HL Deb 29 April 1968 vol 291 cc896-931

3.58 p.m.

Second Reading debate resumed.


My Lords, if we may now return to the Second Reading of the Justices of the Peace Bill, I think that time has been running out for the ex-officio justices, I hope we shall say 1949 when the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, introduced at the Committee stage of the Justices of the Peace Bill of that year an Amendment which sought to put an end to the office of ex-officio justice. The noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, was supported on that occasion by, among others, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goddard, by Lord Temple-wood and by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Maugham, and it was perhaps not surprising that Lord Merthyr's Amendment was lost that day by a single vote. Perhaps the ex-officio justices are to be congratulated on having survived that narrow shave in 1949 and congratulated on having survived so long afterwards, after the introduction of compulsory training for magistrates.

When one comes to the anomalous position of the City of London, it is of course quite incongruous. It is one of the many anomalies which abound in our public institutions. But I think the approach which, wisely, we always adopt is this. We look at these incongruous anomalies and say, "Does this thing work? If it does, although in theory it may seem anomalous, nevertheless let us retain it. Don't let us go in for change for the sake of change. Don't let us ever turn a good horse out of our stable, unless we are quite sure that we have a better horse to put in the stable in its place"; and also, to use an expression used by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, we adopt the saying: "Let the proof of the pudding be in the eating."

So let us look at the administration of justice in the inferior courts of the City in the light of that test. Do the Lord Mayor and aldermen pass that test satisfactorily? As the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, has pointed out, the aldermen of the City are not untrained for their duties. Just to particularise a little about their training, I understand that they have to study legal textbooks; they visit prisons, detention centres and borstals; they attend on at least six occasions sittings of the City of London Court, and they attend also magistrates' courts outside the City. So it cannot be said, I think, that they do not know what goes on in the magistrates' courts outside. They attend, I believe, the sentencing exercises to which the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor referred, and they have regular meetings with the Recorder and the Common Serjeant. So they are certainly not untrained to perform their duties. If, as I understand is the case, the main argument for abolishing the other ex-officio justices is that they are untrained to fulfil their duties, that argument does not apply to the Lord Mayor and aldermen of the City of London, and therefore seems to provide no reason for include- ing them in the list of ex-officio justices to be abolished.

Let us consider further whether the City inferior courts are efficient. I understand that in 1967, last year, they tried 19,000 cases, from which there were six successful appeals. That does not sound an inefficient performance of their duties. I wonder whether, and how many, magistrates' courts there are up and down the country who can boast as good a record as having lost but six cases on appeal out of 19,000 cases tried. The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, invited the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor at the end of the debate to say whether there have been any complaints made about the administration of justice in the City courts. I sincerely hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will be unable to say that any complaints have been forthcoming, and so I greatly hope that, incongruous though it may seem, the system of justice in the inferior courts of the City has passed with flying colours the test which ought to be applied; namely, does it work? It certainly does work, and although in theory it may seem convenient to sweep it away with all the other ex-officio justices, I hope we shall say that because it works, although it is incongruous, we shall leave the system of administration of justice in the inferior courts of the City alone.

4.5 p.m.


My Lords, I feel that your Lordships may think it almost anomalous and almost impertinent that I, who retired from my seat on the Judiciary now some eleven years ago, should come to address your Lordships upon this Bill, but it was the covert attack, I was going to say, at any rate the provisions to which Lord Airedale has just referred, under which the jurisdiction of the aldermen is being taken away, that has forced me to come here. I can only say that during the 12 years that I was Chief Justice I had the greatest confidence and the greatest admiration for the way in which the two City courts always functioned. Nowadays, tradition goes for but little, but one may remember that in the City justice has been administered by the aldermen since the reign of Henry IV in about 1400. Up till that year justice was administered entirely by the Lord Mayor. Only in order to relieve and assist him was it provided that three aldermen who had passed the chair should also be justices of the peace. That number was increased during Stuart and other early times. Finally, in the reign of George II, in 1742, all aldermen were made justices of the peace.

How has that worked. During my time as Chief Justice I can recall only one case which was brought up to the High Court—no case of certiorari, no case of mandamus, no instance of a special case. I am told, however, that during that time there were altogether three cases, two of which I think occurred when I was on circuit. I see that my noble and learned friend Lord Parker of Waddington has other figures which seem to show that between 1950 and 1967 there were altogether four cases brought before the High Court in which the decision of the lower court was altered. That is most remarkable, especially when one considers the enormous increase in the number of cases that have been before the City courts.

I have a few figures in that connection. In 1950, the two courts between them dealt with 5,554 cases; in 1960 with 11,765 cases, and in 1967 with 19,026 cases. Those cases were all dealt with by the aldermen, who are people chosen for their position by members of various wards, because of their experience in business and their standing in the City. They have to go through exactly the same training as ordinary justices; by being ex-officio justices they are not excused from taking the training. Unlike some of the ex-officio justices, they are appointed during the whole time that they are aldermen, so they get exceptionally long years of experience. Although training is very necessary, what enables a man to become a satisfactory justice is experience—experience of sitting in the courts and of learning his job, and every alderman learns his job in such manner.

It is not generally known that the Court of Aldermen has the power to refuse to admit a man as an alderman if they consider that he will not make a satisfactory justice. It is a power which is seldom exercised, but it was once invoked in the time when I was Lord Chief Justice when it was not thought desirable that a gentleman, against whose personal charac- ter there was no complaint but whose business was connected with the licensed trade, should become an alderman. Because of his close connection with the licensed trade, it was thought that it would not be proper for him to become a justice since, of course, justices have a great deal to do with the licensees. They did not accept him as a member of the Court of Aldermen and therefore he could not be a justice. This example shows the care which is taken by the aldermen over the quality of the people who are elected to serve.

The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, said quite rightly that the proof of the pudding is in the eating. During the time that I was Chief Justice I can recall only one case which came up to the High Court from the magistrates in the City; although I have been informed that there were in fact three cases, two of which were heard while I was on circuit. That is very remarkable. A few years ago, my noble friend Lord Parker, who will be addressing your Lordships in a few moments, said that from 1950 to 1967 there were only four cases in which the decision of the justices in the City had been reversed. That is a remarkable tribute to the justices and the care with which they carry out their work.

I do not think everybody realises the benefit—financial benefit, if you like—which this country gets from the City in the way in which they administer their funds and pay for the administration of justice. They undertake the whole of the cost of the Central Criminal Court, which is very heavy; they pay out of the City cash—in other words, out of their own private money, since the City cash belongs to the Corporation—the salaries of the Recorder, the Common Serjeant and the permanent Commissioners. The City rates pay the expenses of the permanent Commissioners only, I think, since nowadays, having regard to the enormous number of courts, the staffing of the Central Criminal Court is very much greater than it was. When I was called to the Bar there were never any more than three judges sitting at the Central Criminal Court. There are now 13 courts. Although they do not all sit every day, a great many of them do, and they have to be manned by clerks and by the Judge, who is a Commissioner appointed for those days.

The City find all that money, and also find the money to build the courts. They have embarked on a scheme which, I am told, is to cost £1½ million; and when they are finished, which it is hoped will be some time in 1970 or 1971, there will be 18 permanent courts. All these courts will have to be staffed by a judge of some standing. When one considers that the City find all this money and do all this work for nothing, I would ask whether this is really the time to make a change. None of the aldermen claims any allowances, unlike the situation in other police courts in London where magistrates are reimbursed. The City of London magistrates receive no remuneration at all, nor have they ever claimed any remuneration or allowances. One great benefit which the City magistrates confer upon the country is the fact that when they hear the protracted financial cases which are often brought before them—and there have been several very heavy ones of late—the magistrates and aldermen sit continuously. The case is not changed from one court of magistrates to another, although in fact the hearing may take some weeks.

I have had given to me particulars of some of the cases where committal proceedings have been taken by the magistrates before going for trial. In 1960 a case relating to a building society conspiracy had a preliminary hearing lasting over 14 days. In 1963 a case in which £1½ million was said to have been lost to the Revenue through the evasion of Customs duty lasted 26 days. In 1964 a case involving a fraud against the Stock Exchange took 13 days; and in 1965 there was another case which took 12 days. If those cases had been heard in an ordinary magistrates' court they would not have been heard from day to day but would have been put off for three or four days, possibly a fortnight; and very often it is difficult to get lay magistrates to sit since they cannot give up their work in this way.

When the City magistrates have these long cases before them, they invariably manage to sit on a continuous basis in order to get through the case quickly. This is of the greatest possible benefit to everybody, not least to the defendants, since it saves so much money. The City magistrates are familiar with commercial documents and commercial practice and can seize upon the salient points of the case very often much more quickly than can mere lawyers.

I feel that if this proposition to abolish the City magistrates goes through a very large number of extra magistrates will have to be appointed to sit in the City. They will not take the trouble and time which is at present taken without some remuneration. Personally, I feel that this is a most unfortunate proposition, and I hope that by the time the Bill reaches Committee the Government will have given more thought to this matter and will let the City retain its own jurisdiction. In all the time I have been connected with the legal profession, I have never heard the slightest unfavourable comment on the action of the magistrates in the City of London. For those reasons I hope that this change will not be made.

4.20 p.m.


My Lords, I welcome this Bill, but I wish to speak on what to some may appear to be a somewhat narrow issue. Nevertheless, it is not a narrow issue for those who are affected by it. I speak as a magistrate, although I may not be one if this Bill goes through in its present form. I believe, nevertheless, that this is a good Bill and that it contains many necessary provisions which many noble Lords in this House will wish to see become law. The point to which I wish to refer to-day, and which has already been referred to by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and other noble Lords, is the effect that this Bill as it now stands will have upon the administration of justice in the City of London. It is proposed to remove ex-officio justices of the peace from the roll of active justice.In particular, of course, this applies to those who are elected to the mayoralty of boroughs and who hold their office for but one year. Many of them, perhaps, have not had the opportunity of training, nor were they expected to have that training, to sit on the bench. Therefore they are not necessarily qualified for judicial work. In saying this, I intend no criticism of a splendid body of men and women who perform a great public service and who carry out their duties with dignity and energy. But the fact remains that they are not elected for the purpose of administering justice, although doubtless many of them would make excellent members of the bench.

The aldermen of the City of London, however, fall into a very different category; and here I must declare an interest, for I am one of them. I gave a good deal of thought to the position before I decided that it was proper for me to address your Lordships on this matter, since it affected me personally. But, as I am sure your Lordships will appreciate, I naturally have very strong feelings, and I hope that the House will accord me the tolerance for which it is renowned.

The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said that ex-officio magistrates had no obligation to sit, nor did they have any obligation to train. But, of course, that is not the case so far as the City aldermen are concerned. They have a very clearly defined obligation to be trained before they are allowed to sit, and they have a very clear cut obligation, once elected, to sit upon the bench. There are, in fact, 26 aldermen on the Court, and I do not know whether it is generally understood that they are elected to that office. They are elected by the ratepayers of their ward, having been duly nominated, and are not appointed to that office. When they are nominated their names come before the Court of Aldermen, and the most important qualification which is looked for in them is their ability to perform their duties as magistrates.

The aldermen of the City of London are not permitted at any time, or in any circumstances, to sit upon the bench until they have completed a period of training. When they do sit, they sit for a whole week at a time, so that they have continuity on the bench, and the two City benches are manned six days a week throughout the whole year by the aldermen. Much will undoubtedly be said on this matter during the Committee stage, and I shall not delay the House to-day with further details of the work, the training and the special experience which the Court of Aldermen have for their particular tasks of manning the two Courts in the City.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Goddard, and other noble Lords, have referred to the figures which speak for themselves. I was going to give those but I shall not waste your Lordships' time by giving them again, other than to refer once more—because it is worth referring to them—to the number of cases which were handled by the Court of Aldermen last year. There were 19,025 cases, 14,000 more than in 1950, and of those 19,025 cases, only 20 went to appeal and only 6 appeals were allowed. In the whole period since 1945, only 11 cases have gone to the Divisional Court by way of a Stated Case, and only 5 were successful. It is because of this record that I sincerely hope that the City aldermen will be allowed to retain their traditional responsibilities for the administration of justice in the City.

Having spoken so far on behalf of the City and as an alderman, may I, in conclusion, speak as one who is engaged in industry and point out that we are continually encouraged these days to make the best possible use of manpower? This being so, I think it should be realised that justice in the City is at present done, and very well done, by 26 aldermen. In fact, there are fewer than 26, because a number are over the age at which they are allowed to sit on the bench. But whether the figure be 26 or less, the task of manning those two courts is done, and I believe done remarkably efficiently, as the record will show, by those aldermen alone. If the present proposals are adopted something in excess of 100 magistrates will have to be appointed to carry out the same tasks. With that will have to go an additional court, the additional staff for that court and, under the new regulations, pay for the magistrates. This will involve a considerable additional charge upon the country, whereas at the moment there is virtually no charge against the country for the work done in the two courts in the City.

My Lords, I have covered but a few of the many points in favour of leaving the City magistracy in its present form, and others far better qualified than I will speak on some future occasion on these matters. I know only too well how much this Bill means to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. I also appreciate only too well what an excellent Bill it is. But I earnestly ask this House to consider whether this Bill will lose anything by excluding from its provisions the Court of Aldermen and the Lord Mayor. Will it not, in fact, gain something instead? For, apart from the many factors which have been brought before this House today in support of their work and efficiency, if they are excluded it will at least be possible to say that the Court of Alderman were not sacrificed upon the altar of uniformity.

4.30 p.m.


My Lords, I am wholeheartedly in favour of any Bill which will enhance the reputation of that hardworking, conscientious and, on the whole, admirable body of voluntary workers, the justices of the peace. Thus, in particular, I welcome Clause 5, which relieves the justices of a number of what are almost administrative matters, and which, secondly, makes it clear that they can have the benefit of the advice of their clerk. When it comes to a later stage, I think we ought to look at subsection (3) of Clause 5 in rather more detail. In the first place, the advice can be given by the clerk only at the request of a justice. There are many cases in which the clerk sees the justices going wrong and wants to jump up and correct them, but apparently that is not permitted. Secondly, I think that those of us who have anything to do with the law find it very difficult to think that there is a point of law alone. It is always a point of mixed law and fact; and I should like to see subsection (3) worded in such a way as to make it quite clear that mixed law and fact is a matter upon which the justices can consult their clerk.

Again, I am wholly in favour of preventing from sitting some 2,000 justices (I think that was the figure the noble and learned Lord gave) who are not qualified by reason of training or experience to sit on the bench. We should all agree that it is quite inappropriate for a local mayor or chairman of a district council as a matter of prestige to sit on the bench perhaps once in his tenure of office, and perhaps even preside, when he has had no training or experience whatsoever. To that extent, I wholly welcome this Bill. But I do complain—and I am afraid I feel very strongly about it—of the fact that a number of people fully qualified to sit are being prevented from sitting. I am not referring to the Privy Counsellors, because I do not think they ever choose to exercise their right. I am not like some of those of whom the noble Lord spoke, who say, "Abolish every other ex-officio justice, but not myself". Here, I declare an interest in that I was a justice of tie peace before I ever attained my present office. Nor am I complaining on behalf of Her Majesty's Judges, all of whom are stripped of their powers to sit. I do not complain, because it must be very rare indeed that any one of those Judges has the time to sit; and, anyhow, subsection (6) of Clause 1 gives to the Judges that most admirable and valuable power of preventive justice, the power to bind over —a power which justices now have.

It is in regard to the 26 persons who are among the most experienced magistrates in the country that I venture to complain. I have the administration of justice so much at heart that I thought it only right to-day to return from Assizes in order to take part in this debate; and although the pros and cons of this matter have been debated at length in another place I desire to speak in some detail, I hope without wearying your Lordships, if only to get it on the record in case, without disrespect to your Lordships, I may be unable to attend on a later occasion.

My Lords, as we all know, the jurisdiction of the Lord Mayor and aldermen is derived from a succession of charters. They have confirmed and redefined the functions of the Lord Mayor and aldermen, which functions have been exercised since even before the Norman Conquest. By the year 1298 the Lord Mayor was the Custos pacis, and the aldermen were described as the Justices and Keepers of the Wards. Moreover, in those days their powers were wider than those of the county justices. Indeed, they could inflict punishment before such power was ever given to the county justices. Charter after charter confirmed and extended those powers, showing, surely, the confidence that existed in the competence of those justices.

Coming to more recent times, we observe that in the Justices of the Peace Act 1949, by Section 11, their powers to act as justices are specifically preserved. Coming to a later date, to 1952, we find that by the Magistrates' Courts Act of that year, Section 121, the Dower of the Lord Mayor or any single alderman to sit alone on the bench was specifically preserved. Of course, this unique position of the Lord Mayor and aldermen, and its long standing, may tempt someone to say that it is time there was a change. That is a complete non sequitur. Surely the position is that its antiquity demands that we should look at it, and look at it searchingly, but that a change should be made only if we are satisfied that it is called for and that what it is proposed to put in its place is better than what exists at the moment.

My Lords, may I give the institution, the Lord Mayor and the aldermen, a look, and a searching look, to see what one finds? We find, first, that no one is made an alderman unless he is considered suitable to discharge his duties as a justice in a proper manner. Even if he is elected by his ward, he is not admitted an alderman unless the Court of Aldermen are fully satisfied, after consideration, that he will make a good justice of the peace. Secondly, we find that long before any Lord Chancellor introduced any training scheme for justices a newly-appointed alderman had to partake in a training scheme. It has already been mentioned that he has to study books, he has to read notes and to visit prisons, as well as at least one detention centre and at least one borstal. He has to receive instruction in the methods and problems of punishment and treatment, and he has to attend the sittings of courts. All that is before he is allowed to sit. When that stage is reached, he attends courses arranged by universities, colleges and other institutions, and in addition he attends sentencing conferences—incidentally, sentencing conferences which I believe were instituted before the sentencing conferences not so long ago constituted for judges, recorders, chairmen of quarter sessions and magistrates generally.

Thirdly, we find that the Lord Mayor and the aldermen do not sit only on occasion: they sit for long periods, and regularly. Their work is such that they can safely be said to be among the most experienced in the country. Your Lordships have been given the figure for 1967–19,025 or (I believe it is) 19,028 cases. The Lord Mayor sat on 76 occasions, and the aldermen sat on an average 30 occasions. Compare that, my Lords, with the occasional sitting of the local mayor or the chairman of a district council. Compare it also with the number of occasions on which the ordinary county magistrate is expected to sit—twelve occasions.

Fourthly, what of their ability? Here, your Lordships have I think been given the figures, the extraordinary figures, for 1967–6 appeals to quarter sessions allowed out of these 19,028 cases. It is a staggering record, something which I cannot believe any court or any bench could emulate. Your Lordships have been given the figures of appeals by way of case stated since the year 1945–23 years ago. And we find that out of 11 appeals in all those years—less than one a year—only 5 were successful. Finally, your Lordships have heard from my noble and learned friend Lord Goddard that in his experience he never had a single case of an application to the courts for certiorari to quash a decision of the City magistrates. Certainly in my tenure of office no such application has been made. At any rate, that covers some 22 years; and, so far as I know, there is not in living memory an instance of an appeal being made to the supervisory jurisdiction of the courts to quash any conviction of the City magistrates.

So far from there being any criticism whatever of their competence, I believe that there is universal praise from both sides of the profession, solicitors and barristers, for their competence; and so far as the judges are concerned, I am sure that if proof of that praise were needed it is to be found by the presence here this afternoon of my noble and learned friend Lord Goddard. This has been the position for a great many years now. Witness the successive charters relying on the competence of the magistrates; witness the Justices of the Peace Act 1949, the Magistrates' Courts Act 1952. And what did the Royal Commission of 1948 say about the system? They said: The traditions and practice of the City have resulted in a high standard of administration of criminal jurisdiction and we do not recommend any change for the adult court. That was in 1948. Quite recently, in another place, the Attorney General said: I readily concede in regard to the City of London that the standards of the administration of justice in the City magistrates' courts are high. I feel sure that the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack will readily make the same concession.

Why, then, I ask myself, is there any need for a change? What, if anything, has happened since 1948, or indeed since 1952, which suggests that a change is needed? The answers to these two questions are surely, "No" and "Nothing", respectively, if—and I emphasise "if"—we are considering only the efficiency of the City courts and the standards of justice administered there. What, then, are the grounds for this suggested change? I have heard the following suggested; and there may be other arguments, although I have not heard them.

The first argument that I have heard is that it would be anomalous if 26 out of some 2,200 ex officio justices were allowed to remain. Frankly, I think this is the poorest of arguments if those 26 are doing, as I believe they are, a first-class job—even better than the general body of lay magistrates. No-one, I venture to think, desires to alter the most anomalous of all positions in the law, that of the office of Lord Chancellor. And what of the Attorney General? What of the Solicitor General? And what of the office of Lord Chief Justice, who is made a member of the Legislature? The less I say of that the better, lest some someone should desire to see me removed from your Lordships' House. Then I understand (though I am ready to be corrected about this, because my knowledge of Scottish law is not very great) that in Scotland the bailiff sits alone and is not a qualified lawyer. So this Bill itself preserves an anomaly in this respect. Uniformity is certainly not a main consideration; indeed, I doubt whether it is, taken alone, a proper consideration at all.

Secondly, it has been suggested that justices should not come from one particular class, as it is called, or one particular section of the community; that there should be a representation of all sections, including wage-earners. I do not propose to go into that highly-debatable subject. For myself I care not whence a justice comes or what his views are, whether he is a so-called salary-earner or a wage-earner, provided that he is a good justice. I would say only two things in regard to this argument. First, in considering where they come from, let us go back some distance to Dick Whittington, and in more recent times (and I am sure he will not object to its being mentioned) I would take the ex-Lord Mayor, both no doubt extremely proud of whence they have come.

Secondly, and perhaps more important, this is not a Bill to provide for equal representation on benches of justices of all sections of society. It is no part of this Bill to provide for that. What we are considering is something quite different; namely, what, if any, justice who is now able to sit should be prevented from doing so—unless, of course, the Lord Chancellor of the day specifically appoints him? That is the only problem we are debating.

It is said, thirdly, that the Bill should extend to the City of London in order to prevent the courts from being manned by only one justice. Again, this is not the object of this Bill. If it were, how easy it would be to provide that at least two aldermen, or the Lord Mayor and one alderman should sit: at least two, manning each court. That again, however, is not what we are debating in this Bill. If it were, one would have to consider whether that was practicable. It may be that the Lord Mayor and aldermen, with their great zeal for the administration of justice, could so arrange things that a court was always manned by two. If that was found to be not practicable, we should then have to consider whether perhaps the Lord Mayor and aldermen, with all their training, were not just as good as a stipendiary sitting alone, having regard to the type of cases with which they have to deal.

Fourthly, it is said that there are no women aldermen and that therefore juveniles have to be dealt with, as they are, by Tower Hamlet justices in Bow Road, and domestic cases by justices at Chelsea. Of course, it does not follow that there will never be women aldermen. Indeed, at this moment a woman who happens to be the wife of one of Her Majesty's Judges is on the Common Council. But how important is this point? We go back to 1967 and to this figure of 19,025, or 19,028 cases dealt with which has been mentioned over and over again. In the same year the number of juvenile offences was but 158. So far as domestic cases are concerned, while there are no precise figures, it is thought they run at the rate of two or three cases in a year. My Lords, one asks oneself whether, with modern transport, there is any real hardship caused by those cases, few in number, being dealt with otherwise than in the City itself.

So much for the possible arguments, indeed I think all that I have heard, in favour of the change. May I approach the matter from the other end by asking whether the change proposed is likely to be for the better. Of course such is the zeal—I was going to say the loyalty—of the Lord Mayor and the aldermen of the City of London that I am sure that, whatever the Bill provides, if appointed (and that means if the Lord Chancellor dispenses with the necessity that they must reside within 15 miles of the City and appoints them magistrates) they would undoubtedly sit. If that were done, there would be no danger in the administration of justice losing the experience of at any rate some of these aldermen. But would a court of two or three members, only one of whom is experienced, make for greater, or even as great, efficiency? My Lords, I should have thought certainly not. The expedition shown by any court must depend upon the capacity of its slowest member. Cases are bound to take longer, and much more so is that the case if the one really experienced magistrate does not preside—because that may well be the case. Some seventy or more additional lay magistrates would have to be appointed. The chairman and deputy chairman are chosen by the general body of magistrates. The lay magistrates—that is to say, those other than the Lord Mayor and the aldermen—being in the vast majority, is a court of two or three going to be more efficient?

Finally, it may well be—though it is difficult to be precise on this—that more courts will be needed. If there are to be another 70 or a full quota of 100 justices for the City; if they are to take juvenile offenders and domestic cases, and if there are to be women sitting as well as men, then undoubtedly even if there are not more courts needed, there will be more court accommodation needed. In addition to that, there is bound to be extra cost. There would be the extra cost of staff, the extra cost of travelling allow- ances and financial loss, none of which is paid to the existing justices in the City.

My Lords, I hesitate to say this, but I should have thought that any Government would welcome a degree of good will, if not of confidence, from the City and, it may be, particularly at this moment. Here is an ancient institution, proud of the part it plays in the administration of justice and anxious to play an ever more extending part; and I say that appreciating as I do the vast sums which are being paid out for the construction of more and more courts, rising now to a total of 18 at the Central Criminal Court. Yet the present Government go out of their way, if not to insult the City, at any rate to make it less zealous in performing what is after all a voluntary act. I sincerely hope that your Lordships will at a later stage pass Amendments to the Bill which, as in 1949 and 1952, will preserve the powers of the Lord Mayor and the aldermen to act as justices.

4.55 p.m.


My Lords, this Bill aims at tidying up a number of matters, some of minor and some of greater importance but most of an administrative character. The extent to which it aims at removing the work of the past and substituting something fresh was, I think, very well illustrated—as was pointed out by my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor—by the number of Statutes which the Bill will repeal or partially repeal. Some of them are very ancient. The Bill will repeal no fewer than three Statutes passed before the end of the 16th century. Not only the Habeas Corpus Act but the Jurisdiction in Liberties Act 1535 will be repealed. This is, I think, a general attempt to tidy up a number of minor administrative matters which have been talked about a great deal in recent years but about which little has been done.

Unfortunately, there has been combined in the Bill a proposal which has hitherto received universal condemnation. It is proposed to transform the administration of justice in the City of London by removing the present qualification for office which entitles the Lord Mayor and the aldermen to sit in the two courts in the City. It will also remove the claim of every mayor and lord mayor in the country to preside over the magistrates' court in his borough or city. I regret that change. The right of the mayor to preside over the borough court is something which adds to his responsibility and dignity.

It is true that in recent years the work falling on mayors and lord mayors has been such that they have little time to sit in a magistrates' court. In most cities the mayor does not do so; he pays a formal visit perhaps two or three times during his year of office and that is all. I can quite see that, with the introduction of training and the need for greater experience, the time has come when that ancient arrangement should be brought to an end. I do not think that many tears will he shed over the chairmen of urban and rural district councils, but I regret the passing of the mayor as a magistrate. In expressing my regret I am speaking for myself and not for the organisation whose views I am sometimes tempted to put before the House.

My Lords, this proposal to transform the administration of justice in the City has hitherto met with no sort of support. Indeed, the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chief Justice, made a very careful and I thought a most convincing analysis of the reasons which may have prompted the Government to select the City of London as a place for drastic reform. The result of his investigation shows that the advantages which may follow from this change are practically negligible. It is not very often in your Lordships' House that a proposal is condemned by the Lord Chief Justice of England, by the Master of the Rolls, who is going to speak in a few moments, and by a distinguished former Lord Chief Justice. I hope that I shall not be out of order in expressing the pleasure which we all feel at the presence of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goddard, amongst us this afternoon. He is always welcome when he is able to come to the House and I think that this afternoon he was particularly welcome.

In his speech, the noble and learned Lord emphasised two reasons why the present arrangements for the administration of justice in the City ought to be maintained. He pointed out that the class of case which is tried in the two City courts is different in some respects from those cases which are tried in other magistrates' courts. They differ in this respect: that every now and then, and not in- frequently, a case of very considerable magnitude comes before the court, a case in which it is desirable that the magistrate should have some knowledge of business, some knowledge of the financial affairs of the City and the manner in which they are conducted. Indeed, it is only a few days since a case of this nature ended at the Old Bailey, after lasting for over 30 days. It seems to me, and it has always seemed to me, that one of the advantages of the arrangements in the City is that they ensure that these cases are tried by a magistrate who understands the working of business, the documents which are used in business and all the matters connected with a great commercial centre like the City of London. It is a great advantage to be sure in cases involving these difficult questions that an experienced judge is on the bench to try them.

The other matter to which the noble and learned Lord referred seem to me to be of equal importance. The City courts sit continuously. We do not have long cases with intervals varying in length between the days on which different parts of the case are heard. It is a great advantage, as all of us who have experience of conducting litigation know, that a case should not be broken up and resumed again perhaps a week or more later. It is a great advantage that the City aldermen accept as part of their duties the duty of sitting continuously in the City courts.

I propose to say no more about this matter this afternoon. We shall have an opportunity at the Committee stage of discussing it at greater length and I hope that at that stage we shall succeed in amending the Bill so as to remove what seems to me to be a totally unnecessary and undesirable provision. It would be very welcome, in view of the criticisms that the proposal has aroused, if the Government were to review their position before the Committee stage is reached and accept the principle that a change of this nature in the City is not necessary and is not called for.

There is one other matter in the Bill about which I should like to say something. The Bill will reduce the age at which a magistrate is transferred to the supplementary list from 75 to 70. I know that to-day there is a widespread feeling that younger people are to be preferred to older people, a feeling which no doubt some of us who are in the category of older people are prepared to accept. But it seems to me to overlook the great difficulty that there is in obtaining people of suitable character and with suitable qualifications to undertake the duty of magistrate. It is equally difficult to obtain persons of the right qualifications and age to take their places as representatives in local government. It is not easy to ask a man to be a magistrate if it involves spending perhaps some days, not infrequently, away from his business.

I do not think that the present system, with the proposed financial assistance provisions, will make it very difficult for persons of the working class to sit as magistrates. I do not think the difficulty arises at that point, but at a different point. A man who is conducting his own professional practice or business cannot quantify his loss in order to recover financial assistance. The loss by the disturbance to his business, the fact that he has to absent himself from it and allow it to be conducted by others, and so forth, is a very real one, and one which is not easily overcome. We are going to take out of the field of potential magistrates persons between the age of 70 and 75. I think it would be much wiser to leave them in the field of active magistrates, having regard to the great difficulty of obtaining suitable candidates for office which exists to-day.

Is it really right to assume that a man of 70 is not able to conduct the business of a magistrates' court? During part of my life I had a very intimate experience of old people. The real point at which the break in a man's power comes is not at 70 but at 75. At 70 a man is as good as he is at 65, and many are as good as they are at 60. It is five years later that his physical powers begin to fail. I am sure that the Government would be wise to take account of the scarcity of people of all classes to accept the office of magistrate and retain the compulsory retiring age at its present figure. There is nothing more that I desire to say about this Bill. I think we all welcome its various and rather complicated provisions about stipendiary magistrates and justices' clerks. We all wish the Bill well, but I think it will be a better Bill when the most objectionable sections have been removed.

5.9 p.m.


My Lords, I welcome a goodly part of this Bill, but we must remember that here we are dealing not only with one of our oldest institutions but also with one of our best institutions, that of the justice of the peace. It is one of the glories of England. No other country has anything like our magistrates and justices of the peace: ordinary men and women, right-thinking members of the community, sitting to do justice between their fellow men. The system has gone on now in the counties since 1361 when, if I may remind your Lordships, a Statute was enacted that: In every county of England there shall be assigned for the keeping of the peace one Lord and with him three or four of the most worthy in the county with some learned in the law. We have now come to the present time, and we still have in our counties and boroughs not only three or four, but many of the most worthy in the counties and boroughs. But we have with them—and this is much to be remembered—a clerk skilled in the law. In these days, with the increasing number and complexity of Statutes, the presence of the clerk and his ability to advise the court is an essential ingredient. Again, to go back into history, the trouble with the number of Statutes appeared in 1485, when a Chief Justice complained: How many justices think you now suffice without breaking their backs to bear so many, not loads, hut stacks of Statutes? This Bill does, I think, improve the position, in so far as the justices who are to be appointed are to be appointed for their ability and standing to be justices of the peace, and it gives recognition to the position of the justices' clerk to advise them. But may I add my word to those that have already been spoken about the special position of the City of London?

Before ever there were justices of the peace for the counties there were the Lord Mayor and aldermen who were justices for the City of London. They existed long before even the great Charter, Magna Carta 1215, in which it was said—and perhaps it is apt to cite it now: The citizens of London shall have all their ancient liberties and free customs as well by land as by water. One of those is the administration of justice in the City of London. I have been in the court; I have heard appeals from the court; and I have known everyone concerned with the court. No one can say that the quality of justice in the City of London is lower than that of any other bench in the land—indeed, I would say that it is higher. I would put the quality higher even than that of the stipendiary magistrates. You have sound, right-thinking men, elected and selected for those very judicial qualities of patience, courtesy and knowledge of their fellow men to do this great task. Perhaps I may add that I happen to be chairman of the advisory committee for appointing magistrates for Inner London, and I can say that the method of selection for the City of London is no less good, and is perhaps even better, than that of the Inner London area.

I have spoken to those who practise in the court—to solicitors and to the police, an essential cog in the administration of justice—and no-one complains; no-one wants this change. Even the Magistrates' Association, who have been concerned that there should not be ex officio magistrates in the counties, think that the reasoning does not apply to the City of London. There is, in truth, no word of complaint in any quarter about the administration of justice in the City of London, and there is no call for any change. If there had been, this would be a time to review it. One is not against change. But when an institution has lasted so long, and done its work so well, I would suggest that at least an exception could be written into this Bill for the Lord Mayor and the City of London. Otherwise, I give general support to this Bill.

5.13 p.m.


My Lords, I will be brief. There is one thing I wish to say before saying a few words about the City of London. I happen to be President of one of the local authority associations; namely, the Urban District Councils Association. While we are sorry that the prestige of being a justice of the peace for his year of office will now be taken away from the chairman of an urban district council, we nevertheless realise that there is every justification for ensuring that justices of the peace have had their training. This is not possible in many cases for men who are elected as chairmen of urban district councils, and therefore the position which this Bill will produce is accepted. Perhaps I might just add that if a man has done public service and become the chairman of an urban district council, one would hope that that would be no detriment to his being considered favourably later for appointment as a justice of the peace.

I now turn to the subject which has really dominated this debate; namely, the question of the aldermen of the City of London. I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will not take amiss what I am going to say. I listened carefully to what he said in his speech, and it seemed to me that he dismissed the case for the City of London as coming from a pressure group. He mentioned the fact that the Governor of the Bank of England and others had been to see him, and that he had noticed that The Times this morning had been roped into the agitation. I was sorry that he seemed to approach the matter in that way. With respect, I must say that I felt the tone of his remarks indicated a rather satirical approach to this question. I hope the noble and learned Lord will forgive me for saying that quite plainly.

During the course of this debate we have had speeches from a distinguished former Lord Chief Justice, from the present Lord Chief Justice, and many others. I hope, therefore, that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will realise that there is more to this than simply an agitation which has been got up by certain interests in tit City of London.

I should like to remind your Lordships of a debate which took place in this House last January on the subject of the appointment of judges by the Lord Chancellor. During the course of the debate (I quote from Hansard of January 29, at col. 635) this was said: Whatever method the Lord Chancellor employs has had a satisfactory result. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Conesford, and the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, that if that is so, there is a good deal to be said for leaving the method of appointment as it is. My Lords, I think that that principle applies to the City of London aldermen. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will remember that the speaker who used those words on that occasion was the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor himself. I think I will leave it there.

5.20 p.m.


My Lords, I never envisaged the day when I should be speaking in a debate concerning magistrates. Sandwiched as I am between a number of very distinguished legal gentlemen, one the present Lord Chief Justice, one distinguished past Lord Chief Justice and a number of noble Lords deeply versed in the law, I am from the legal standpoint a complete layman. Nevertheless, I have one or two qualifications for taking part in this debate. First, my wife is a magistrate, and the youngest on the bench in Surrey where she sits; secondly, I am the reigning Master of one of the City Livery Companies.

Before I turn briefly to the provisions regarding the City of London, I should like to say one word about Clause 4. It is not only a question of distance which is of importance here; it is a question particularly of young magistrates, especially young female magistrates, making arrangements for young children, and factors of that kind which must be considered in the light of this Bill. I must, for reasons I have already given, declare to some extent a close family interest here. But where it is considered a good thing to have the young magistrates—and I think it will be agreed that on a juvenile bench young mothers often do make good magistrates because they see the problem from first hand—then provision should be made, and within these limits I certainly welcome Clause 4.

I now turn to Clause 1, linked with Schedule 2, regarding the question of the guild magistrates in the City of London. As the Master of one of the Livery Companies I come into contact with a great many of these people. As some of your Lordships who have held this office will know, one works one's way up as Master of a Livery Company through the livery and then through the court, and during those years one attends, or should attend, the voting of the Lord Mayor and of the sheriffs, and one sees something of the work done by these people, not only in court but in the City as a whole. The real point here is that, quite apart from the training, which other noble Lords better versed in the law than I have already mentioned, they have very considerable responsibilities in public life, and nobody will know that more than the noble Lord, Lord Mais, who is himself very distinguished in this role. As a result of this, the aldermen and the Court of Aldermen, and of course the Lord Mayor, who comprise the bulk of the City magistrates, are therefore people who have had, if not more experience of human nature and human beings than magistrates on an ordinary county bench, at any rate as much because of the considerable training which they receive and the enormous amount of public service which they are required to undertake.

If I may mention one immediate past Lord Mayor, who is a past Master of my own Livery Company, and with whom I came into contact a great deal during the first months of my mastership, he is a gentleman who literally started his business life as an errand boy, and he is now chairman of one of the great provision companies quite apart from his distinguished City role. So when people argue (and I am glad it has not been argued to-day) that the Lord Mayors of London and the aldermen are people who come from what we sometimes know as the "upper crust", this argument can immediately be deflated.

I do not propose to go into the question of political appointments, because I am quite sure that many of the guild men of the City of London may well have differing political views. The main thing, as the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice said in his admirable speech, is that justice is dispensed fairly and efficiently and the absolute minimum number of appeals come about as a result. I am going to confine my remarks to those points. I rose to speak, as I say, only because I have been through the mill of a Livery Company and have also worked in the City of London for nearly twenty years, enjoying the friendship and sometimes the company of the very gentlemen who are the subject of one of the main parts of this Bill, which, apart from this provision, is I think a generally very welcome Bill.

5.27 p.m.


My Lords, how delightful it is for us to be able to take part in a debate where Party politics does not rear its handsome head. I feel something like "exhibit A" in this debate. I have been a lay magistrate for 24 years; I am 70 years of age, which seems to be the fateful deadline, and I have been the chairman of a county council, which would, if I had desired, have qualified me to sit as an ex officio magistrate in my county.

I think that our lay J.P.s are wonderful, even though I cannot look upon the question from an impartial and thoroughly unbiased point of view. They do valuable work; they do it inexpensively. They make enormous sacrifices in time and money, and, generally speaking, they enjoy the confidence of the public among whom they live. They deal with one million cases a year, and on the whole deal with them very satisfactorily indeed. There are, of course, some appeals, but the number of appeals against their judgment is in a very considerable minority, and when all is said and done there also are appeals which are upheld from stipendiary magistrates, from learned chairmen of quarter sessions—even from the Judges of the High Court. And when we get to the highest Court in the land it is not unusual to find that some Lords Justices take one point of view and some Lords Justices take another. So, on the whole, I feel that the lay magistracy is an excellent one.

The system works well, but with all systems it is probably a good thing from time to time to take them out of the attic and give them a general dusting over. That is why I welcome this Bill. It brings several aspects of the magistracy into line with our up-to-date ideas. First of all, there is this question of the age, with the reduction from 75 to 70. I know that this is hardly the place where I should try to make out a resounding case that people are too old at 70. Personally I do not believe it, and if there were a suggestion in the Bill for an immediate reduction to 70 of the age for sitting on the bench I should certainly oppose it. But the gradual reduction that is proposed in the Bill softens the blow, and I think it is the right way of dealing with the matter. In five years' time, when people have to retire at the age of 70, it may well be that, with all the strains of this strenuous modern life, the people who are aged 70 will feel as old as we feel today at 75.

Some suggestions have been made in various quarters that there should be a "pick and choose" arrangement whereby the chairman of the bench, and perhaps the chairman of the advisory committee, and then the Lord Chancellor should say with regard to certain justices of 72 or 73, "Look, you are getting too old", whereas with regard to others he should say, "You seem to be quite fit; you may carry on until you are 75". In my opinion that would be invidious; it would be invidious at the local level and at the county advisory committee level. I believe that by introducing the sliding scale the Lord Chancellor has tackled the problem in exactly the right way.

But I hope he will not go farther and reduce the age any more, because, despite all the desire that there is for younger magistrates on our benches—and it is one that we find difficult to meet, because the young people usually have one or two feet up the ladder of their professional promotion—it is a fact that we are becoming an elderly nation. I know from my own experience that we have before us in our courts from time to time old ladies and gentlemen with white hair, and I believe it gives them a feeling of comfort and assurance to see that sitting on the bench is at least one justice who happens to be somewhere around their own age.

While we are tackling this question of the elderly J.P.s there is one thing that many of them would like to see. A good many of them are about 70 years of age—a little under or a little over—and have possibly had 20 or 25 years on the bench and are now feeling that they would like to step down after duty that has been well done. Some of them would willingly go but they do not want to lose their justice's status. They do not like to feel that they have been struck off the roll, and that is what happens to many of them who seek to leave the bench at the present time. They would like to be put on the Supplemental List, and I hope that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack will be able to give not an undertaking but a hint that when these old servants of the public, on reaching the age of 69, 70 or 71, feel that they want to have a rest, they will be allowed to keep that dignified title of justice of the peace and not have it reported in the local paper that "Mr. So-and-So has been struck off the roll of justices of the peace". This naturally gives a false impression to those who read it, and because of this possibility many justices will soldier on for years beyond the date at which they would willingly have retired had they been allowed to retire in the way I have suggested.

In my view, the proposal to abolish ex-officio justices is right. Many people who become mayors and chairmen of local councils are admirable citizens, hut the qualities which have enabled them to rise to these positions are not the same qualities as would fit them to sit on the bench. In fact, in some cases the opposite is true. A fine agitator can become the chairman of the council, but he would not necessarily make a good justice of the peace. Moreover, in these days, when we are insisting on training for magistrates before they enter on their judicial duties, many of these civic heads occupy their high office only for a year or so, and therefore there would be no opportunity for them to undertake this training. Many of them, of course, by their temperament and character and ability would be well qualified to become justices, but in these cases they could qualify for their names to be entered on the Commission through the ordinary channels. The City Aldermen come into a different category: they do receive training, and they serve for a long time. But I should like to say a word or two about them a little later on.

I am delighted that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor is proposing to compensate those justices who need it (not all of them, because they will not claim it) for the cost of their lunches when they have an all-day sitting, or for the loss of their wages, if they lose remuneration from their employer. I think this would enable a good many well qualified people to come on the bench who at present have to say, "No". But I do not think it goes as far as it should.

Let us take as an example the retired teacher who does a little writing and a little lecturing. If he sits on the bench all day he loses that productive time which he could otherwise be devoting to writing an article or preparing a lecture. Yet he cannot claim for loss of wages, despite the fact that he has suffered what is readily identifiable as a financial loss. I think the payment of an attendance allowance might be better. It need not be a big figure, because in the realm of local government (in which I have also had some experience) there are many borderline cases where a man dare not claim for loss of remuneration because he happens to be self-employed, or a freelance operator in some trade or profession, and it is difficult for him to make out a case. I think the straightforward thing is to give an attendance allowance, to let everyone be entitled to it. Then those who want to claim it may do so.

I come now to the case of the City aldermen. I have been much impressed by the arguments that we have heard, particularly from learned Judges. There is no doubt that these City aldermen are men of great ability; they have had preliminary training before undertaking duties on the bench; they make a large number of attendances. But there are also powerful arguments on the side of the Bill as it is now drafted. I should like to look at a few of them. In the first place, these aldermen sit singly, instead of in threes. There are not enough of them to compose benches of three, and, although I do not want to make too much of this argument, I think that a court of three is better than a court of one. Many a time in my own court I have retired with my fellow justices being firm in my view that a person was either guilty or not guilty. I have listened to the views of the other two justices, and I have come to the conclusion that I have been wrong. If one person is sitting in judgment it is a big risk to take, especially if, by one stroke of the pen, we are going to ruin a man's character for the rest of his life.

This afternoon we have heard from eminent lawyers about the adequacy of these courts in the City of London. But ought we not also to consider the defendants coming before those courts? Ought we not to feel that they would have more confidence in a three-man court than in a court composed of just one man; and that they would have more confidence in a court constituted of people of all classes, rather than one monopolised by the great captains and colonels of industry and commerce?

We have heard that the City of London courts are unable to deal with matrimonial and juvenile cases because there is no woman on the bench, and in those cases there should be a woman on the bench. Such cases have to be sent either to Tower Hamlets or to Bow Street. This is a point which is worth bearing in mind. But what strikes me as being anomalous is that all these City aldermen are members of the local authority, and this is contrary to the whole of our thinking and the whole of the Lord Chancellor's system of administration with regard to local authorities and benches of magistrates in general throughout the country. The rule generally is that not more than a certain proportion of members of the bench shall be members of the local authority. Yet here in the City of London every single member of the bench is a member of the local council, if I may call it that without derogating too much from its dignity. Furthermore, as I just mentioned, this bench of the City is not representative of all classes. The men who sit in that court are the top men of Britain; they are brokers and bankers and merchants, and so on. Good luck to them!I do not blame them for being that. But the best kind of bench, I think, is one constituted of people from all levels of society, people who really do know how the other half live.

One argument that has been used, not perhaps here this afternoon, although it has been touched on, is that the City courts have to deal with very intricate financial cases. It is a fact, of course, that the aldermen, by virtue of their commercial experience, are able to bring very expert judgment to bear on those cases. But do not let us be misled into thinking that it is cases of this kind that constitute the main business of the courts in the City. The noble Lord, Lord Goddard—whom I am sure we were all delighted to see here this afternoon—ranged back for a period of five or six years, and produced four of these long complicated cases—only four of them. I may say that on my own bench we have often had cases of similar complexity which have gone on for five, six or seven days. But these, as I say, are not the main business of the courts in the City; and if anyone suggested that they were this would be a slur on the integrity of the City of London. The bulk of the cases there are the same kind of case that we get in our magistrates' courts all over the country.

The last figures that were published were those for 1966. Let us see the kinds of case with which the City magistrates had to deal. They dealt with well over 6,000 motoring cases, over 800 cases of minor larceny, over 300 of thefts from vehicles, over 100 of thefts from shops, 160 cases of larceny as servant, 366 of shopbreaking, 11 of possessing housebreaking implements, 14 of embezzlement, 9 of falsification of accounts, 170 of false pretences, 8 of fraud by agent and 30 of wounding. If I may speak in muffled tones there were also 9 cases of indecent assault that came before the City bench, one case of unlawful sexual intercourse with a girl between 13 and 16 and one case of rape. This is really a very good sample mixed bag which might be duplicated or triplicated in almost any bench in the country. So I think we ought not to get the impression that the City bench has to be composed of very special people because the bulk of their work deals with very special cases.

The argument has also been used that the resident City population is a small one, that it consists largely of caretakers and commissionaires and barristers' wives in the Temple who might hardly b capable of taking up J.P.s' duties; and I suppose that Canon Collins, one of the residents of the City, would be unqualified from another point of view. But there are big residential developments taking place in the City of London as present, and soon there will be a very wide reservoir of residents from whom one could select possible justices of the peace. And what is wrong with bringing ordinary justices of the peace from other parts of Greater London to sit on the City bench, just as we now draft them to sit on other benches in other parts of Greater London? It may be argued that many of these would not be residents of the City, would not live there. But how many of the aldermen live in the City? I think that far more live in the Surrey "stockbroker belt" than live within the square mile of the City of London.

I do not think the aldermen really have much cause to worry. I should not be surprised—although the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has not told me anything about this—that all the City aldermen who are now officiating in the City courts will probably be appointed by name as justices of the peace for the City if this Bill happens to get through your Lordships' House. So I do not think they need worry. They would sit, as they do now, perhaps with a lady or gentleman, an ordinary lay magistrate, sitting on either side.

We heard during the debate about Dick Whittington. The days when Dick Whittington was Lord Mayor of London may have been very glamorous and exciting days, but times have changed, and we cannot live in those far-off days for ever and ever. I support the Bill as it stands. I hope that, within the new reconstituted City bench, room will be found for those aldermen capable of rendering a very valuable service, but that this service will be rendered in their capacity as individual J.P.s and not ex officio as members of the local authority.

5.47 p.m.


My Lords, I am very grateful to all your Lordships who have been good enough to take part in this debate, and I shall of course study with great care everything that has been said. In reply to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Cumnor, may I say that I am indeed grateful to the draftsmen for the work which they have done in repealing so many Bills as they have here, not only the Jurisdiction in Liberties Act 1535 and the Habeas Corpus Act 1640—only part of which is still existing at the moment—but the Bill which says that any Privy Counsellor can send anybody to prison. I hope nobody will ask me why we are repealing the Cheshire and Lancashire County Councils (Runcorn-Widnes Bridge etc.) Act 1947, because I do not know. I see that we also repeal part of the Petition of Right.

With regard to commissioners of police, the position is extraordinarily complicated, and is of the nature the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, indicated; that is to say, that being a justice of the peace is not something which is added on ex officio to being a commissioner; it seems to be the basis of being a commissioner. It is right to say that a commissioner is not a constable, and therefore if he is not a justice of the peace apparently a good deal of his position will be undermined. It really requires a very careful examination of the Acts which relate to commissioners of police, and there has not been time for that to be done in the course of this Bill.

So far as the age of appointment is concerned, I quite agree with the noble Lord that there may be many people in their late fifties thinking about retiring who would make admirable justices of the peace. The practice of Lord Chancellors has varied. I do not myself have any lower age limit at all; some in the past have had. I do not ordinarily appoint a justice over 60, except in exceptional circumstances, partly because they cannot sit on the juvenile court after 65. In answer to what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Parker of Waddington, said, I shall of course be most happy to consult with him about the wording of Clause 5(3).

The noble Lord, Lord Ilford, was not very happy, I think, about the reduction of the retiring age to 70, in view, he thought, of the great difficulties of getting justices of the peace. I am most concerned to get the best justices of the peace from all sections of the community, but there is of course a very large excess in the number of people who have been recommended to advisory committees over those appointed. It is a misconception to think there is a shortage. I mention this only because I have read it once or twice in letters lately from people who seem to think there is some frightful shortage of justices of the peace. There is not. There are always many more on what I might call the waiting list than can possibly be appointed.

In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Grimston of Westbury, certainly it will in no way be a detriment to somebody being appointed that he has been chairman of an urban district council. On the contrary. This applies to all those ex officio, including, of course, the aldermen of the City of London, that the particular nature of the office which they hold ex officio is such that they would ordinarily occur to an advisory committee as distinguished local citizens who, if they had time to serve, would be appointed on their merits.

I always thought that what the County Councils Association said to the Royal Commission—this was about their own chairmen—on whether the chairmen of county councils should be ex officio justices of the peace was unanswerable. They said: The Association entertain no doubt that if any approach is to be made to the ideal that only the most suitable persons are appointed to the Commission of the Peace, then chairmen of county, borough, urban and rural district councils should cease to qualify for admission to the list merely by their assumption of these offices. The qualities which enable a chairman of a local authority to perform his duties with success are not of necessity those requisite for the office of justice of the peace, added to which there is the point that in many areas the office of chairman is a matter of rotation rather than of distinctive merit. In any event, if a chairman of a local authority is suitable for appointment as a justice of the peace, the ordinary procedure should suffice to ensure his consideration for that office. It would seem to me to be difficult to argue against that.

I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, that young mothers will be eligible for financial loss allowances under Clause 4. This is just the sort of problem we have in mind, that of young mothers who have to pay somebody to look after the children, or the man with the one-man shop who has to pay somebody to look after his shop. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, I have no present intention of going below the age of 70. I will most carefully bear in mind what he said about the supplemental lists. I gather that he would be in favour of rather further and better financial provisions than the abolition of the three mile limit and the financial loss allowances. But I think he should let me get this through the Treasury first, and then we can see what can be done later.

The only remaining point is that with regard to the aldermen of the City of London. We have had interesting arguments on this, and I will take them all most carefully into account before the Committee stage of the Bill. A number of noble Lords who have connections with the City of London have expressed views one way, and my noble friend Lord Leatherland has advanced the argu- ments the other way. The only things which I should like to make clear this afternoon are these: first, that nothing in this Bill is in any way aimed at the City of London. Indeed, I may say that I have had the most friendly relations with them over this Bill. I have had deputations from them. We have had our arguments, but I hope I can say that we have remained good friends. The Bill is not aimed at anybody at all except, so far as Clause 1 is concerned, at 2,000 ex officio justices. It is quite right to say that there is no complaint at all about the way in which the City aldermen have done their work. It is also quite true to say that, unlike mast of the other ex officio justices, they are given by their clerks the same sort of training which the proper justices of the peace have.

But the arguments on the other side are those which have been put by my noble friend Lord Leatherland. Why do we not have, as most countries have, all criminal cases tried by one man, either by a lawyer or perhaps by an experienced layman? An experienced layman would be much cheaper. Is not the reason this? If you are asked by a foreigner, "Why do you support your system of lay justices of the peace?", would you not say: "We feel that one man, however admirable, doing nothing but trying crime day after day, week after week, month after month, is not on the whole so good a court as a collection of ordinary citizens, men and women of different ages, different occupations, different backgrounds and experience, all putting their heads together to decide, first, what is the most common question: who is telling the truth?" They have to decide who is telling the truth.

What many, I feel, think best is if one can fairly say that the probability is that anybody coming before a court of justices will find someone there who is familiar with his habits of speech and thought and his economic and living conditions. From experience, it is not the weekly wage earner who is lenient with the weekly wage earner. Far from it. It is usually the weekly wage earner who says, "Well, you say that is your pay. But, of course, that is only your basic pay, is it not? That is not your take-home pay." It is a good thing to have this general spread of all kinds of conditions among lay justices.

I cannot conceive of a state of affairs in which any advisory committee for the City of London would not include among its recommendations for appointment all the aldermen of the City of London. So what are we really arguing about? The only thing we are arguing about is this: do we leave the aldermen as they are—sole, well-to-do males? Or can they not so far demean themselves as to have sitting with them two ordinary citizens? That is all it is about, though one must face the fact that one of them might be a woman. I have told them myself that I think they will love it. It all depends upon which woman, but I think they will find it much more interesting. I think everybody does. I should not be at all surprised if some of those in this Chamber live to see the day when High Court Judges sit with a couple of civilians. Sentencing is becoming more and more difficult and sophisticated, and two heads are better than one. One noble Lord said, I think, that he had had to alter his view, on hearing what somebody else had said. I believe that talking it over is of enormous help.

But there are two views on this matter. I quite appreciate the other view. On the whole I think it is mistaken, because all it comes to is whether these aldermen are prepared to sit with a couple of ordinary citizens, and particularly one a woman. My noble friend Lord Leatherland was quite right in saying that the cases in the City are much the same as those in another similar town. It may be—may it not?—that women who have to give evidence in a case of indecent assault prefer, even in the City, to have a woman on the bench. But these are things which we can consider further. May I conclude by again saying how grateful I am to all noble Lords who have taken part in what, to me, has been a most interesting debate.

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