HL Deb 23 July 1999 vol 604 cc1257-8

2.45 p.m.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 14th June be approved [22nd Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, Section 69 of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 enables a Minister, by making an order, to permit himself to authorise functions conferred on him to be carried out by another person or by the other person's employees.

The purpose of the order is to enable the Lord Chancellor to authorise another person, or that person's employees, to perform the functions of the Lord Chancellor under Section 2 of the Juries Act 1974 in so far as those functions involve the production and posting of jury summonses and the signing of certificates of posting under Section 2(6) of the Juries Act 1974.

The Act requires that jurors shall be summoned by notice in writing sent by post or delivered by hand. A certificate of posting must be signed by an "appropriate officer". The court manager or, more usually, one of his or her staff, is currently designated as the "appropriate officer" for those purposes.

Jury service is an important civic duty. Every year over half a million people are summoned to serve. Currently each Crown Court uses old-fashioned and resource-intensive systems to summon juries. The Lord Chancellor intends to modernise that important part of the criminal justice system by introducing new systems and modern technology to support the process. One of the changes will be to establish a central summoning bureau for England and Wales. That will introduce a more consistent approach to summoning jurors, reduce costs and offer higher levels of customer service to those who undertake this important duty.

The civil servants who work in the Court Service, an executive agency of the department of the Lord Chancellor, will continue to be responsible for nearly all the procedures involved in summoning jurors and will staff and run the new central bureau. However, it will maximise the efficiency of the new procedures if the Lord Chancellor contracts out the functions of printing and posting the summonses and signing the certificate of posting.

Therefore, I am seeking a contracting out order under the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 to enable a private sector organisation to post the summons and to sign the certificate of posting in future. The intention of the Lord Chancellor is to authorise the Court Service's private finance initiative suppliers, currently EDS, to carry out those functions.

I stress to the House that no other aspect of the Juries Act will be affected by the changes that are introduced and that the selection of jurors from the electoral register and the administration of juror responses will remain with the Court Service staff.

The draft order seeks only to contract out the posting and printing of summonses and the certification of posting. I commend the draft order to the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 14th June be approved [22nd Report from the Joint Committee].—(Lord Falconer of Thoroton.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.