HL Deb 02 February 1994 vol 551 cc93-4WA
Viscount Davidson

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What are their proposals for magistrates' courts committees and the employment of their staff, as set out in the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Mackay of Clashfern)

I have considered carefully the points raised during the debate on the second reading of the Police and Magistrates' Court Bill, and in particular the fears that the Bill's provisions could give central government an inappropriate level of control over the management of the magistrates court service and may undermine the independence of the advice received by magistrates when dealing with individual cases. I have also, since the second reading debate, met representatives of the Magistrates' Association, the Central Council of Magistrates' Courts' Committees, the Justices' Clerks Society, the Association of Magisterial Officers, and the Standing Conference of Clerks to Magistrates' Courts' Committees.

The Government are entirely committed to a locally managed magistrates' courts service and to the protection of the judicial independence of the magistracy. We do not believe that these principles are in any way undermined by the Bill. However, in order to place these matters beyond doubt, I shall table amendments to the Bill at committee stage.

The effect of these amendments will be:

  1. (a) that the chairman of a magistrates' courts committee would be appointed by members of the committee without requiring the approval of the Lord Chancellor;
  2. (b) that the terms of the contract of employment between chief justices' clerks or justices' clerks and their magistrates' court committees should be left entirely to local discretion. The Lord Chancellor would accordingly have no power to require that contracts be for a fixed term or that remuneration be related to performance;
  3. (c) the renewal of appointments as a chief justices' clerk or justices' clerk would not require the approval of the Lord Chancellor.