§ 3.11 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. This is a short, harmless and, I hope, completely uncontroversial Bill. It seeks to amend Section 20 of the Justices of the Peace Act, 1949. This section sets out the qualifications for persons who desire to become justices' clerks. The main qualification is that they must be either solicitors or barristers of not less than five years' standing. But there is an exception under subsection (4)(c) of that section, which provides that solicitors need not be of five years' standing but can become clerks to the justices after serving in the office of the justices for a corresponding period which is regarded as a period of training. So that if, for example, a person became articled to a solicitor in the justices' office for five years that would be regarded as a qualification without his having to be a solicitor of five years' standing.
This opportunity has not been afforded to barristers, because until quite recently the Inns of Court regulations have not enabled barristers to take advantage of the period of training and count it as a qualification. But last year I presume that better judgments prevailed, and the Inns of Court have now made regulations which will enable barristers to count the period in which they may be serving in the offices of the justices. It is therefore proposed to extend to barristers the same rights as now exist in the case of solicitors; namely, that it should be possible to count the period which they serve in the office of the justices against the five years' qualification which they would otherwise require. That is the sole purpose of Clause 1(1) of the Bill. Subsection (2) makes certain verbal corrections to the Bill which are consequential on the pasage of Clause 1(1), and I hope that your Lordships will not ask me to explain them. That is the whole of the Bill, and I am quite sure that it will commend itself to your Lordships without a great deal of discussion. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Silkin.)288
§ 3.14 p.m.
§ LORD DERWENT
My Lords, I do not think it is right that this Bill should have a Second Reading until I have said that we on this side welcome it. It is a small Bill, but it will have quite an effect in a limited field. I may say that Clause 1(2) kept me up at night, trying to understand its content. I think I now understand it, but I, too, shall not try to explain it to your Lordships.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, I, too, will detain your Lordships only for a minute, to express the Government's welcome to this Bill and my own personal thanks to my noble friend for his presentation of it. As he indicated, the Bill is a natural consequence of the decision of the Inns of Court, to which he referred, to remove the restriction that formerly prevented students for the Bar from serving as assistants in justices' clerks' offices—a decision which the Government welcome.
The importance, in our view, of this measure is that we hope it will draw into the service of magistrates' courts young men and women who seek this form of legal career. At present, it is possible for people to serve articles under a solicitor who is a justices' clerk, but not all justices' clerks are solicitors: some are barristers, and some do not possess either professional qualification. There is a serious shortage of professionally qualified assistants in justices' clerks' offices throughout the country. We want to see far more people entering this service and seeking the professional qualification of a barrister or solicitor that will equip them eventually for posts as justices' clerks. The ideal candidate for a justices' clerkship is the man who can combine the professional qualification and broad knowledge of the law with practical experience as a justices' clerk's assistant. In our view, this modest but useful measure is a not unimportant step towards supplying the need for suitable assistants in the offices of justices' clerks, and I hope that, as such, your Lordships will give it a speedy passage through the House.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.