HL Deb 08 December 1986 vol 482 cc1062-5

8.46 p.m.

Lord Cameron of Lochbroom

My Lords, I rise to move that the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper, the Maximum Number of Judges (Scotland) Order 1986, which was laid before the House on 12th November this year, be approved.

Your Lordships will recall that I moved a similar Motion on 17th July last year which then sought to increase the maximum number of judges for the Court of Session from 22 to 23 and which your Lordships subsequently approved. The additional judge was appointed in September 1985. In view of the relatively recent discussion of the position of the Supreme Courts in Scotland your Lordships will wish to know why a further increase in judicial strength is now being sought.

I should begin by saying something about the report of the review body on the use of judicial time in the superior courts in Scotland which was published on 18th July this year. This provides an authoritative and up-to-date assessment of the position in the Supreme Courts. Your Lordships will recall that it was in the course of my speech on the last draft order that I announced that with the agreement of the Lord President of the Court of Session the review body was being set up under the chairmanship of a Court of Session judge. Its purpose was to investigate means by which judicial time in the Supreme Courts might be organised more effectively in order to secure earlier disposal of cases sent to the appropriate rolls of the Court of Session for proof, debate and appellate court hearings and to report with recommendations. The distinguished judge, the honourable Lord Maxwell, kindly accepted an invitation to act as chairman, and it is to his credit, and that of the principal clerk of session and justiciary and the then deputy director of Scottish courts administration who also acted as members of the review body, that within a very short period of time they were able to produce a comprehen—sive and thorough report. I would also take the opportunity to say that the report would not have been so valuable without the wholehearted co-operation of the judges of the Court of Session in the exercise. I commend the report to your Lordships.

The main conclusions reached by the review body were that the judges of the Court of Session contribute to their judicial duties an amount of time which the review body considered to be fully acceptable but that there was some scope for making better use of in-court judicial time allocated for civil business. A substantial number of detailed recommendations were made in the report to this end concerning procedural and organisational matters falling within the responsibilities of the Lord President. The review body also identified a number of possible legislative reforms which they considered worthy of examination and which, if implemented, might offer some reduction of the work in the High Court or a further improvement of the use made of judicial time. These were the establishment of a single judge sift of summary and criminal appeals, a two-judge bench for certain appeals, an increase in sheriffs' sentencing powers in solemn procedure and the use of temporary judges.

Following receipt of the report my right honourable friend the Secretary of State and I discussed the recommendations with the Lord President. As a result, the Lord President invited a small group of practising advocates and solicitors to examine with court officials the recommendations which he had accepted in principle and to submit to him detailed proposals—including where appropriate draft rules of court, practice directions and so forth—so that the reforms recommended could be brought into effect early in 1987. I understand that the implementation group has completed its work, and its report is expected to be in the Lord President's hands very shortly. The practical effect of these alterations in releasing judicial resources cannot be precisely forecast. The review body itself noted the difficulties in doing so. But it is clear that they will make a worthwhile contribution, and will build on work instigated by the Lord President over a number of years to improve, simplify or bring up-to-date the procedures and practices of the Supreme Courts in the interests of improving efficiency and the service offered by them. The review body report catalogues what it calls this "substantial measure of self-examination" and noble Lords would, I am sure, wish me to express our appreciation and thanks to the Lord President for all that has been done, and is continuing to be done, under his hand to ensure the effective administration of the Supreme Courts.

Turning to possible legislative reforms arising from the review body report, the review body itself was unable in the limited time at its disposal to pursue these. Indeed they involved matters of some fundamental importance and it was only right therefore that these should be subjected to more detached examination. My right honourable and learned friend the Secretary of State decided therefore to consult interested bodies and organisations on them, and noble Lords may not be suprised to learn that no consensus has emerged from the consultations. In view of this we are giving very careful consideration to the opinions expressed before announcing decisions on this group of proposals.

The changes arising from the review body report may prove valuable. However, there is an immediate need for additional resources to cope with the volume of business with which the Supreme Courts in Scotland are faced. In last year's debate I referred to criminal business requiring 1,205 judge days in 1984. The comparable figure for 1985 was 1,540 judge days, and all the indications are that this figure will be exceeded in 1986. These figures show well the increasing demands which such business makes on judicial time and the correspondingly serious constraints on time for judges to deal with civil matters. This is instanced by the continuing difficulty in dealing as expeditiously as parties have the right to expect with civil work after the close of the record in such cases. My right honourable and learned friend the Secretary of State has decided therefore that a further additional judge should be appointed.

In commending the draft order to your Lordships I believe that what we are proposing is wholly consistent with what I said in July last year, when I mentioned that should the expected increase in criminal business outstrip the savings secured elsewhere it might be necessary to seek an increase at some future date. In view of the developments I have described to your Lordships taking place, to ensure the most effective use of judicial time, it is my hope that the further addition which is now being sought need not have a similar caveat attached to it. However, this will depend on how the workload coming before the Supreme Court develops in future. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 12th November be approved. [1st Report from the Joint Committee.]—(Lord Cameron of Lochbroom.)

Lord Morton of Shuna

My Lords, I too remember July 1985, and I am in the happy position to be able to say, "I told you so". In both June 1985, as regards the miscellaneous provisions Bill, and in the debate on last year's order, I suggested that one judge was not nearly sufficient. That still remains the position.

I would join with the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate in paying tribute to the work of Lord Maxwell. It adds to the very considerable debt which every member of the legal profession in Scotland owes to him as a result of his work in the Law Commission. However, I would add a caveat: it is no use having judges if you have nowhere to put them. As the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate has pointed out, we are seeing a considerable increase in the number of criminal cases going into the High Court. When I ceased to prosecute in the High Court in November 1979, the High Court in Glasgow was overstretched and required the use of at least four courts. There is now a proposal that the High Court building should be altered so that there will be four courts. Four courts will not be nearly enough and there is no point in building four courts if we shall need six. I trust that this matter, and the shortage of space in the Court of Session, will also be looked at. Otherwise, I would give a warm welcome to this order.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at six minutes before nine o'clock.