HL Deb 05 December 1974 vol 355 cc300-3

3.28 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, that the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Hughes.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The Earl of LISTOWEL in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Abolition of existing inferior courts and establishment of district courts]:

The Earl of SELKIRK moved Amendment No. 1: Page 1, line 19, leave out "(other than those exercisable when acting as a court of summary jurisdiction)

The noble Lord said: This Amendment is to leave out the words: other than those exercisable when acting as a court of summary jurisdiction. I find it difficult to know what those words mean. As I read this subsection, it seems to me that all functions of burgh magistrates not otherwise provided for, including a court of summary jurisdiction, shall be exercisable by a justice of the peace. This seems to me too simple an explanation, and I rather suspect there is something else in it. If so, perhaps the noble Lord will tell us so that we can understand the object of the subsection.


Like the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, I also had some doubt as to exactly what was the effect of these words, so I have examined the matter fairly thoroughly. I find, in fact, that it can perhaps be described as a "belt and braces" principle. When an Amendment is moved which has the effect of "adding belt to braces", it is generally the practice for Governments to say that it is not necessary to do this. I prefer consistency in the arguments which I advance rather than sticking to the wording of the Bill. For these reasons, I am prepared to accept the Amendment.

The Earl of SELKIRK

I thank the noble Lord.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

The Earl of SELKIRK moved Amendment No. 2: Page 2, line 7, after "bail bond" insert "bail money, caution money

The noble Earl said: I beg to move that the words "bail money, caution money" be inserted in the place mentioned in the Amendment. There is, I believe, bail money and caution money in the old courts, and they should accordingly be transferred to the new district courts. I beg to move.


Clause 1(3) of the Bill provides for continuity in the handling of cases between the existing courts and the new courts. Under the provisions of the subsection the district court will be treated as a continuation of the old court, and all acts, proceedings and documents of the old court concerning the court shall have effect accordingly in the new court. Bail and caution money paid to an existing court would be returned, where appropriate, by a district court. I am informed that there is no need for an explicit statutory provision to cover this, since the clause already provides that the district court shall be treated as succeeding to and being the same court as the existing court.

I would point out that the part of the Bill which the noble Earl wishes to amend refers to documents and proceedings, and neither bail money nor caution money can be regarded as either a document or a proceeding. So in the first place it is unnecessary, as I have said, to include any reference to this to ensure that the man who properly turns up has his bail or caution money returned to him; nor is it appropriate to treat either of these items of money as being a proceeding or a document. I therefore feel that this Amendment is unnecessary, and I ask the noble Earl to withdraw it.

The Earl of SELKIRK

With that explanation I am very happy to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 2 [District of, and exercise of jurisdiction by, district court]:

The Earl of SELKIRK moved Amendment No. 3: Page 2, line 31, after first "or" insert ", in areas or in circumstances in respect of which the Secretary of State may direct.".

The noble Earl said: This Amendment is intended to bring about a slight change of emphasis, and refers to the appointment of an increased number of stipendiary magistrates. Those concerned with the work of the inferior courts in Scotland hold strong views in favour of an Amendment of this character. What it really does is to give to the Secretary of State the initiative in appointing additional stipendiary magistrates. The reason I bring this up is because of Lord Grant's Report on sheriff courts, which was published in 1967. On examining the sheriff courts he felt immediately compelled also to examine the jurisdiction of the inferior courts. He found that he was seriously concerned at the alarming congestion in the sheriff courts, and when he went on to look at the inferior courts he found that they, too, were in difficulties.

He suggested four possible improvements here. The first is closer integration between the sheriff courts and the inferior courts. These two courts should be as close as possible in working together and in a later Amendment I shall put forward a specific proposal dealing with that. Secondly, he suggested that work should be transferred from the sheriff courts to the inferior courts in so far as the latter are competent to carry this out. Thirdly, he suggested an extension of jurisdiction of the inferior courts, but not an extension or increase of their powers of punishment. As a matter of fact, the Bill does not extend their jurisdiction, but that is the point which he made. Finally, he emphasised quite clearly in his Report that there must be an increase in the number of stipendiary magistrates except in the areas which are not thickly populated. The importance of this is that to some ex-tent the stipendiary magistrate has the powers of a sheriff. Glasgow, I believe, is already asking for an additional stipendiary, and this should not cost any more money. Not only will the money come in from the fines, but I believe that the cost of maintaining magistrates will be at least as much as the cost of employing a stipendiary.

The weakness of the Bill as it stands, to my mind, is that the appointment of stipendiaries is left entirely to the local authority. This is in fact a national problem; it is not a problem which can be left simply to the local authorities to deal with. The Secretary of State, in making a decision in regard to this, has the advice of the Lord Advocate, who is now taking over prosecutions, and we are very glad indeed that he is. I hope to bring in the sheriff principal, who can also give advice on this matter if he is put in a position in which he can supervise all criminal jurisdiction inside his sheriffdom. I believe this will bring about greater speed in disposal; it will give a much more standard and stable quality of justice; and it will maintain the confidence. This is no reflection at all on the existing bailie system. Lay magistrates will be available whenever they can do the job, and counsellors can play their part by appointment at any time under Clause 6. I think that this is a considerable advance on form, and I believe it is right that the initiative in increasing the number of stipendiary magistrates should lie with the Secretary of State. I beg to move.


I beg to move that the House be now resumed.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.