§ 3.33 p.m.
§ The LORD CHANCELLOR (Lord Elwyn-Jones)
My Lords, just over 100 years ago the Royal Assent was given to the Supreme Court of Judicature (Ireland) Act 1877. That Act has remained and is still today the Statute governing the organisation and jurisdiction of the Supreme Court in Northern Ireland. However, for reasons which I w ill explain shortly, the time has now come for proposals to be brought before your Lordships to replace the 1877 Act and indeed much subsequent legislation as well. Those proposals are now embodied in this comprehensive Bill.
Since the 1877 Act was passed, many and far reaching changes have taken place in Northern Ireland. I shall not endeavour to describe them all to your Lordships. I have not the necessary knowledge, despite my membership of 212 the Northern Ireland Bar. But it may be helpful if I describe briefly some of the significant developments that have taken place in the legal system in Northern Ireland during those years and the evolution of the courts in their present form.
They have developed in three distinct, although inter-related, tiers. First, the Supreme Court and the Court of Criminal Appeal; secondly, the county courts (as successors to the courts of quarter sessions); and, thirdly, the magistrates' courts. Following the major reorganisation of the higher courts in England and Wales in 1873, a Supreme Court of Ireland was established by the Act of 1877. It became the Supreme Court of Judicature of Northern Ireland after 1920. For civil business, the High Court in Northern Ireland sits in two divisions; the Chancery Division and the Queen's Bench Division. The main criminal jurisdiction of the High Court continues to be exercised at courts of assize. Although all serious "terrorist" crime is currently dealt with in Belfast (at the Belfast City Commission, which is the assize court for Belfast and is now unhappily in almost continuous session) judges continue to travel twice a year to the main county towns for the spring and autumn assizes, thereby continuing a practice which has been followed since the 13th century. This is a practice which existed also in England before the Beeching recommendations; a practice which, like many other members of the Bar, I enjoyed greatly during those halcyon days. There is also a winter assize, which is normally taken by a single judge in one place only.
The other court which forms part of the first tier is the Court of Criminal Appeal which, like its English counterpart until its abolition in 1966, is a separate creation of Statute. It is not part of the Supreme Court, although in practice it is manned by judges of that court and is staffed by the same officers.
The second tier of courts—the county courts—have much more ancient origins than county courts in England. They were reorganised in 1959 and now exercise both civil and criminal jurisdiction. Their criminal jurisdiction, which they took over from quarter sessions, consists of dealing with appeals from magistrates' courts and trials on indictment of all but a very few 213 excepted offences. The civil jurisdiction of county courts covers common law claims up to a limit of £1,000, and also unlimited jurisdiction in claims for damage to property, death and personal injuries which come within the criminal injury legislation.
The magistrates' courts in Northern Ireland, which form the third tier of the court structure, are normally presided over by resident magistrates who are appointed both from the Bar and from the ranks of solicitors. As in England, the criminal jurisdiction is of two kinds—committal proceedings in respect of indictable offences, and the hearing and determination of complaints charging summary offences. These courts also have a small civil jurisdiction consisting mainly of the hearing of claims for debt and for ejectment, and business in respect of maintenance orders and the issue of licences. There are also lay magistrates, who may still conduct committal proceedings, but since 1935 their powers to try offences have been very limited, but I am grateful to them for the assistance that they continue to give.
This system has served the needs of the people of Northern Ireland very well over the years, and there is generally a high level of confidence in the quality of the administration of justice there. Nevertheless, it has become increasingly apparent in recent years that the system is under strain in certain respects. This is due largely to the considerable increase in crime, with the consequential increase in the number of criminal cases to be tried. The situation has been the subject of examination and report by three distinguished committees in Northern Ireland. This Bill owes much of its content to the detailed and painstaking work of those committees. I should like to express on behalf of the Government our thanks and appreciation to their members, and especially to their chairmen, the noble and learned Lord, Lord MacDermott, the learned Lord Chief Justice, Sir Robert Lowry, and Lord Justice Jones. We have been fortunate that three such eminent members of the Northern Ireland Judiciary were willing to devote so much of their time, in addition to their other duties, to produce these reports which together represent a most valuable examination of the entire court structure in Northern Ireland.
214 Those committees recommended various improvements in the administration of justice. The MacDermott Committee recommended replacement of the more antiquated aspects of the administration of the Supreme Court. They also recommended that the Court of Criminal Appeal should became part of the Supreme Court by amalgamation with the Court of Appeal and, with regard to the county courts, they felt that the county was no longer the best territorial basis of jurisdiction and that a new sub-division of the Province into four regions, based on centres pf population, would improve the administration of justice.
The Lowry Committee's recommendations were in part overtaken by those of the Jones Committee and their remaining recommendations have largely already been implemented. The Jones Committee, whose report was presented in 1974, criticised the existing system and, having considered the newly-established Crown Court system in England and Wiles, felt that, as they put it:the time is ripe for the establishment of a unified system of courts for the trial of indictable offences".The Committee recommended the establishment of a Crown Court system to take over the existing original criminal jurisdiction of the courts of assize and county courts. They also recommended that the three separate court services of the Supreme Court, the county courts and the magistrates' courts should be unified, that a proper court service should be established and that a central department should be set up to administer the new court service. In addition, they made recommendations with regard to petty sessions districts. Although the Bill does not follow all the recommendations of these committees in every detail, they form the basis of this Bill. Account has also been taken of the views which have been received following the publication of a Consultative Document in October 1976.
Following those recommendations and consultations, the Government's approach in the Bill is to make those changes which are necessary both now and for the foreseeable future, while as far as possible preserving the best of the existing system. The main changes are, first, to provide the Supreme Court with a new basic 215 Statute and a modernised administrative structure; second, to merge the Court of Criminal Appeal with the Court of Appeal; third, to abolish the original criminal jurisdiction of courts of assize and county courts and to establish in their place a Crown Court with exclusive original criminal jurisdiction on indictment; and fourth, to establish a unified courts service to provide the administrative staff for all levels of courts in Northern Ireland.
It will be apparent to your Lordships that the greater part of this Bill relates to the Supreme Court and in fact seeks to provide a new statutory basis for the practice and procedure of the several courts which will constitute the new Supreme Court of Judicature of Northern Ireland. The new Crown Court is established by Clause 4 and will be part of the Supreme Court.
In Part II there are set out the detailed provisions relating to the jurisdiction of the High Court. The opportunity has been taken to give effect, with some modifications, to the recommendations both of the MacDermott Committee and of the Law Commission on Remedies in Administrative Law in relation to applications for injunctions, declaratory judgments and prerogative orders which should greatly simplify those somewhat complex procedures. This is done by Clauses 18 to 25, and in Clauses 26 to 29 there are provisions for the transfer to the High Court of certain jurisdiction relating to minors and mental patients that is at present vested in the Lord Chief Justice.
The Court of Appeal is similarly provided for in Part III and the abolition of the Court of Criminal Appeal, and the transfer of its jurisdiction to the new Court of Appeal, is achieved by Clause 34. A similar change was made in England and Wales in 1966 and I think it is generally agreed that that change was successful. A new substructure for the Supreme Court is provided for in Parts V, VI, and VII. There are also some technical legal provisions in Part VIII.
I turn to the new Crown Court which will be covered by Part IV of the Bill. It has become apparent that the present arrangement of the several sittings of the assize and county courts is not the most 216 efficient system of co-ordinating the scarce judicial resources available and of ensuring the prompt dispatch of business. They have a largely overlapping jurisdiction but require arrangements for sitting days, lists and jury panels which are separate for each tier of court. Furthermore, this system does not make the best use of court buildings and other accommodation. The changes which I will now describe are modelled on those made six years ago in England and Wales with considerable success. Indeed, I believe that if those changes had not been made we should be in even greater difficulties in England and Wales than we are now, with, I fear, the growing backlog of cases waiting for trial due to the graphic and continuing increase in criminal cases.
The new Crown Court will be capable of sitting anywhere in Northern Ireland and, although commissions of assize as such will cease to be issued, it is contemplated that judges of the Supreme Court will continue to go to places outside Belfast to hear and determine serious criminal cases. Judges of the county court and of the Supreme Court, including the Lords Justices, will all be judges of the Crown Court. In recent years, the assistance given by county court judges, at the request of the Lord Chief Justice, in the trial of indictable offences at the Belfast City Commission since 1973 has given a clear demonstration of the administrative advantages of such a system, and it undoubtedly leads to accused persons being tried more quickly.
Under the provisions of Clause 47, it will be the function of the Lord Chief Justice—and I emphasise that it will be his function—to give directions as to the sitting of High Court and county court judges in the Crown Court. It will also be for him to determine the cases or classes of cases suitable for allocation to judges of the High Court and to county court judges respectively. Thus, the most serious cases—and they will probably be a fairly limited class—will be reserved for trial only by judges of the Supreme Court, but most cases will be capable of being tried by county court judges. At the same time, the Lord Chief Justice will be concerned to ensure an equitable distribution of criminal business among the Judicary. Clause 47 also provides that it shall be for the Secretary of State, but only after 217 consultation with the Lord Chief Justice, to determine the places at which the Crown Court is to sit and the days and times of sittings.
The Crown Court will have its own rules of procedure; and Clause 53 provides that the rule-making authority will be the Supreme Court Rules Committee with the addition of two county court judges, a resident magistrate and a master of the Supreme Court.
The fourth of the principal objectives of the Bill is the establishment of a "unified and distinct" court service, as Clause 69 of the Bill describes it. I do not think this idea of a single court service for Northern Ireland is a new one: it has in fact developed gradually over a considerable number of years. Indeed, as long ago as 1957 the committee presided over by the late Mr. Justice Sheil recommended very much this kind of thing; and more recently a White Paper entitled Northern Ireland Constitutional Proposals, published in 1973, expressed support for the unified administration of the courts.
At present the courts are serviced by three distinct bodies; namely, the staff of the Supreme Court, the county court service and the petty sessions service. There is, in addition, in Belfast, an enforcement of judgments office, established in 1969, which has responsibility for giving effect to the judgments and orders of the Supreme Court and decrees of the lower courts. At the present time there is no provision for any interchange of staff between these several services, and this has restricted the effective deployment of staff and, of course, the opportunity for career advancement. The creation of career opportunities for court staff has indeed been a primary consideration underlying the adoption of the proposal for a single service, and this, I think, will be a valuable advance. Now, more than 20 years since the recommendations of the Sheil Committee, I think it is appropriate to create this separate and distinct Civil Service of the Crown, which will not be part of the Home Civil Service, nor indeed of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, but a new Northern Ireland Court Service.
I now come to the question which Minister should have responsibility for 218 this new service—a matter about which I know a good deal of concern has been expressed. I have given it very careful and prolonged consideration after much discussion with the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland and others, but in the end I decided, with the agreement of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, that the overall responsibility for the administration of the courts should rest with the Secretary of State, and that he should be answerable to Parliament for its performance.
I must emphasise at the outset that this question has no bearing whatsoever on the independence of the Judiciary—to which, of course, I attach very great importance. It is essential that, whatever changes may be made, nothing s should be done which would weaken the independence of the Judiciary in Northern Ireland. For this purpose, I believe the key elements are the appointment and the tenure of office of the judges themselves and of the professional officers of the courts who are responsible for undertaking judicial work. These will remain unaffected by the proposals in the Bill. All appointments will be the responsibility either of the Lord Chancellor or of the Lord Chief Justice. No such appointment will be terminable without my approval or, in appropriate cases, the full, traditional Parliamentary process; and I and my successors, I feel sure, will continue to support and uphold the judges should the Executive at any time seek to encroach on judicial territory.
The deployment of the Judiciary will also be in the hands of the Lord Chancellor or of the Lord Chief Justice. Clause 47 of the Bill gives this responsibility to the Lord Chief Justice in respect of sittings in the Crown Court, and Clause 97 makes the Lord Chancellor responsible for the assignment of county court judges to their county court divisions. Thus, any attempt by the Secretary of State or his senior officials to manipulate the judicial process—and this is in any event a highly unlikely development—would be bound to be ineffective. Moreover, I have given the judges an assurance that, should they need a voice at governmental level at any time, I will be available for the purpose. I may add that I would not have given my agreement to the new 219 proposals had I not been satisfied in my own mind about these matters; and I have the authority of the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland to say that he is similarly satisfied. I hope that that will reassure those who have expressed doubts about this part of the proposals.
The question of ministerial responsibility is directly related to the setting up of the new court service. I think there is a feeling in some quarters that the creation of this service, with a central administration, will to some extent take out of the judges' hands a measure of the organisation of court business, and put it into the hands of administrators. It is, of course, one of the purposes of setting up the new court service that it should provide an efficient administrative structure and should be able to relieve the judges of some of their administrative responsibilities. That has happened in England and Wales since the passing of the Courts Act, and I do not believe it has resulted in any detriment to the position of the judges, nor to their independence.
Although I am the head of the Judiciary, my responsibility for the administration of the courts in England and Wales is a ministerial one, which I exercise in my capacity as a Minister of the Crown. Therefore, it makes no difference, for this purpose, whether the responsible Minister is the Lord Chancellor or the Secretary of State: the self-same officials will in practice have the day-to-day running of the courts. It is merely a question of which Department is to co-ordinate their operations and which Minister is to answer to Parliament should the officials make mistakes or if there is criticism of undue delays or other defects in the running of the system. The operational control of the Supreme Court will remain very much in the hands of the Lord Chief Justice and his judicial colleagues.
There is one particular reason for leaving responsibility with the Secretary of State which I regard as decisive. My predecessor and I, as Lord Chancellors, and our Department have now had six years' experience of the running of the new service in England and Wales. This has shown that, if it is to work effectively and complaints are to be avoided, the Lord Chancellor and his more senior officials have necessarily and frequently 220 to be involved in a great many of the problems. If these are to be solved in a sympathetic and effective way, we have found that it is essential to have a close personal knowledge of the issues and personalities involved. In the case of Northern Ireland, we do not think it would be practicable for my senior officials, or indeed for me, to acquire and maintain the intimate, informed and up-to-date knowledge of local conditions and personalities that would be essential. Even though the officials on the spot in Belfast would be the same whichever Minister had responsibility, I believe it would not overcome the difficulty about the need for my own involvement and that of my most senior officials. Finally, the administration of all courts below the level of the Supreme Court is already in the hands of the Secretary of State, and has been so since 1973; and I do not think there has been any diminution in public confidence in the administration of justice in the Province in this time.
There will continue to be a number of posts which call for professional legal qualifications. These are listed in Schedule 3 to the Bill and we can consider the detail of those in due course. It is the Government's intention that a small claims jurisdiction shall vest in the new officials, the circuit registrars, and that the valuable and encouraging experience gained in England and Wales with regard to small claims procedures should be drawn on in order to achieve this. The Government will be bringing forward Amendments for this purpose at a later stage.
There is one other matter that I should mention—and I apologise for taking up so much of the time of the House; but this is a very important change in the whole structure of the administration of justice in Northern Ireland—and that is the new arrangements for the territorial distribution of the county courts and magistrates' courts, which are to be found in Clauses 95 and 99. They will enable the Secretary of State, after consultation with me, to fix new boundaries for court districts. I believe that this will be a useful development and will go for greater efficiency. The changes proposed will require an alteration in the territorial basis of the magistrates' courts. With the abolition of courts of 221 assize based on counties and with new local government and police districts no longer based on geographical counties, the time has come for the county courts to abandon this basis of jurisdiction also. The Bill will enable this to be done.
My Lords, I believe the measure which I am now presenting to the House will constitute an improvement in the administration of justice in Northern Ireland. But a measure like this can, at best, only provide a framework in which new ideas and concepts for an effective court structure can be blended with the best of the old. In the final analysis, a system can only be as good as the individuals who operate it. In view of the high reputation earned by members of the Judiciary in Northern Ireland, and the commendable support services maintained during a long period of exceptional stress and increasing pressure of work by court staff there, I feel sure that we can look forward confidently to the future development of the legal system in Northern Ireland. I beg to move.
Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ 4.2 p.m.
§ Lord BELSTEAD
My Lords, the preparation for this Bill spans a period of over 10 years, during which there have been published no fewer than three reports by committees which included both the present and the previous Lord Chief Justices of Northern Ireland. Therefore, although the changes which the Bill will effect in the structure of the courts in Northern Ireland will be in harmony with the structure in England and Wales, the members of the MacDermott, Lowry and Jones Committees have ensured that these changes are going to be made in accordance with the system of judicature and the judicial needs of Northern Ireland.
As the main purpose of this Bill is to modernise the whole range of Northern Ireland's courts and to establish the Crown Court, speaking as one with no legal qualifications I should particularly like to thank the learned and noble Lord the Lord Chancellor for his very full explanation of this Bill. Indeed, on a Bill of this importance I regret that it is not possible for one of my legally qualified colleagues to speak. However, the slimness 222 of my knowledge I hope will be matched by the brevity of my speech. For that reason, I make no comment about the revised structure for the Supreme Court which has been explained to us so clearly by the noble and learned Lord today. Suffice it that Parts I, II and III of the Bill follow, in the main, the recommendations of the MacDermott Committee. But from this one question, although a very minor one, arises.
On pages 144 and 145 of the MacDermott Report, Recommendations 16 to 19 dealt with probate matters; and each of those recommendations contained a proposal either for a new provision or for repeal of an existing provision of the la x or the administration of the law relating to probate. I confess that I am unable to trace the clauses in the Bill which carry those recommendations into effect and I wonder whether the noble and learned Lord would be good enough to explain the reason for those omissions.
Clause 4, taken with Part IV, will establish the Crown Court in Northern Ireland. The Jones Report of three years ago and the words of the noble and learned Lord today clearly show the desirability of this innovation; particularly that it will reduce, one hopes, the delay in bringing remanded cases to trial and will end the duplication of the criminal jurisdictions of the High Court and the county courts which were wasteful of the services of jurors, lawyers, court staff and the police, all of whom have been under great pressure in Northern Ireland in recent years.
At the same time, a departure from the practice in England and Wales is going to be that the county courts in Northern Ireland will retain their appellate jurisdiction in relation to magistrates' courts. It strikes me that this is a particularly appropriate retention with regard to appeals on family matters. Perhaps this is one instance of the way in which Northern Ireland will be in a better position than the administration of justice in England and Wales. Of course, as county court judges will sit in the Crown Courts, and therefore will continue to deal with criminal cases, I understand why there is no reason to alter the appeal arrangements which have worked satisfactorily in the past.
223 What I do not understand, however, quite so readily, is the reason why the right of resident magistrates to retain their civil jurisdiction alongside the civil jurisdiction of the county courts is to be tied up so tightly by Statute. I intend no reflection on the work of the magistrates' courts in saying that but, as paragraph 62 of the White Paper says that it may be necessary in the future to alter this dual arrangement depending upon how the civil jurisdiction of the new circuit registrars develops, I should have thought that power to alter this by way of Statutory Instrument subject to the Affirmative Resolution might be more appropriate than having to resort to primary legislation once again in the future.
There are just two more unrelated points which I should like to raise. I am advised that the clauses which comprise Part VIII do not appear in the equivalent legislation for England and Wales; namely, the Supreme Court Judicature Consolidation Act 1925. On looking more closely at Part VIII, to my joy I discovered that Clause 87 deals with the assignment of debts and choses in action; and pleasant memories of the Patents Bill returned to me once more. But even those tender memories cannot blind me to the realisation that the clauses in Part VIII do not appear to have a particularly unifying theme; and I wonder on what basis they were selected as being within the scope of this Bill.
The other matter is perhaps of more substance. Clause 18 legislates specifically for judical review in Northern Ireland. This, as I understand it, is to be done by Rules of Court and, indeed, subsection (2) of Clause 18 contains minimum provisions for those rules. However, I understand that procedure for judicial review in the High Court in England has simply been provided for by Rules of Court without the authority of primary legislation but by way of a Statutuory Instrument numbered 1955 of last year's date. If that is the case for England and Wales, I should be grateful to learn why it is that Clause 18 is necessary for Northern Ireland, and to be assured that the need for Clause 18 will not throw any doubt upon the way in which judicial review is being provided for in England and Wales.
The points which I have sought to make 224 are rather disparate and, perhaps, more suitable to the Committee stage. However, one of the main purposes of the Bill, as the noble and learned Lord has said, is to restructure the administration of the courts of Northern Ireland and, if I may I, should like to refer to this briefly—briefly because I think that other noble Lords who will be taking part in this debate will be referring to it also. The noble and learned Lord has made it clear that the responsibility for all judicial appointments in Northern Ireland will remain with the Lord Chancellor, so it can be said with absolute truth that all the members of the Judiciary will continue to be appointed by Her Majesty on the advice of the Lord Chancellor, a point emphasised by the noble and learned Lord in his speech. Furthermore, the appointment of what Clause 70 refers to as "statutory officers", listed in Schedule 3, is to continue to be made by the Lord Chief Justice for Northern Ireland, and indeed there are three additions to that list.
Apart from judicial appointments, up to the present time the Northern Ireland courts have been administered by three distinct court services, and Clause 69 of the Bill will bring them into a single unified service which, among other things, will have more attractive career opportunities, a provision which I have no doubt will receive considerable support. This leaves the question of who is to be ultimately responsible for this new service—a question, incidentally, which was left open for further decision in Schedule 3 to the 1973 Northern Ireland Constitution Act as being a "minimum reserved matter". It is therefore obviously right on the occasion of this Bill—a Bill which after all is going to determine the structure of Northern Ireland courts for many years to come—to consider very carefully indeed, the responsibility for the court service, and the noble and learned Lord in his speech has made it clear that he has given this matter very close attention.
I hope the noble and learned Lord will forgive me if I make a comment or two about the conclusion which he has reached, that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland should continue to have responsibility for the court service. First, it appears clear that the day-to-day running of this new service will be taken care of by the Treasury and the Civil Service Department as well as by the 225 administrative staff of the service. I understand that their pay will be provided by a separate Vote from the Treasury, though the Permanent Under-Secretary for the Northern Ireland Office will be the accounting officer and recruitment and careers within the service will be matters for the CSD. I am grateful to the Northern Ireland Office for furnishing me with that information.
Of course I have there been referring to those officials who will run the service, as the noble and learned Lord said, whoever is to be ultimately responsible. Given the establishment of a unified court service with statutory officers appointed by the Lord Chief Justice for Northern Ireland and the day-to-day running of the service being very carefully planned for, surely this is a golden opportunity for the ultimate responsibility for that service in Northern Ireland to be brought on to the same footing as the courts in England and Wales and to be assigned to the Lord Chancellor. Confidence in the administration of justice is essential, and nowhere more so, and, so far as some people are concerned, in some ways nowhere more difficult to bring about, than in Northern Ireland.
Public confidence in the office of the Lord Chancellor is explained, in far clearer words than I could ever marshall, in the MacDermott Report. Arguing a different matter, namely, the case for and against de-reserving powers relating to the Supreme Court from Parliament at Westminster, paragraph 43 of the MacDermott Report had this to say:Whatever may be said in favour of the strict separation of judicial and executive powers, the constitutional position in Great Britain affords a link between these two spheres which has proved of immense practical benefit. The Lord Chancellor of the day is both head of the Judiciary in England and a member of the Government in office. As a lawyer of high standing and authority he is thus in a unique position to see that the requirements of justice are recognised and respected and that the rule of law is upheld and protected from conflict between the several branches of Government".Those words were written by a Committee which included the Lord Chief Justice and the former Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, and the intention of those words would be very well served if the noble and learned Lord were to be responsible for the administration of Northern Ireland's courts.
226 Although this Second Reading is taking place in the tranquility of your Lordships' House, these courts are being administered within the realities of life in Northern Ireland, which are, that those who would attack the administration of justice should have no excuse, however ill-founded, to work their mischief, and those who wish to uphold the rule of law should be given every possible encouragement. The responsibility of the Lord Chancellor for the courts would go a long way to meet those two considerations, for the noble and learned Lord's office is seen not only to uphold, but also in a way to represent, the independence of the courts, and we know as a matter of fact that to place responsibility elsewhere is causing some considerable concern, not least with the General Council of the Bar in Northern Ireland. No doubt my noble friends Lord Moyola and Lord Brookeborough will be giving their view of this policy decision as they see it from the other side of the water.
Why then is the Government proposing a decision which is causing concern? The noble and learned Lord has laid stress upon the problem as he sees it, that his office would not be closely enough in touch with local conditions in Belfast and indeed throughout the Province. Of course I understand that the noble and learned Lord and his staff are under very great pressure indeed, but, as I have tried to show, the day-to-day administration of the new service is already being carefully planned and provided for, and if the noble and learned Lord will forgive my saying so, with his experience he will know that the plea of administrative convenience is an argument which very rarely finds favour in Parliament.
I listened when the noble and learned Lord said that the agreement of the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland to this decision had been secured, although whether or not the agreement was enthusiastic the noble and learned Lord did not divulge. I hope he will not think I am being impertinent if I say it would be interesting to hear in addition what measure of other support this proposal to bestow responsibility for the courts upon the Secretary of State has received in Northern Ireland. My belief is that it has received very little. That is regrettable for undoubtedly the substance of the rest of the Bill should go on to the Statute Book as speedily as possible.