HC Deb 01 May 1995 vol 259 cc74-5W
38. Mr. Thurnham

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what representations he has received about the work of the magistrates in the Duchy; and if he will make a statement. [20158]

Mr. David Hunt

I am responsible for the appointment of magistrates in Lancashire, Greater Manchester and Merseyside. The Lord Chancellor's Department is responsible for training and administering magistrates. I have discussions with magistrates during my visits to courthouses in the Duchy area.

I pay tribute to the Duchy's magistrates, as I do to those in the remainder of England and Wales. As hon. Members know, they are drawn from all walks of life, give their time freely, often at some sacrifice, to do this important work.

The office of magistrate calls for wisdom, maturity and experience of life. Persons over the age of 60 are appointed only in exceptional circumstances.

We try to achieve a balanced age structure and aim to find candidates under the age of 55, especially those in their 30s and 40s. Where the age structure of the bench allows or a candidate is particularly well qualified, I will consider older candidates. It is rare for someone below the age of 27 to be appointed.

In accordance with the Justices of the Peace Act 1979, justices' names are placed on the supplement list when they reach the age of 70 and no longer undertake active bench duties.

Reorganisation of magistrates courts committees in Greater Manchester is a matter for local consultation and discussion with the Lord Chancellor's Department. Any question on this subject should therefore be referred to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department.

Penalties available to the courts are a matter for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. However, the Government keep under review the scope for decriminalising offences currently dealt with under the criminal law.