HC Deb 11 July 1994 vol 246 cc392-3W
Mr. Boateng

To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (1) in how many instances the formalities for the review of the contracts of recorders under the Courts Act 1971 failed to be completed before the due date over the last three appointment periods;

(2) how many recorders were required to stop sitting due to administrative errors or delay in the formalities of their appointment over the last three appointment periods;

(3) what steps have been taken (a) to remedy the consequences of any errors of procedural failures in respect of the reappointment of recorders under the Courts Act 1971 and (b) to prevent their recurrence;

(4) how much has been paid to recorders by way of renumeration in respect of days during which the authorisation of their continuing appointment had not been obtained;

(5) what has been the cost of any failures and errors in the administrative procedures for the reappointment of recorders under the Courts Act 1971.

Mr. John M. Taylor

Extensions of existing recorder appointments under the Courts Act 1971 are generally made for terms of three years, with approximately one third of recorders' appointments accordingly falling to be re-considered each year. Of the appointments expiring at the end of 1991, 1992 and 1993—and excluding appointments which it had been decided not to extend—there were seven instances in which the formal extension was not completed by 31 December of the relevant year. In the light of legal advice received earlier this year to the effect that the extensions purportedly made after the relevant 31 December were ineffective, four recorders whose appointments had been purportedly extended, and two recorders in respect of whose extensions steps had not been completed, were warned not to sit until they could be formally reappointed. One purported extension was for a period of 12 months, which has now elapsed. In two other cases recorders were also warned not to sit because, in the light of the legal advice, the extension of their appointment was now seen to be ineffective in purportedly extending their appointments to the 31 December following their 72nd birthday, rather than to the annniversary of their initial appointment. The recorders so advised have now been formally reappointed and so informed, except in one case where in the interim the individual ceased on age grounds to be eligible for a further appointment.

Standing instructions in the Department have been amended to make it clear that where a recorder's appointment cannot be extended before its expiry, further service as a recorder can only be effected by a formal reappointment. During the material time in the early part of 1994 only one of the recorders concerned sat, for a total of two days. On one day he dealt with two cases involving one defendant who pleaded guilty in both instances; on the other the matter was adjourned as the parties were not ready to proceed. The fee for recorder sittings at the time was £315 a day. The cost of the action taken as a result of the legal advice in relation to the procedures for the extension of recorder appointments forms part of the overall costs of the headquarters expenditure of the Lord Chancellor's Department and cannot readily be isolated.