hand on my heart. About a year ago, I recommended the appointment of more Judges at one time than had been done since the Restoration in 1660, and I could have found as many more with the greatest of ease. I should think that it would be no exaggeration, though one hesitates to say anything that even sounds like one, to state that I could have found, with the greatest of ease, three for every one I appointed. That is the position as I see it to-day and it does not seem to me that this danger exists. With regard to the future, I would say that the reports which I get from my brethren in all courts is that the standard of performance in learning and sense at the Bar is a very high one to-day.

The noble Lord also asked me about the ladder of promotion. I agree with him that there have not been many, comparatively, from the lower ranks of the Judiciary, though there have been probably more than one thinks at first sight, if one takes the period since the war. This is not an easy subject, because certain people desire to be in the lower ranks for reasons that seem good to them. The noble Lord suggested that stipendiary magistrates might be promoted. Recently I recommended the appointment of a stipendiary magistrate to one judgeship at the Old Bailey. I think that is the sort of thing which the noble Lord had in mind, and I am glad to be able to say to him that I did so only a short time ago. I shall keep his point well before me. On the general matter, I think that it is the experience of all of us who have to consider this question that there is no difficulty in finding good Judges to-day.

The noble Lord asked me about the recommendation in regard to Assizes in the first half of September. There are two points that I want him to have in mind. The first is that, as he knows very well, there has always been a strong body of opinion in his branch of the profession as well as in mine that there is an advantage in a two months' long vacation, for getting work up-to-date and making preparations. The other point, which again he will appreciate, is that a number of courts of quarter sessions sit at the end of September before the new term starts, and I am glad to say that a considerable number of Judges of all degrees, from Members of your Lordships' House to members of the county court bench, are also chairmen of quarter sessions in their spare time, and that allows them to get in a quarter sessions before the term starts. But, of course, we are prepared to consider this matter and keep it in mind.

With regard to remuneration, I would make only this comment on what the noble Lord said. When it is a question of additional qualified chairmen of quarter sessions, who will perhaps take a smaller number of courts, I think that the noble Lord will agree that in these circumstances we should keep the discretion of making the payment one for work done rather than a salary. But I will consider again what he has in mind.

The noble Lord then made the suggestion, which has often been made before, on behalf of the two associations of local authorities, that the central Government should pay the cost of prosecutions. In the nineteenth century the central Government did pay part of the cost, but I understand that the present arrangement was come to as part of the financial arrangements made when the county councils were set up after the Act of 1888. The noble Lord will correct me if I am wrong, but I thought that the costs of prosecution ranked for the 50 per cent. grant out of the police fund, and nobody has suggested to the contrary. So it is not a question of the whole cost having to be met. Even so, the cost can be considerable. I cannot go further than saying that I will consider carefully what has been said, not only because it has been advanced by the noble Lord but because of the bodies on whose behalf he is advancing it. But the noble Lord will not expect me to give any commitment at the present time, nor can I do so.

With regard to the position of Part B of the Report, if the noble Lord will look at paragraph 431, he will see that the Committee say: A number of these recommendations will require legislation, but except in obvious cases, we have not attempted to say, for each recommendation, whether legislation will be necessary. In some cases the need for legislation depends on what is the correct view of the existing law, and it is not for us to decide this; and in others a practice direction of the courts or administrative measures may be found to be an adequate alternative. It may be assumed, that in our view all our recommendations should be implemented by Statute, if necessary. I think it is clear that the Committee are there dealing with the whole Report and not merely with Part B.

Like my noble and learned friend the Lord Chief Justice I cannot think of any other problem in Part B which requires legislation, except the one I have mentioned. But I want to say again what I said in my first speech: that, as regards the provision of general information about sentencing, for the assistance of the courts the Government certainly intend to do all they can to meet the various points which the Committee made. On the second aspect of the subject—namely, the provision of information relating to individual offenders—the Committee have made a series of recommendations for improving the arrangements in that regard. These are matters which can be dealt with by administrative action, and Mr. Butler and I are studying how the Committee's recommendations can best be implemented. I can assure the noble Lord that we are not letting this matter go by default, but if there is any aspect of it which he thinks could be dealt with by legislation I shall be pleased to consider it.

I think those are the main points which were raised. I should like to say I am very glad that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chief Justice found it possible to be with us to-day, and to have his support in regard to the usefulness and validity of the Bill. I would take this opportunity of thanking him for all the work he has done, not only in the evidence which he gave to the Streatfeild Committee, but in his constant help of translating the ideas into practical application.

Since I have had the honour to preside over your Lordships' House I have tried in the sphere of the law, if I may put it this way, to advance on four fronts. The first is to make the courts of justice in this country more convenient for the needs of our people. That is why, for example, I asked your Lordships—and your Lordships agreed with me—to extend the jurisdiction of the local county courts. Secondly, I have tried, by extending legal aid, to make it possible for those who wanted to establish their rights to come to court. Thirdly, I have endeavoured to clear away the dead wood; that is to say, those parts of our system which have gone into obsolescence. Fourthly, my effort has been to harmonise the position of the individual whose rights must be infringed in a modern State that is extending its activities, whether in the direction of universities, technical colleges, schools, power stations or anything else, with the conception of giving the individual, especially the small man, a fair crack of the whip, both as to the chance of objecting to what is done and in getting fair compensation for it.

I am very conscious how imperfect my efforts have been and how much there remains to be done. But I feel that this is an important step on the first of my four fronts—namely, that of making the criminal courts accessible and convenient and saving the delays which I have told your Lordships can so seriously affect those ultimately found to be innocent. I should only like to say, in conclusion, how grateful I am for your Lordships' constant sympathy and help in taking these steps. I ask your Lordships now to give a Second Reading to this Bill.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.