HL Deb 22 June 1971 vol 320 cc777-8

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government when they will decide whether the responsibility for the provision and maintenance of magistrates' court buildings, and their administration, should be transferred to the Lord Chancellor on behalf of the Government.]


My Lords, the provision and maintenance of magistrates' courts buildings is one aspect of the general question of the future organisation of magistrates' courts, on which my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has invited the observations of those concerned.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for that Answer, may I ask him, first, whether he would be prepared to place in the Library a copy of the substantive document and the people to whom it has been sent; secondly, whether he has seen the resolution of the Justices Clerks' Society, that magistrates' courts should be recognised as part of the country's judicial system working under the aegis of the Lord Chancellor "; and thirdly, if so, why the whole inquiry has been prejudiced by being a Home Office inquiry, instead of a Lord Chancellor's inquiry, or, better still, a joint inquiry by both Houses?


My Lords, I will certainly arrange for the consultative document and the list of those to whom it has been sent to be placed in the Library. My right honourable friend is aware of the views of the Justices Clerks' Society. But it is a major issue of policy whether magistrates' courts should be centralised and become part of a unified court system, or whether they should remain under local control, as now. The question of buildings forms part of this review. Although the document was sent out by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, I understand that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor has been closely involved with its preparation and that any discussions with interested parties will be attended by officials of both Departments.


My Lords, arising from the Question put by my noble and learned friend and the reply from the Minister, can the noble Lord say what progress has been made in regard to not only magistrates' courts but police buildings throughout the country?—because many of these belong to the Victorian era, and it is time that many of them were replaced with new buildings.


My Lords, the provision of police stations and other police premises is really a separate question. The Question on the Order Paper relates only to magistrates' courts, which, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, knows, raise particular issues of policy at this time.


My Lords, in view of the high cost of insuring courthouses and judges' lodgings by individual county committees, would the noble Lord not agree that it would be more economical, and worthy of consideration that the Government should carry the risk themselves, accept the liability and, if necessary, apportion the losses throughout the counties?


My Lords, I will take note of that suggestion. This is something which would follow from the policy decisions that will need to be taken when the review is complete. The answer would depend on whether the central Government or the local authorities and magistrates' courts committees retain responsibility for the provision and maintenance of the buildings.

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