§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.57 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Ede)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This Bill has been introduced to give effect to the recommendations made by the Departmental Committee on Justices Clerks, presided over by Lord Roche, which reported in 1944, and of the Royal Commission on Justices of the Peace, presided over by the late Lord du Parcq, which reported in 1948. These two reports were a most valuable contribution to the consideration of the question how the ancient institution of the administration of justice by lay magistrates, in which I, along with I think most hon. Members, am a firm believer, can be improved so as to make the courts of summary jurisdiction in this country more efficient in carrying out the increased and continually enlarging responsibilities which have been and are still being assigned to them.
May I at the outset pay tribute to Lord Roche and his colleagues for the work they did. I had the distinction of being one of the witnesses before their committee in company with the late Sir Joseph Lamb, for long a respected Member of this House, whose loss last week I am quite sure all who knew him in the last and previous Parliaments will join me in deploring. At the time at which we gave evidence he was the chairman and I was the vice-chairman of the Police Committee of the County Councils' Association. It is not often, I imagine, that a Minister gets an opportunity of having a second look at the results of evidence which he himself gave in less responsible days. I am sure that I shall also carry the House with me when I express the regret we all feel at the sudden passing of Lord du Parcq who was a very distinguished ornament of the Bench and was a native of the Channel Islands, where I had the privilege of meeting him in the discharge of some of my other functions. Both these reports were carefully considered. They deal with a wide range of subjects with great clarity and have been, in the main, the basis of the Bill.
795 Justices of the peace are very ancient officers indeed. We first read about them in the early years of the fourteenth century, and during the period down to 1888 they have discharged, in addition to judicial functions, important administrative functions as well. In fact, Professor Trevelyan in his "Social History of England" says:The judicial, political, economic and administrative powers of the Justices of the Peace were so various, and taken together so important that the J.P.s became the most influential class of men in England. They were often chosen for Parliament where they could speak as experienced critics of laws and policies which they themselves administered. They were the Queen's servants "—he is talking at the moment of the days of Queen Elizabeth—but they were not in her pay, or in her dependence. They were country gentlemen, living on their own estates and off their own rents. In the last resort what they valued most was the good opinion of their neighbours, the gentry and common folk of the shire. Whenever, therefore, as sometimes happened in Stuart times, the class of country gentlemen strongly opposed the King's political and religious policy, on such occasions the Crown had no instrument with which to govern the countryside. So it proved, for example, in 1688"—when, I would remind the House, James II removed half the lords lieutenant and 800 of the justices in his efforts to bring into effect the Declaration of Indulgence.But it was not so in 1588. Some of the gentry especially in North and West, disliked Elizabeth's Reformation policy, but an increasingly large majority of their class favoured the new religion, and J.P.s of that persuasion could be used by government to restrain and occasionally to arrest, their more recalcitrant neighbours.I like the use of the word "occasionally" there.Such coercion, if it had been exerted by paid officials sent down from London, would have been more resented by the opinion of the county—and would have been more expensive to the Queen's exchequer.And I have no doubt that even in the reign of the fifth Tudor the last was not an unimportant point for, despite the magnificance of the second and fifth Tudors, the hereditary parsimony that they gathered from Henry VII appears always to have been strong in their administrative processes.
The Bill is not one which, as far as I know, raises any party controversy, and 796 it comes to us from another where it was the subject of long and careful discussion. There was general agreement there that a Bill of this kind is most desirable and that every effort should be made to pass it into law this Session. Although, as I have said, the Bill does not raise any party issues, there are proposals in it upon which opinion may be divided and we shall, no doubt, have different points of view expressed about them in this House, as they have been expressed elsewhere. May I remind the House, however, that the Bill comes to us in a form which has secured general agreement in another place, and I hope there may be such general agreement here on its provisions as to enable the Measure to reach the Statute Book before the Session ends.
All those concerned with the administration of justice are anxious to see provision made whereby the recommendations of the Roche Committee and the du Parcq Commission may be put into force as soon as possible. While I have no desire to limit in any way the scope of discussion on the Bill, I would ask the House to remember that a great deal of discussion on the main provisions of the Bill which raise controversial issues has already taken place, and that the Bill as we now have it represents a compromise on those matters which is regarded by those who took part in the discussion as a satisfactory one.
May I now turn to the Bill itself. It consists of six Parts, of 46 Clauses and seven Schedules. The first part is concerned with provisions as to individual justices and is based upon recommendations of the du Parcq Commission.
Clause 1 applies, as the Commission recommended, the principle that justices must reside, both at the time of their appointment and subsequently, within or not more than a specified distance outside, the area for which they are appointed, subject to a power by the Lord Chancellor to dispense with this requirement if he thinks it in the public interest to do so. The du Parcq Commission recommended that the distance should be seven miles, but in view of the fact that in modem conditions a justice who resides farther out than this may nevertheless be in close contact with his area and fully able to perform his 797 duties, the Clause fixes the distance for the purpose of this qualification at 15 miles.
Clause 2 is concerned with the mayor as a justice, and as this Clause raises the general question of persons who are justices by virtue of their office as mayor or chairman of a county council or district council, I hope I may be allowed to say a few words on this general question. I say it with some personal feeling because I first appeared on the bench as an ex officio justice and, after I was appointed a permanent justice, I again had an official qualification as chairman of a county council. I think I am safe in saying that nearly every chairman of a county council since 1889 has also been qualified as a permanent justice. The number of people who have been chairmen of county councils without having first been a justice must be small.
The du Parcq Commission recommended that all such appointments as justices ex officio by reason of local government positions should cease, and there are cogent reasons, which are given in the report, in favour of this course from the point of view of the administration of justice. The Government feel, however, that it would be undesirable at the present juncture—when the entire future structure of local government is a matter ripe for re-examination—to make changes which, however justifiable, would be regarded as affecting the prestige and status of the local authorities concerned.
The Royal Commission was not entirely consistent in its recommendation on this subject, because it proposed that while other local government ex officio justices should be abolished, mayors of boroughs should continue to be justices ex officio. It is true that the mayor's office as a justice is of much greater antiquity than that of the chairman of a county council or of a district council, who had their positions given to them by the Local Government Acts of 1888 and 1894 respectively. If, however, we look at the matter purely from the point of view of the best arrangements for the administration of justice, there is no distinction that can be made between the right of the mayor and of these chairmen to become members of the bench by virtue of their office.
798 When the new structure of local government comes to be finally determined there is no doubt that the question must be considered whether the persons who have been elected to the office which they hold should continue to go on the bench automatically by virtue of their office. It must be remembered that they are not always, or necessarily—although many of them are in fact—persons whom the Lord Chancellor would have selected for appointment as justices; they remain on the bench for a short period, often only a year; and they will not, in the nature of things, receive the training in their duties which newly appointed justices will receive under the provisions made in the Bill.. In the view of the Government, however, the decision on this matter must be left until the future organisation of local government has been determined.
The existing system has gone on since the Local Government Act, 1888, and, in the case of the mayor, since long before that. We must face the fact that the appointment of these justices ex officio is regarded as an honour, and an enhancement of the dignity of the important offices in local government which the holders fill. I unfortunately am not old enough to recollect the first election of the chairman of the urban council for the area in which I was then, and am still, residing. My maternal grandfather was one of the persons who fancied his chances and I am quite certain from my recollection as a lad of hearing the discussions that went on that it was more the question of being a justice rather than being chairman which created the tremendous rivalry that existed. My grandfather, I might add, did not get the appointment.
Accordingly, the Bill makes no provision to deprive such persons of their right to sit on the bench. It does, however, in Clause 2 get rid of the anomaly whereby the mayor of a borough continues to be a justice during the year after he had ceased to be mayor. It also abolishes the right of the mayor, by virtue of his office, to be chairman of the bench. I am quite sure that both these decisions are right.
Clause 3 provides, as recommended by the du Parcq Commission, for the disqualification of justices who are members of local authorities from adjudicating in cases in which the local authority or one 799 of its committees or officers is the prosecutor or defendant. Again, I am certain that this is right. I do not think people can feel that justice is being done, or appearing to be done, if a member of a local authority sits on the bench on the excuse that he is not a member of the committee which is responsible for the prosecution. The Home Office, I find, have issued a circular in which some doubts have been expressed on this matter. It is better that we should remove doubt in this particular case and that it should be clearly understood that membership of a local authority will prevent a justice from adjudicating in any case in which that authority or any of its committees has to appear.
Clause 4 consolidates the existing law relating to the supplemental list and makes new provision which requires that justices who are of the age of 75 or over, except those who hold or have held high judicial office, are to be placed on the supplemental list. I am quite sure that it is right to fix a limit. The exact age may be a matter of discussion, but 75 is quite old enough for the majority of people. Such exceptions as can be quoted are often apt to prove the rule.
It is, of course, also desirable that at an earlier age people should be removed whose difficulties of hearing cause them to complain about the fact that the elocution of the police is less good than it was when they first appeared on the bench. I recollect a chairman of a bench in my own county writing to "The Times" to say he had decided to retire from the position on account of increasing deafness. Those who had sat with him knew he had not heard a word for the last 10 years.
The Lord Chancellor is given power to make exception from this provision during the period of five years from the time when it comes into force, in any area where that appears to the Lord Chancellor necessary in order to have enough experienced justices. The Clause also gives power to the Lord Chancellor to direct that a justice's name shall be placed upon the supplemental list if he is satisfied that the justice declines or neglects to take a proper part in the exercise of his functions. That, again, is a very necessary provision in certain cases.
Clause 7 consolidates the existing law in regard to the restriction on practice by 800 justices and their partners as solicitors. It extends to boroughs the prohibition which at present applies to counties on solicitor justices practising directly or indirectly before any bench in the area of the commission. It also limits this prohibition, which at present applies in counties over the geographical area of the county. A county solicitor justice will no longer be prohibited from practising before justices of a county borough or borough with a separate commission. I think that the existing situation arose from the old fiction that a borough was always part of a county.
Clause 8 makes provision whereby travelling and lodging allowances may be paid to justices where such expenditure is necessarily incurred for the purpose of enabling a justice to perform his duties. The rates of allowance and the manner in which the Clause is to be administered are to be prescribed by regulations made by the Secretary of State by statutory instrument. It is interesting to recall that in the 14th century justices of the peace were paid, although the payment, judged by present-day standards, was not very high.
Clause 10, which commences Part II of the Bill, makes provision which brings commissions of the peace into line with local government areas. The most important change made by this Clause is in regard to the commissions of the peace of non-county boroughs. The Roche Committee considered carefully the question of the areas which should be units for the administration of justice, from the point of view of the reforms which they proposed in the administrative arrangements for courts of summary jurisdiction, and which form the basis of Parts III and IV of the Bill.
The Roche Committee came to the conclusion that small boroughs were unsatisfactory as separate areas for the administration of justice, for a number of reasons. It is difficult to obtain a sufficient number of good justices, and this difficulty will be increased by the provisions of Clause 2, which disqualify, for the large number of proceedings in which local authorities are concerned, those justices who are members of the local authority. Moreover, there is not in small boroughs sufficient work to give the justices the experience which is necessary to make them really efficient at their job.
801 In many of these boroughs the justices sit in the same place, and sometimes even at the same time, as another bench of the county magistrates, and neither bench has enough work to do, although they have their separate clerks and separate, arrangements for their sittings. Only recently I had a case of a county and a borough bench, who sit in the same building and really have not sufficient work to justify their separation, where the borough insisted on appointing to a vacancy in the clerkship a separate clerk from the one employed in the county.
§ Mr. Ede
I am not, of course, thinking of boroughs of the size of those in the constituency of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, where a 1d. rate produces £12. That is quite outside the realm of our discussions, but there are some areas which are slightly larger where the same principle can still be applied with advantage. I should add to these objections that the Lord Chancellor also finds special difficulty with these boroughs, ft is difficult to get a suitable advisory committee, and the existence of such boroughs multiplies the number of commissions which have to be issued by the Lord Chancellor's office.
The Roche Committee recommended that the separate commissions of the peace of all boroughs having less than 25.000 population should be abolished, but they did not consider that those above this level should have complete independence. They recommended that those between 25,000 and 75,000 should for magistrates' courts purposes be combined with the county in which they are situated, although retaining their separate bench. That is to say, they would still be the bench of "X" borough, but it would be a county petty sessional bench and not an independent bench with its own advisory committee.
The Royal Commission expressed agreement with the view of the Roche Committee that the retention of separate commissions of the peace for areas of small population is detrimental both to the selection of justices and the efficient organisation of their working and, in deal- 802 ing with the Roche Committee's proposals, they say:It may be that the figure of 25,000 should be increased as was suggested to us by the Law Society; or it may be that a population figure would present difficulty in framing workable legislation and that separate commissions should be restricted to county boroughs.The Bill as introduced proposed to restrict commissions to county boroughs, and the question whether this proposal should be modified, and, if so, to what extent, occupied a considerable part of the discussion of the Bill in another place. On one point there seems to have been general agreement, namely, that in principle the comnrssions of boroughs of less than 25,000 population should be abolished. The Bill as it now stands provides for the abolition of commissions for non-county boroughs with a population of less than 50,000 at the end of June, 1948, subject to an important exception. All boroughs whose population was below this figure, but above 20,000, and which have a separate court of quarter sessions as well as a separate commission will keep their separate commission and, with it their separate court of quarter sessions.
In the case of those boroughs whose population was less than 20,000 at the end of June, 1948, the abolition of the commission involves the abolition of the separate court of quarter sessions of any of them which have a separate court of quarter sessions. The abolition of these separate commissions of the peace does not, of course, mean that the justices themselves will cease to be justices. It merely means that the same justices will sit as justices for a petty sessional division of the county, instead of for a borough, and in all the administrative matters for which the Bill makes provision, the area will be part of the county.
I have no doubt at all that the figure of 50,000 in this Clause is the minimum necessary if the undesirable results of these small separate commissions which were stressed by the Roche Committee and the du Parcq Commission are to be avoided. I hope the House will accept the principle that commissions for boroughs with populations up to 50,000 should go. The exception to which I have referred will preserve the recorder-ship of those boroughs between 20,000 and 50,000 population and, indeed, it is for this purpose that the exception is 803 made. It has been contended, with some force, that many of these recorderships play a useful part in the administration of criminal justice and that it is desirable to retain them.
It would be difficult to advance any similar argument in favour of the recorderships of towns below 20,000 population whose commission is being abolished. With very few exceptions, the amount of work which the recorder is called upon to do is inconsiderable and, whether from the point of view of the relief which is given to county quarter sessions by cases arising in those boroughs being dealt with there instead of at the county quarter sessions, or from the point of view of the experience which these small recorderships give in judicial work, there is no sufficient cause for their preservation.
A very high legal authority has pointed out that these small boroughs are unsatisfactory as an area from which to summon jurors, because it is difficult to get a panel of jurymen of whom some, if not all, are not acquainted with or have not heard local gossip about the prosecutor or the defendant, or both. This Clause, in order to preserve some recorderships which do a substantial amount of criminal business and whose disappearance might cause local inconvenience—particularly in the case of Bridgwater and Penzance—transgresses the recommendation of the Roche Committee by providing that some boroughs can keep their commissions although their population is below 20,000. I do not think it would be right to bring the limit lower, or that there would be public advantage in endeavouring to do so in order to preserve any of the recorderships which will disappear under this proposal.
Clause 11 is mainly concerned with the provision necessary in consequence of the application of Clause 2 to the City of London, where all the justices are members of the local authority. Provision is made whereby, in cases where the local authority is concerned, the place of the Lord Mayor or the alderman may be taken in summary matters by an additional judge of the Mayor's and City of London Court and in appeals by the Recorder or Common Serjeant. The Clause also provides for the transfer of the juvenile court jurisdiction in the City 804 to the County of London as recommended by the Royal Commission on the ground that it was undesirable that these juvenile court cases should be heard by a single alderman. There is the further disadvantage that there is no magistrate for the City of London who is a woman. The same provision is made as regards the domestic proceedings. I have had very frank and friendly consultations on these matters with the City authorities and I am glad to say that the proposals have their agreement.
Clause 12 makes the provision which becomes necessary owing to the fact that under the Bill some non-county boroughs will preserve their commissions of the peace. The Licensing Act, passed last year, made no provision as to licensing authorities for non-county boroughs, as the fate of non-county boroughs was then uncertain. This Clause makes provision, which corresponds to the provision made by that Act, for counties and county boroughs.
Clause 13 provides that the number of justices sitting at quarter sessions or at magistrates' courts shall be subject to provision made by rules, and also provides for the election by the magistrates of each petty sessions area by secret ballot of the chairman and one or more deputy chairmen of the justices. As a consequence of this provision it also abolishes the right of the mayor to preside on the bench. I am bound to say I have agreed with some reluctance to the requirement that the chairman shall be elected by ballot.
I should have hoped that, in the secrecy of the magistrates' room, people would have had the courage to vote in accordance with their convictions "without fear or favour, affection or ill will." But, I am assured that there are cases where it is difficult to suggest to a gentleman who has been there a long time that it is time that the office went round. Some people feel they will have more courage if it is not known whose hands have been those that have grasped the daggers. But I wonder what will happen if it is found that the retiring chairman is the only person who has voted for himself.
Clause 14 makes provision whereby a retiring age may be prescribed by rules for the justices appointed to juvenile 805 court panels and whereby the rules may also make provision as to a maximum age for appointment to the panels. That again, it will be generally agreed, is a very necessary provision. I recollect that when I retired from the juvenile court when I reached 60 years of age, I was very unpopular with some colleagues and found that I was very much in the lower half of the list as regard ages, but I am quite certain that it is necessary that the ages of magistrates serving on the juvenile court panels should be kept reasonably low.
Clause 15 gives the Lord Chancellor power to appoint a rules committee for magistrates' courts and specifies the various matters which may be included within the scope of the rules which the Lord Chancellor may make, after consultation with the committee. The proposal that the matters of procedure which are at present embodied in the various Summary Jurisdiction Acts should be reviewed and formulated in the form of rules was one to which the Roche Committee attached importance, and it is one which will be welcomed by all those who are familiar with the difficulties of finding out the law in matters of procedure in summary courts, which is greatly in need of consolidation and expression in the more flexible form of rules, which can if necessary be amended from time to time.
I now come to Part III of the Bill, which covers Clauses 16 to 24. It deals with the establishment of magistrates' courts committees and their functions, and with justices' clerks. The proposals in this Part of the Bill embody what was one of the principal reforms propounded by the Roche Committee. Their proposal was that the administrative side of the work of courts of summary jurisdiction, including the appointment of the clerk to the justices, his salary, his staff, their remuneration, and so on, should not be entrusted to individual benches as at present but to a committee of the magistrates for the whole county or for those boroughs, mainly county boroughs, which are large enough to have a separate magistrates' courts committee.
The method by which these committees will be established is set out in the Third Schedule to the Bill. They will consist in counties of one magistrate for 806 each petty sessional division, or non-county borough with a separate commission, as the case may be, with the addition of the custos rotulorum and the chairman or deputy-chairman of the county quarter sessions, ex officio. The provision for the setting up of these committees and for the assignment to them of wide administrative functions are the keystone of the proposals in the Bill for the improvement of the service of the magistrates in their courts, and much will depend in the initial stages upon a wise use of these powers by the new committees.
In effect, the magistrates in the county or the county borough, or in cases where they elect to have a joint committee, for an area including a county or county borough, will be masters in their own house in all matters relating to the staffing and running of the courts, and their determination in these matters will, under Clause 26, be binding upon the local authority concerned, subject to a right of appeal in any matter in which the local authority is aggrieved, to the Secretary of State, whose decision will then be binding upon both parties.
As I have said, justices' clerks will in future be appointed by the magistrates' courts committees, and those in office when the committees are set up will be deemed to have been appointed by them. The staff of the clerk will be employees of the committees,- but by Clause 19 (7) they will work under the directions of the clerk, and unless the clerk himself engages or dismisses the staff on behalf of the committee he must be consulted before any staff are engaged or dismissed.
Clause 17 places a duty upon magistrates' courts committees, in accordance with arrangements approved by the Lord Chancellor, to make and administer schemes providing for courses of instruction for justices of the area of the committee. This is an important new provision. It is, I think, generally recognised that while it is essential that a justice should be a man or woman of good will and common sense and some experience of affairs, it is also necessary that he or she should have some knowledge of court procedure, of what is meant by acting judicially, of what is evidence and what is not evidence, and of the various methods of treatment of offenders and of the institutions in which they are carried out.
807 The Royal Commission recommended that provision should be made for local schemes of instruction for justices, and under the provisions of this Clause it is contemplated that the Lord Chancellor will approve a model scheme, to be drawn up in consultation with the Magistrates' Association, providing for instruction in the essential matters such as I have mentioned, and it will be for the magistrates' courts in each area to make their own local scheme for lectures by qualified persons, visits to institutions, etc., to cover these essential points. The courses of instruction will of course be primarily for newly appointed justices, though they will be available also to all justices already on the bench who wish to take advantage of them. Expenses of justices in attending courses of instruction will under Cause 8 (2) be included among those in respect of which travelling and lodging allowances may be paid.
Clause 19 makes the important change, which has long been recognised as desirable, that the justices' clerk's remuneration, which is at present in law an inclusive salary, including the salaries of his staff, shall in future be a salary paid for his personal remuneration and the salaries of the staff will be fixed separately. I am bound to say that that is highly desirable. It is quite wrong that when a clerk in the office of the justices' clerk feels that he is justified in asking for a rise in salary he should be inhibited by the knowledge that if the justices' clerk gives him an increase it is only at the cost of decreasing the justices' clerk's personal salary.
Clause 20 makes new provision as to the qualification of justices' clerks. The Roche Committee recommended that all persons to be appointed as justices' clerks should in future have a professional qualification. There is, I think, general agreement with the principle that professional qualification is right, but it must be remembered that one of the functions of the magistrates' courts committees will be to endeavour so far as practicable to create whole-time clerkships either by combining existing part-time clerkships or by combining the petty sessional divisions to which they relate; and it is a striking fact that, as the Roche Committee pointed out in their report, very few whole-time clerkships are at present held by professionally qualified men.
808 Out of 822 justices' clerks in office in 1938, the committee found by inquiry that only 90 were whole-time clerks, and of those 90 only 32 were solicitors. One reason for these remarkable figures is no doubt that many clerks to justices who are also engaged in private practice as solicitors do not wish to give up their private practices and becomes whole-time officers of the magistrates' courts, and this situation is certainly likely to arise after the Bill is brought into operation.
There is, therefore, a serious risk that if a requirement of professional qualification were universally applied upon the Bill coming into force it would not be possible to fill all the vacancies for whole-time clerks which may arise. Accordingly Clause 20 provides that assistants to justices' clerks who have by 1st January, 1955, served as assistants for a period of not less than ten years shall be eligible for appointment as justices' clerks, provided that in the opinion of the magistrates' courts committee and also of the Secretary of State there are special circumstances making the appointment a proper one.
The effect of this provision will be that persons joining the staff of a justices' clerk hereafter, as well as all those assistants who have not by 1st January, 1955, ten years' service, will not be eligible to be aopointed justices' clerks unless they become qualified as solicitors. The Law Society is, I understand, prepared to agree to assistants to justices' clerks becoming articled to the clerks in order that they may, if they so desire, become qualified as solicitors and thus become eligible for appointment. As hon. Members will be aware, there is provision under the existing law whereby an assistant with the necessary length of service can be appointed a justices' clerk. There is no doubt that the provision which is being made in this Clause will render the justices' clerks service much less attractive to the right type of man for the future.
On the other hand, there must be balanced against this consideration the positive recommendation of the Roche Committee that eventually these appointments should be limited to professionally qualified men, and the fact that in many other fields in recent years provision has been enacted by Parliament closing various professions to persons who have 809 not the requisite professional training. The Clause strikes a fair balance between these considerations by allowing those assistants who have by 1st January, 1955, the prescribed qualification of 10 years' service to be eligible thereafter for these appointments. The Clause also provides, as was recommended by the Committee, that provision may be made for limits of age, both lower and upper, to be prescribed by rules for appointment to the post of justices' clerk.
The provisions as to the superannuation of justices' clerks and their staff made by Clause 22 and the Fifth Schedule are based upon the recommendations of the Roche Committee. I have no doubt that hon. Members have studied both the Clause and the Schedule. Part IV deals with administrative and financial arrangements, and Clause 27 provides as to the arrangements by which expenditure on magistrates' courts will be defrayed in future. At present the fees received in each court and certain of the fines go to a local fund, out of which the clerk's salary and the other expenses of the court arc met. This, as the Roche Committee pointed out, is a bad principle, because it has the appearance at least of giving the local authority an interest in the extent to which fines and fees meet the expenses of the court.
I recollect that about 25 years ago it was not uncommon for motoring defendants before the Kingston County Bench to make comments on the size of the fine and its relationship to the local standard of rating. The deficiency between the receipts and these expenses, which the Roche Committee in 1938 estimated as £182,000, will be met by local authorities with the assistance of an Exchequer grant not exceeding two-thirds of this deficiency.
Part V makes provision relating to certain stipendiary magistrates. A stipendiary magistrate can at present be appointed only for a borough or an urban district. Clause 29 provides that in future he may also be appointed for a county or any part of a county, or for a joint district comprising a borough and a part of a county. This Part of the Bill further provides that all stipendiary magistrates in future shall be appointed on the recommendation of the Lord Chancellor, and that the salary of a stipendiary magistrate, while remaining 810 payable by the local authority concerned, shall be fixed at such amount as the Secretary of State, after consultation with the authority, may direct, subject to its not exceeding the salary of a metropolitan stipendiary magistrate.
Up to the present the appointment of stipendiary magistrates has rested with the Secretary of State. I am bound to say that I think that in view of the Secretary of State's connection with the police forces of the country, it is desirable that the appointment should be made by the head of the legal department of the Government and thus remove any lingering suspicion there may be that in some way or other these appointments are linked up with the police authority. Clause 33 deals with the superannuation of stipendiary magistrates and I think that it deals not merely justly but quite liberally with the position they occupy.
Part VI makes miscellaneous and general provisions, including a provision in Clause 39 for the transfer to the Lord Chancellor of the functions of the Home Secretary in relation to the appointment of recorders. There again, I think it is perhaps right that judicial officers should be appointed by the Lord Chancellor rather than by the head of the department which is largely concerned with police functions. Provision is made in Clause 42 for regulations to be made for the payment of compensation to salaried officers who lose office or emoluments under the provisions of Parts II and III of the Bill.
I trust that the objects of the Bill will commend themselves to all quarters of the House. It opens a new chapter in the history of two very old and very English institutions, the office of justice of the peace and the office of justices' clerk. It will, I hope, by the provision which it makes in regard to both these offices, and by the other provisions of the Bill, result, when there has been time for its full operation to have effect, in a great improvement in the arrangements for the administration of justice in our courts of summary jurisdiction.
The Royal Commission pronounced in favour of the system of administration of justice by lay magistrates both in principle and on grounds of practical convenience. That system has, in my opinion, fully justified itself, whether we consider the great volume of work which the lay magistrates undertake, or the patience, 811 care and fair-mindedness which so many of them devote to the discharge of their judicial duties. But provision needs to be made for the various matters which are covered by this Bill if the system is to maintain the high standard which we all wish to see maintained, and to continue to command, as I believe it now does, the confidence and respect of the people of this country.
I sincerely hope that the House will make it possible before this Session ends for this Measure to be placed upon the Statute Book. It brings up to date a system which has well stood the test of time. It is a system that is in many ways anomalous and that will remain anomalous in some respects even after this Bill has become an Aot and has come into full effect, but I am sure that it ensures for the people of this country that in those hundreds of thousands of disputes that come in front of the courts of summary jurisdiction during the year, they get their causes heard and determined by people who understand their way of life, who give due weight to the law and at the same time bring to the consideration of matters a refreshing common sense which enables their decisions to be received with general respect by those whom they serve.
§ 4.49 p.m.
§ Major Sir David Maxwell Fyfe (Liverpool, West Derby)
It is typical of British democracy that at a time when the traffic of party warfare is getting heavier and louder this House can, so to speak, turn out of the Strand into Temple Gardens and discuss with objectivity and calm a vitally important but entirely non-party matter. I am speaking for the whole House when I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the lucidity, the historic interest and the wafts of common sense with which he adorned the presentation of the Bill.
One or two people have wondered whether the Bill ought to be wider in its scope. The question of the appointment of justices of the peace has been raised, and the provision of the Royal Commission in that regard. I should like to say that my own belief is that, at the moment, it is working very well. The perennial problem of the danger of political prominence comes up and is discussed, but I 812 think that everyone who examines that problem knows that, while they are anxious that politics should not be the only qualification, or indeed have too great an importance in deciding the qualification, on the other hand, public-spirited citizens, I am glad to say—and I say that in all seriousness, although a politician myself—are inclined to be those who turn to political interests, as well as to other fields of public service. Therefore, I do not think that we should over-estimate the difficulties that are raised on that point.
With regard to the wider question of the provisions of the Summary Jurisdiction Act, 1884, that would be a monumental task, but, again, as the right hon. Gentleman has reminded us, in this Bill we have the rule committee and the procedure for making the necessary rules, and we also have the provision which will ensure that a number of magistrates will have a greater knowledge of the procedure employed.
It is with real sincerity, and, if I may say so to the House, with some emotion, that I join the right hon. Gentleman in his tribute to the Chairman of the Committee and the Commission which dealt with these matters. Lord Roche, I am happy to say, was able to give his opinion in another place, and I am sure that all of us, especially those of us who have known him and appeared before him for many years, have read it with the greatest interest. In the case of Lord Du Parcq, I am sure we all feel that his untimely death prevented this Bill being really illumined by his views and contribution as it would have been if he had been there and able to make them. They have done two great pieces of work, and I am sure the gratitude of all of us will be united on that point.
The first aspect of the Bill and the point with which the right hon. Gentleman dealt first was the question of ex officio justices, and, again, I accept and approve the compromise which the Bill puts forward. The Royal Commission put forward strong arguments on this point, and, indeed, at a time when we are asking for experience and training as being the basis, we must recognise the force of the argument which asks why we should introduce people who have not had that experience of training, but I 813 rely on two facts. The first is that nobody has put forward any evidence of ex officio justices failing in their duty or letting down the dignity of their position. I noted that that was stated and uncontradicted in the Debate in another place. Secondly, I myself believe that it is not a bad thing that a responsible position in local government should give the holder of that position the opportunity of sitting on the bench and, if he shows that he can do it well, becoming a permanent justice. If he does not, he will not become a permanent justice, but, at any rate, he will have had the chance, and an additional dignity will be given to the important local government position he holds.
The second point, put broadly, is that of the abolition of commissions of the peace and recorderships for small boroughs. All of us approach the elimination of separate commissions of the peace and the consequent elimination of recorderships with a regret which has a foundation in their valiant repute in our history. If we take the words of G. K. Chesterton, and write in, on the road, some of the victims, we may travel from Bideford to Berwick-upon-Tweed, or from Lichfield to Sandwich, or, if we cross the Welsh Marches, we may travel from Carmarthen to Rye. All these places are deeply rooted, not only in the history of our land, but in a great measure of local patriotism and local achievement, and I do not think that we should let them go without expressing our regret on that aspect of the matter and our recognition of good work well done.
Of course, we can go back, as the right hon. Gentleman reminded us, through these breaths of the past to paragraph 94 of the Roche Report, or to paragraphs 50–56 of the du Parcq Report, and face the point which the right hon. Gentleman asked us to face, namely, that the retention of separate commissions of the peace for areas of small population is detrimental both to the selection of justices, the organisation of their work and their experience, because they do not get the necessary experience because of the small volume of their work. Personally, I am very glad that the original harshness of the Bill, in permitting only county boroughs, has been alleviated, and that the Government have met the other view by includ- 814 ing the retention of boroughs which have recorders at the moment and also a population of 20,000. It tempers the wind to the shorn Iamb, although the lamb is still very closely shorn.
There is this extremely practical point, which I am sure the right hon. Gentleman has in mind. Certain small recorderships have been of some value in a county in eliminating the period of delay which may occur to a person before coming to trial on indictment. The arrangement has been made of alternating county quarter sessions or intermediate sessions with the sitting of certain recorders, so that in many cases they can deal with persons not only from their own bailiwick but also from the county who otherwise might have had to wait. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will convey to his noble Friend the hope that the powers which he still retains of prolonging the existence of certain recorder-ships, as I understand the Bill, will be used so as to provide that this admirable system of working still goes on, and that we have not this afternoon gone back on the great tradition of this Chamber—"To none will we delay justice."
The next point which I think comes up as one of importance is the appointment of magistrates' clerks. There, again, the broad system of having a bigger unit of appointment, and, having created that unit, then leaving it to the magistrates to make their own arrangements, seems to me very sensible. I gather from my correspondence that the compromise as to qualification, namely, allowing some one who has no legal qualification but who has 10 years' service to hold the office where there are special circumstances, is one which commends itself to the bodies that are specially interesting—at any rate, to the bodies that have written to me—and, therefore, I am quite prepared to accept it in the same spirit.
§ Mr. Corlett (York)
Will the right hon. Gentleman kindly say whether the assistants to clerks to the justices have informed him that they welcome the new proposals in this Bill?
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I do not think I have had a special communication from them; I was referring to the general body, and I do not want to mention names. I think the hon. Gentleman will 815 appreciate that. It seems to me to be a reasonable qualification, and one that ought to make for greater efficiency.
I do not think that one need delay long on the question of fines going into a central pool. I suppose that if we on this side of the House were to be entirely logical we ought to support what has been termed the "nationalisation of crime" as being the only method of securing without doubt that crime would not pay. However, I do not propose to go as far as that. I welcome the proposal that the fines should go into a central pool, and I also welcome what has been said about the appointment of stipendiaries. But, here again, may I say-one word?
It may seem curious to people outside this country that the Home Secretary should have the right to make these judicial appointments because, in fact, he recommends all the appointments to recorderships, and, of course, the appointments of the metropolitan stipendiary magistrates. My experience during the period that I have been at the bar is that the Home Secretaries of all political views have discharged this duty with the greatest fairness, lucidity of decision and excellent choice, and now that some of them are being lost, I should like to pay that tribute because it is not an easy matter for a political Minister to make judicial appointments. The high standard that has resulted over many years now is a tribute to the fair-mindedness of the holders of that office, and, believe me, despite our many disagreements on numerous subjects, I include the right hon. Gentleman in that encomium.
What we must never forget in dealing with a Bill of this kind is that the magistrates' courts deal with over 90 per cent. of our criminal cases. It is our bounden duty, and indeed, our privilege, to secure that we have even-handed justice between the poorest citizen and the most powerful official or the wealthiest person in our land. This, to my mind, is the distinction between democracy and totalitarianism. Under our system, one can without difficulty assert one's right and one's freedom—the machinery for doing so is ready at hand. It is one of the essential bases of the democratic way of life. I believe that the Bill works for that end, and for that 816 reason I hope it will be given its Second Reading today and pass into law as the right hon. Gentleman suggested.
May I close with one personal apology and ask the indulgence of the House? It is my practice, almost invariably carried out, to remain and hear a Debate when I have taken part in it at the beginning. Today I have a very urgent engagement, and I hope that hon. Members in all quarters of the House will acquit me of any discourtesy in leaving much sooner than I would wish.
§ 5.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Wilkes (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central)
In my view this extremely enlightened and comprehensive Measure gives the system of lay justices in this country possibly its final chance for safeguarding itself against the fears and doubts which are occasionally expressed about its working. I do not wish to be misunderstood on this point. If one studies the number of appeals which come from courts of summary jurisdiction to appeal committees at quarter sessions and at quarter sessions generally, one finds that it is a very small minority indeed of the cases actually tried. Nevertheless, it is a fact that when a breakdown is proven to have taken place in a court of the lay justices, it is sometimes of such a nature as to arouse very widespread doubt and fears about what is taking place in some at least of the magistrates' courts.
When such cases gain publicity—and only a fraction do gain Press publicity—they help forward the demand which has grown in recent years for the extension of the stipendiary magistrate system. Therefore, if the provisions of this Bill are properly utilised and are taken advantage of there is a great chance that the lay justice system may safeguard itself and perpetuate itself with honour.
I would say at the outset that, in my view, the ideal court consists of a stipendiary assisted by two lay magistrates. That is my own personal view of the matter. One of the most important aspects dealt with in the Bill is, of course, the training of magistrates, but at the very beginning we are faced with the fact that however good the training and however widely it is made available, unless the original appointments are wisely and imaginatively made, the training will not 817 be able to undo the damage done by such appointments.
The du Parcq Commission showed something which I think is thoroughly disgraceful, namely, that in the counties only 11 per cent. of the justices were under 50 years of age and 14 per cent. were over 75 years of age. There is a contrary danger just as real, and that is that there should be a spate of appointments of young people. One sometimes sees newspaper comments—I suppose such appointments make news even though they do not make for good justice being done—about an appointee aged 24, 25 or 26. Such appointments are perfectly absurd. But I do think that the advisory committees should be given some guidance as to the great need to appoint people in their mid-thirties. I think also that they should be a little more imaginative in going outside the strictly political sphere.
The Chairman of the Magistrates' Association in a recent speech drew attention to the fact that people outside the public eye, outside the limelight, and who never pushed themselves forward, are precisely the kind of people who are wanted on the benches. I agree with what has been said by the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) that, generally speaking, people who enter political life are people who can make good justices. We should also remember however that it is the defects as well as the virtues of personal character which can form the drive and mainspring in projecting somebody into the political arena. We have to see that the advisory committees go into the highways and byways and do not just look at the obvious organisations.
I disagree profoundly with what has been done on the question of the ex officio justices. I do so for this reason. We are embarking for the first time upon intensive and real training of justices in their duties. How at such a time can it really be justified that mayors should by virtue of their appointment sit upon the bench? How can we have the trained and the untrained sitting side by side, and give to each magistrate that respect and deference to which his position entitles him? We derogate from the dignity of the bench by doing such a thing. I believe a step forward has been taken. The mayor will no longer preside.
818 He will not be a member of the bench the year after his mayoralty ends. But I still think that the du Parcq Commission and the Roche Committee who made the strongest comments on this matter should have carried the day, and that at this stage, with the training which is given we should, so far as we can, restrict the new appointees to those people who will be trained.
The right hon. and learned Member for West Derby said that if a man does not make a good justice he has had his chance. Of course, he has had his chance, but at somebody else's expense. It really is not fitting that we should put a man on the bench in order to see whether he should or can make a good justice. I suggest most seriously that if a man is likely to make a good justice—whether he is likely to become mayor or not—let him be appointed, but do not let us proceed in this question of the appointment of justices by a sort of process of trial and error. At this stage it is rather unfitting.
On the question of the training of justices—and I echo the hope that justices already on the bench will avail themselves of the training which will be provided by the new magistrates' courts committees—I should like my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General to give some indication of whether, if a newly appointed justice does not take advantage of the training which is provided, that will be a reason under Clause 4 (4) to see that that justice is not allowed to carry out his functions. For example, in Clause 4 (4):… the Lord Chancellor may direct that the name of any person appointed a justice of the peace by the commission … shall be entered in the supplemental list kept in connection with that commission if the Lord Chancellor is satisfied either—It would be useful if it could be indicated whether, if a justice has not, say within a year or two, taken advantage of the training provided, that will be a reason for acting upon the discretion which is given in that subsection.
- (i) that by reason of that person's age or infirmity ….
- (ii) that that person declines or neglects to take a proper part in the exercise of those functions."
If I may with propriety refer to discussion in another place as "heated," I should like to mention the heated discus- 819 sions which occurred there about the abolition of courts of quarter sessions in non-county boroughs. A not very adequate yardstick has finally been decided upon in terms of population. I see the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis) in his place, and I hope that I am not committing a Parliamentary solecism if I mention the case of Devizes. Possibly the hon. Gentleman will be glad of any support in this matter, from however dubious a source it may come. I have here a list of the recorderships which will be abolished if this Bill goes through as at present envisaged. Amongst those which are to be abolished is Devizes because the population of Devizes is not 20,000. I am given to understand that it has a population of 7,000. Yet in 1947 they tried 58 cases and in 1948, 31 cases. In Andover 10 cases were tried by the court of quarter session in 1947, and in 1948, 31 cases.
Whilst I can see how, generally speaking, it is undesirable in any very small town to have its quarter sessions, for the simple reason that it is rather difficult to empanel a jury who do not know too much about the man who comes before the court, nevertheless, I ask that the Lord Chancellor should be given some kind of discretion in this matter, that we should not merely count heads and leave it at that, and that discretion be exercised and some regard had to the fact that Andover and Devizes have made a very real contribution, in the number of cases which they have tried, to the justice which has been done in their areas. I think Andover and Devizes could well be looked at again as two special cases well deserving discretion.
I should like to say a word or two about the stipendiary magistrates. They are now to be appointed by the Lord Chancellor. I think that is a very excellent arrangement since the Lord Chancellor is even further removed from the political arena than the Home Secretary is. But I am anxious about this fact, that while the metropolitan magistrate is paid out of the Treasury, the stipendiary magistrate is paid out of the local funds, and the du Parcq Commission recommended that stipendiaries could be appointed whenever it was seen that they were really needed owing to a sudden 820 growth of population or indications of a breakdown without a petition being made by the borough concerned.
But we have no mention of that at all in the Bill. It is still only on petition that a stipendiary can be appointed, no matter how badly he may be needed. May I say this—that the worse the Bench the less likely it is to want a stipendiary appointed. Since there is also the fact of the salary and pension being borne out of the local funds it is not altogether satisfactory that this should be a matter for local petition only. Again, I feel, a discretion might well be given—a discretion to be used, of course, with great judgment and almost with trepidation, but nevertheless there ought to be a discretion for use where there are indications that the Bench in a certain area needs strengthening.
With those few qualifications I welcome this Bill as a Measure which can safeguard the justice which is provided in our magistrates' courts. In conclusion, I should like to say this: as one grows a little older, possibly a little disillusioned—and in some degree, I hope, wiser—I think one begins to see very clearly that the individual's liberty in this country is more likely to be safeguarded not by any political party, however sincere any political party might be in proclaiming its end, but by the common courts of this country. I believe that if good use is made of the powers which are given in this Bill we can strengthen immeasurably the knowledge that justice will be done in those courts which, as so often has been said, try 90 per cent. of the criminal cases in this country year by year.
§ 5.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Hollis (Devizes)
I must indeed express my gratitude, on behalf of both my constituents and myself, to the hon. Member for Central Newcastle-upon-Tyne (Mr. Wilkes) for calling attention to the grave disabilities with which we are threatened. As the Home Secretary truly said, this is a balanced and a compromise Bill—a Bill, also, which has been fully considered in another place and by experts. Therefore, no one should lightly wish to upset the balance and the compromise, provided that, on the whole, we think the Bill to be desirable, as I most certainly and most strongly do.
That being so, we have to reconcile ourselves to the fact that by the Bill we 821 shall obviously lose some things the loss of which will be a sentimental wrench. We cannot help that. There is, for instance, my constituency and, in addition to Devizes, there is the very ancient, royal borough of Marlborough which has a proud tradition of 700 years of independence behind it; and it is indeed a matter of sadness to the citizens of Marlborough that in this Bill they lose some of their ancient privileges. But if we are to have the Bill at all, that cannot be helped; some loss will have to take place. All I should like to do in that connection is to send them on their way with similar words to those used by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe)—words of congratulation for the work they have done in the past, even if that past cannot be continued.
When we come to the case of the borough quarter sessions and the case, in particular, which the hon. Member for Central Newcastle-upon-Tyne mentioned—the case of Devizes—there, I think, we are on ground where we can appeal to the Government seriously to ask themselves whether a measure of reconsideration may not be possible. In another place the Lord Chancellor was by no means certain what would be the formula of compromise which he would find and, while regarding 20,000 as better than no compromise, I myself agree with the hon. Member for Central Newcastle-upon-Tyne and I doubt whether we can settle this thing by a purely numerical formula. There is a certain delicacy in the argument because it is open to the Attorney-General to suggest that my case for special consideration then really amounts to this: there are an especially large number of criminals in my constituency. But I think if we examine the record of the number of people who appear before the Devizes court we find that the long list is due not to the fact that there are a large number of criminals resident in Devizes; but that there is a certain military traffic and so on, which is perhaps responsible.
The truth is that each town has its own history and its own circumstances and its criminal business is not dependent only on its population. I would, therefore, plead for a less rigid interpretation than this figure of 20,000, in general, because, as my right hon. and learned Friend truly said, there are great advantages, in the 822 speed of justice, in preserving recorder-ships where they can be preserved. If it is not possible to preserve single recorderships, is it not possible that in some of the small towns there might be combined recorderships? For instance, would it not be possible for the recorder-ships of Andover and Devizes to be combined? They might run a joint recorder. I should very much welcome observations which the Attorney-General could make as to whether he thinks there is any possibility of anything being worked out on those lines.
§ Brigadier Peto (Barnstaple)
When we are discussing the case of combined recorderships it might be of interest to my hon. Friend to know that we have a combined recordership in my constituency, but, unfortunately, even though combined, it is about to be done away with.
§ Mr. Hollis
I was of course dealing with the case of my own constituency and I was not suggesting that justice should not be done in my hon. and gallant Friend's constituency, too. I am sorry to hear that the recordership in his constituency is being abolished and perhaps my hon. and gallant Friend will be able to put forward the case of his constituency during this Debate. I should be grateful if the Attorney-General could tell us something about the question of joint recorder-ships and the possibility of further combinations.
In general, this is obviously a Bill for the lawyers and, as a layman, I do not wish to stand between the House and the lawyers for very long. The only other point about which I should like a little reassurance concerns the position of justices' clerks' assistants, under the Bill as it stands. The Home Secretary was quite frank in admitting that the profession was being made less attractive by the new regulations which, nevertheless, he defended and, I think, convincingly defended, as necessary. He held out some hope—in fact he gave an indication—that the Law Society was going to do something to help in the training of justices' clerks' assistants and, although I do not suppose it is strictly within the Bill, nor strictly for the Government or the House to discuss what may be private arrangements, I think it would be of great interest to the House if we could know what the Law Society is going to do. I wonder if 823 it is possible for the Government" and public authorities to do something to assist the assistants while we are raising the status of the Justices' clerks' assistant, but raising it in a manner which is bound to cause certain inconvenience to certain individuals.
§ 5.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Royle (Salford, West)
The hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis) concentrated in his speech on the question of non-county boroughs retaining' their courts of summary jurisdiction, their re-corderships and the like. Having read the Debates in another place, one would conclude that much of the Debate in our House would be along the lines of the controversy over non-county boroughs. As I look round the House now I realise that many hon. Members are endeavouring to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to deal with the question of non-county boroughs, because it is an important matter.
I shall not, therefore, spend time on the question. I simply say that in view of all the difficulties which prevail and of the anomalies which exist, I have come to the conclusion that what is now in the Bill in that respect is a very fair and reasonable compromise between two schools of thought. While it may be that there are circumstances such as have been mentioned by the hon. Member for Devizes in which some small town may be put in the nasty position of having to lose its bench, I believe that only the counting of heads, only the taking into account of the population, is the proper way to arrive at a solution in this matter.
This is not a Bill, as my right hon. Friend said, which is going to arouse international repercussions and feelings. It will not cause petitions to be circulated in first-class restaurant cars on the railways—petitions of protest at the introduction of the Bill. I do not think that we shall see any slogans on packets of sugar about this Bill whether it goes on the Statute Book or not. Yet it is a very important Bill indeed for those who have the job of administering the law of this country and this country's law courts; it is very important for lay magistrates, for stipendiaries, and for their clerks. Therefore, it is also an important Bill to the general public.
824 I want to join with those hon. Members who have already spoken in expressing satisfaction that my right hon. Friends have given attention to this matter in the midst of a very busy Parliament. It may be that we are nearing the end of the Parliament, but, for all that, it is very satisfactory to have this Bill. Because of that, those of us who are interested, may pledge my right hon. Friend that during the Committee stage of the Bill we shall be as little awkward as we possibly can with regard to putting down Amendments. We realise that the Bill has had a full discussion in the House of Lords, and those of us who are interested in it, are very anxious indeed that the Bill should reach the Statute Book before this Session is complete.
The duties of magistrates are very varied. The man in the street thinks of lay magistrates as "the beaks," and looks upon the normal activities of the courts as being concerned with people brought before them for criminal offences, and, in most cases, not very serious criminal offences. However, the work of a magistrate is much more important than that, in my estimation. If I were to put in the order of importance the duties of a magistrate—of a lay magistrate, particularly—I should say that the most important part of his work was in the juvenile court. There, I believe, he can commence a very good work indeed by putting on the right road youngsters who otherwise might be led very seriously astray. Second in importance, is the magistrate's work in domestic proceedings. Many marriages are saved by the activities and sympathies of the magistrates dealing with those matrimonial cases. I regard the normal work of the court as being of third importance. Remembering that, I put the further duty of a magistrate—that of signing papers—as his fourth duty, and a very important one; and it is necessary that in every area there should be accessibility to magistrates for the purpose of having papers signed—of which there are large numbers these days.
I want to stress this important aspect of the Bill—that it helps to ensure that the man or woman who is to be appointed as a magistrate shall not be appointed purely and simply on the ground of some service that he or she may have rendered in some other sphere, 825 but rather that the appointment shall be because of that person's suitability to perform a very responsible public duty.
I think of the 75 year old man who is to be compelled to retire under the Bill. It is, perhaps, because I am on the wrong side of 50 that I am now beginning to have some doubts whether age is always the right basis on which to decide when retirement shall take place. For all that, one has to agree that an age limit must be established. In the course of duties in the magisterial courts one comes across all sorts of amusing incidents, and as the Home Secretary was permitted to "reminisce" perhaps I also may do so.
I remember some years ago sitting on the bench with a chairman who was a very old man and who was also beginning to be deaf. A case was being heard against a conscientious objector to war service. After the conscientious objector had given evidence on his own behalf, the chairman of the bench leant forward and, cupping his ear in his hand, asked, "Have you any witnesses to call?" The conscientious objector, very seriously and sincerely, replied, "Almighty God is my witness." Immediately the chairman and my friend said, "Put him in the box." I hope the House will not think I am being irreverent in telling that story. It occurs to me simply as an illustration of the fact that many people who have rendered very good service in days gone by, may have got past the ability to continue to perform that task.
I want to draw attention to what I think is an important omission from the Bill. During the discussions in another place an Amendment was moved relative to advisory committees. I hold the view very strongly indeed that the appointment of advisory committees for the appointment of magistrates should be covered by the Bill. All of us know that advisory committees exist in most counties and in most county boroughs. We know that those people are appointed in some way to advise the Lord Chancellor in making his appointments. There is surrounding those advisory committees, a suggestion of secrecy and—I do not think it is an exaggeration to say—of suspicion. Ordinary citizens who are interested in this matter at all ask, Who are these advisory committees? Who appoints them? Who submits names to them?
826 I am bound to say that after 13 years' experience on the bench I do not know yet how the advisory committee of my own bench came into existence, or how it is continued, and I am inclined to think that successors are appointed under the last will and testament of previous holders of the office.
It does seem to me that this hole-and-corner business with regard to advisory committees is a dangerous thing, and I think that the cloak of secrecy should be lifted completely. I think that the advisory committees should be authorised by statute rather than by custom, that they should have secretarial offices, that minutes of their proceedings should be kept, and that citizens should be able to approach the advisory committees whenever they want to make suggestions as to the Commission for the future.
Turning to qualifications and training, I want to commend Clause 17, and to say that during the past year or two the Magistrates' Association has held weekend schools, anticipating this kind of thing. I am pleased to know that the Magistrates' Association is being consulted about the rules for the training of magistrates. That is a very important point. Magistrates have a duty to reach a decision on evidence, and they should have a knowledge of the laws of evidence and a fuller knowledge of the powers open to them in dealing with cases. For example, the recent Criminal Justice Act has made many innovations, and it is desirable that- all magistrates should know something about it and thereby be enabled to perform their duties much better.
On a matter of this sort one is very tempted to go on for a long time, but it is not for a back-bench Member to go through the Bill Clause by Clause as my right hon. Friend did in introducing it. However, I do want to say something about the number of magistrates sitting on benches. I am very disappointed that there has not been laid down in the Bill a limitation on the number of magistrates sitting on a bench. It is an insult to the intelligence of everybody concerned that on both county borough benches and county benches there should be seven, eight, or nine people sitting listening to what are, in many cases, very unimportant matters. It gives an exaggerated importance to these small cases to have so many people there, and everybody is em- 827 barrassed—justices and defendants alike. So I ask: Why put this in the rules? Why not put it in the Bill?
I must refer to stipendiaries and their remuneration. In this House I represent a section of a large county borough, and I am sorry that in approaching the question of the remuneration of stipendiary magistrates, we have not, through the Bill, sought to place that remuneration under the Consolidated Fund. Except in the case of the Metropolitan boroughs it is being left to local authority payment. In all, there are only 15 outside the Metropolitan boroughs. When it comes to a Government charge it is not a very serious matter, but for an individual local authority that expenditure can be quite a serious matter. In the city which I represent, the remuneration of stipendiaries amounts to something like a ½ d. rate—that is in an industrial borough, which has been a very poor borough in the past, with therefore very little brought in from the rates. This is an anomaly in the Bill, and I think the Government ought to have accepted it as a Government charge rather than leaving it a charge on the local authorities.
There are many other points, but perhaps we can deal with them in Committee when discussing the various Clauses. I end where I began. I regard this as as an excellent Measure; I think it is splendidly drafted, and that in every way there has been an attempt to compromise and to meet the views of everybody concerned. I sincerely hope that the Bill will receive an undisputed passage to its next stage, and that it will pass into law before this Session finishes.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Lambert (South Molton)
I intervene in this Debate with a good deal of trepidation, because I have been brought up to believe that one should never give lawyers advice, especially about the law. Nevertheless, I am very grateful for this opportunity to plead the case of the non-county borough of South Molton which I have the privilege to represent. At the moment this old non-county borough has two courts—a commission of the peace and a court of quarter sessions presided over by a recorder. If this Bill becomes law, I am afraid both courts will be abolished. Admittedly, South Molton is a town of 828 a small population—only 3,000 inhabitants. But just now the Home Secretary, in describing a small borough, described one in which a 1d. rate raised only £12. I am assured that in South Molton a 1d. rate raises £50, so it is nearly four times as big as some other non-county boroughs.
Another claim it has to favourable consideration from the Government is its antiquity. It has had a Charter for nearly 400 years, and during the whole of this time—and I am assured for many centuries before—has always been privileged to have two courts. It may be said that there have been no cases at the quarter sessions for three years. Surely it is unfair to penalise a town which has got a great civic pride—so great that it has had little or no law-breaking within its bounds. Rather than being penalised by losing its courts it should be rewarded by being privileged to retain them. Never, I understand, has there been any complaint about the quality of the justice dispensed in either of the two courts. Also, there are plenty of people willing to serve on the bench.
One further reason is that, I understand that, in future, any litigants in South Molton will have to go to the county quarter sessions at Exeter—a journey of 35 miles. The train service is bad, and anybody from South Molton who has to spend any time in Exeter must stay there at least two nights. This will cause great inconvenience and expense, and must surely defeat the whole aim of this Bill, which is to ensure that everyone has the greatest possible justice. For those reasons, I ask the Home Secretary to see whether he cannot, by some means or other, enable South Molton to keep both its courts and its recorder.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Basil Nield (City of Chester)
I am not sure how far the Ruling as to declaration of interest runs in a matter of this kind. As the Home Secretary knows, I am a recorder, but I think that the position is saved by the fact that I believe that I am not to be abolished. I trust this will be approved by the hon. Member for West Salford (Mr. Royle) who has recently spoken.
I am anxious to say a word or two about this important Measure. It seems to me quite clear that the Bill recognises 829 the very useful part that lay magistrates take in the administration of justice. It recognises also that there are some aspects in which an improvement in the working of our courts of summary jurisdiction can be achieved. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) referred to the importance of the tasks which lay justices have to undertake; and, indeed, that is very true.
There is, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, as you may well know, a book which guides lay justices in their task; it is called "Stone's Justices' Manual." It appears to be the situation that in my rather elderly edition there are no fewer than 3,000 pages, and reference is made to some 4,000 statutes and probably to about 10,000 authorities. As I am reminded, the more modern edition runs to two volumes. When we think of the importance of many of the decisions which have to be made by justices of the peace it is plain that we must do our best to achieve the best results in a Measure of this kind. May I give one or two examples? Disqualification from driving a motor vehicle may affect the means of livelihood of the defendant. If an affiliation order is made, a man of quite modest means, a wage earner, may have to pay something in the nature of £800 over the years. Similarly, in the juvenile courts, upon the decisions taken may depend the whole future of some child or young person. These are matters of immense importance with which the justices are asked to deal.
There are three points in this Measure which aim at improving the position, to which I should like to make short reference. In the first place, as the Home Secretary pointed out, the Bill seeks to retain the services of only those magistrates who are capable of adequately performing their judicial functions and who are conscientious in the discharge of them. I notice with satisfaction that the Measure enables courses of instruction to be made available to justices, although, in this respect, I would say, as a matter of my own personal opinion after a good deal of experience, I would much prefer to see a justice of the peace a good judge of fact than an amateur lawyer.
The next point is this: The Bill makes provision for the appointment of more stipendiary magistrates from the ranks of members of the Bar and solicitors of standing. I certainly hope that where the 830 business of the courts warrants it, authorities will not hesitate to make use of this power. I would add my word about the question of remuneration, not so much from the point of view of where the financial burden lies, but as from the point of view of maintaining the entirely independant status of the stipendiary, entirely separated from the local authority in whose area he may be sitting. That is another aspect of the same problem. One advantage also of appointing more stipendary magistrates will be to release more experienced justices' clerks to serve the lay magistrates who must be advised on matters of law.
The third point upon which I wish to say a word is that the Bill, it seems to me, initiates a system whereunder only qualified men will be appointed to the office of justices' clerk. The Bill goes about it by making a beginning and proceeding by degrees, and not requiring the immediate resignation of a great number of clerks who, although not legally qualified, have done extremely well in the task which they have undertaken.
There is one matter to which I would make reference and on which the learned Attorney-General may find it convenient to answer now or at some future time. My question arises under Clause 20 (3, b), which deals with the situation where an unqualified person may be appointed a justices' clerk in certain circumstances. The particular point that I have in mind is this: As I construe the Bill, it is laid down that one who has served for ten years as an assistant to a justices' clerk either before he was appointed or before 1st January, 1955, may be appointed as a justices' clerk, although he is not qualified. I think that is the effect of the provision, and I am anxious to know whether the 10 years must be continuous. I presume not, because the Bill does not say so.
The reason I am asking is because it has been put to me—and I think very reasonably—that there are some unqualified assistant clerks whose period of 10 years' service has been interrupted by wa: service; and, therefore, if there is five years' service before the war and five years after, is that to count in this instance? I think that it is, but I am sure that it would be a good thing if that matter could be cleared up here or at some later stage.
831 Many hon. Members are anxious to speak in this Debate, and I do not propose to detain the House longer, save to say that I, too, welcome this Measure as likely to effect an advance in the administration of justice in our courts.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Corlett (York)
I agree that when this Bill went through another place it was very much improved in many respects. But I want to deal with the point raised by the hon. and learned Member for Chester (Mr. Nield) on the question of assistants to magistrates' clerks, because I feel that the Bill in that respect was very much worsened in its passage through the other place. In the Bill as it went to another place there was Clause 15 (3, a) which protected them completely, as they had been protected under the Justices' Clerks Act, 1877, and then, for some strange reason, we get the Bill introduced into this House with that Clause deleted and an entirely new Clause—Clause 20 (3, b)—which severely limits the opportunities for assistant clerks.
It would seem that when the Bill was first introduced into the other House, every attempt was made in that Clause to ignore completely the recommendations of the Roche Committee. Apparently in the new Clause now put into this Bill every attempt has been made to meet completely the recommendations of the Roche Committee. I cannot help wondering why there has been such a complete change. There has been no further evidence, so far as I know, to justify the new Clause in this Bill which was not available when the original Clause was drafted. The Roche Committee recommendations were available. All that the Roche Committee had to say about the desirability of dealing with this matter was known, when the original Clause was put in the original Bill protecting assistant clerks in their promotion.
I am certain that other Members have received letters this weekend expressing the grave disquiet and the injustice felt by many of these assistants, who regard themselves as having been excluded from the promotion prospects they have been enjoying for so many years. I do not know what evidence there is for making this change. There are 58 out of 90 of 832 these justices' clerks who have been appointed from the position of assistant, and we have no knowledge that any of them have failed in their jobs. Not only is the number high, but they have been appointed in big cities, such as Manchester, Salford, Bradford and Leeds, all of which have hard-working benches with experienced magistrates who would be the first to state if they thought their clerks had failed to give the right kind of advice, or were incompetent or lacking in ability.
I do not believe there is any evidence that these men have fallen down on their job, or that they have any less ability than those with professional qualifications. It is a serious reflection on these people that very few appointments of this nature will be made in future. Speaking as an ordinary magistrate, I should be very surprised if there was any evidence that these men have failed in their work, because my knowledge of assistants is that they have always been experienced individuals in this narrow field of work. They are really saturated in the work of the courts, have a lot to offer, and a lot of experience to draw upon.
The only reason I can think of for the change is to be found in the Report of the Roche Committee, which says:The accepted principle in public service is that all appointments requiring specialised knowledge should be limited to persons having the appropriate professional qualifications.I think the reason for the compromise the Home Secretary has announced today is to be found here. As a professional man, the argument would appeal to me very strongly if I could be quite certain that these assistants have no special qualifications for this type of work. On the contrary, as an ordinary magistrate watching them at work, I hold that they have special qualifications in this narrow field. Their daily work makes that so, because they daily do nothing else but deal with the problems that arise in an ordinary magistrates' court.
They are far better qualified than a person who has mere professional qualifications. A man with professional qualifications may never have been inside a magistrates' court. He may depend for the whole of his knowledge and the advice he would give on something he has read in books, or something he has acquired in his work in a solicitor's office. The modern treatment of offen- 833 ders is not learnt from books or by people who rarely see the inside of a magistrates' court. Therefore, if it comes to a question of qualifications for the job, I think that nine times out of 10 the man who is doing the job is far better qualified than the man with only professional qualifications.
Another point that arises is the number of solicitors and barristers who would be eligible for this work. I hold the view that we should always legislate only for something that is practicable, never for something that is administratively impracticable. We had an example of that with the Education Act, when local education authorities had to break the law for years. I cannot helping feeling that we are doing the same thing now, because it is recommended that men to be selected should be between the ages of 30 and 50, with the further limitation that they should be persons who have served as assistants to experienced clerks. These two limitations severely reduce the number of solicitors and barristers eligible for this work. We shall need quite a large number of people, because at the present time we often have two to six courts sitting simultaneously, and when that happens, each court will have to have a professionally qualified magistrates' clerk, according to the terms of. this Clause.
At a time when we want to do our job properly and give full consideration to each case, we have no hesitation in splitting up into separate courts, accompanied by competent assistants who can give advice as to how we should proceed. I cannot for the life of me believe that we shall find sufficient solicitors to enable us to hold these separate sittings. I am very much afraid—I say this in all kindness—that those who fail to make a reasonable income in their private practices will come forward to make up the numbers, thinking that here is an opportunity to do some other legal work. I say unhesitatingly that they are the worst type of material we could have to advise us. Not only shall we be short of fully qualified solicitors, but, if we pass this Clause, it is fair to say that we shall dry up the stream of assistants. I do not think that is an exaggeration.
The assistants have taken up these posts because of the prospects of ultimately securing promotion to the position of a 834 justices' clerk. The job of an assistant is singularly unattractive. The conditions under which they work, their salary scales, the conditions of tenure, the sick pay regulations, their relationship to the justices' clerks, make the work completely unattractive. I believe that we have only had an adequate supply of people coming forward because of the opportunity of further promotion, and that if we pass this Clause we shall find that courts of summary jurisdiction will suffer considerably because there will be an insufficient number of assistants to advise magistrates.
For these reasons, I suggest that my right hon. Friend should go back to his first love, the original Clause. I cannot find the slightest reason why he should have these second thoughts, unless there has been some pressure from some professional organisation, like the Law Society. I cannot help thinking that there has been some pressure on another place to redraft the Bill. I am sure that if my right hon. Friend is prepared to trust the magistrates' courts committee to make these appointments, they will exercise their judicial functions as they do on the bench and select the right people. I hope my right hon. Friend will consider this matter very carefully, because many of these people are feeling very bitter as a job which they had always expected to find open to them has been closed to them, and they do not deserve this treatment.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
As this seems to be a day of confessions, may I, following the precedent set by the Home Secretary, begin with my personal confession and admit that 40 years have elapsed since I was called to the Bar and that for many years I have had the honour of being chairman of the Quarter Sessions in Montgomeryshire? I should like to congratulate the Lord Chancellor and the Home Secretary on bringing forward this Measure, which has long been needed, so easily and without stirring up very much controversy.
I should also like to take this opportunity of paying a short but sincere tribute to lay magistrates throughout the country who have done their work very well, very fairly, and very often at great personal and financial sacrifice to themselves. I have always felt that what is 835 needed most in a magistrate, and even in a High Court-judge, is a knowledge of human beings and human affairs, great understanding and toleration, and an ability to approach matters in a common-sense way and without prejudice. So long as these qualities are evident, together with courtesy, we shall get first-class magistrates and judges.
With the legal assistance that is now given it is not difficult for magistrates to try any case. Their real problem arises when they have to decide what should be done with the person who has been found guilty or who has pleaded guilty. I have been anxious to see whether it would not be possible to obtain better standardisation throughout the country in this matter. Every case, of course, must be judged on its own facts and merits. In all my long experience I have never known two cases that were precisely the same; there was always some material variation between them. But there are many cases which are very similar in type and in which, all too often, we find that the penalty administered by one bench is very small,' and that administered by another appears to be very great.
I cite the case of the lad riding a bicycle without lights after lighting up time. The degree of danger caused by a lad in one case, may not vary very much from that caused by another lad in another case, but in one case we find that the bench will fine him half-a-crown while in another case a bench in the same neighbourhood will fine him not less than £2. Both these fines cannot be reasonable, and that is why I welcome the proposal of the Roche Committee for getting, as often as possible, one clerk to sit in different courts and—without interfering, because it is a matter for the magistrates—pass on information, if required to do so, from one bench to another.
I am glad that the appointment of magistrates' clerks will be referred to the magistrates' courts committee. In my own county recently, where we are all very anxious to see the Roche Committee recommendations carried out wherever possible, one bench, in spite of the advice tendered by all other benches, suddenly decided that it would appoint its own clerk no matter what was done by the rest of the benches in the county. Now, under the new system, it will be the 836 magistrates' courts committee that will do the appointing.
I have only one or two small points to raise on the Bill itself. Clause 13 says:The number of county or borough justices sitting to deal with a case … shall not be greater than the number prescribed … by rules made under this section.There is a similar provision in another Clause. I do not follow this at all. I agree that circumstances vary from county to county, and must vary considerably between counties and county boroughs. I believe it is a good thing for the magistrates to attend at quarter sessions as often as possible. I regretted the passing of the grand jury for one reason only, namely, that magistrates had to attend the judge of assize and from him could learn what was regarded as the right method of administering justice and conducting a court. That was abolished during the 1914–18 war.
§ Mr. Davies
I am sorry; I thought it was much earlier. I thought it was abolished or about to be abolished while I was sitting on the Peel Commission, which recommended that the chairman of quarter sessions should be a professional man, a barrister or a solicitor of so many years' standing.
Ever since I was appointed chairman of quarter sessions I have felt it my duty to assist my fellow magistrates to the utmost possible extent. Before the court opens we usually meet, and I ask them whether any difficulties have arisen during the past quarter and whether I can be of any assistance to them. Further, once a year I take them through the relevant legislation which has been passed by Parliament, any judgments which have been passed by the Court of Criminal Appeal, or anything which I think would assist them. I also deal with any questions which have arisen while they have been on the bench, and about which they have thought it fit to write to me. They welcome that, and a great number of them attend.
In the same way, I always tell them that I take very much longer over a trial of a case if I am sitting with them than I do if I am sitting alone. If any question arises as to whether a question should be allowed or disallowed I say to them, 837 "If you do not understand, stop me, and I will try to explain." Then we adjourn from the bench to consider what is, as I have already said, the most difficult question of all, namely, what should be done with a person who has either been found guilty or has pleaded guilty. It would be wrong in my view, therefore, to limit the number who desire to attend quarter sessions. It assists them. I look upon it and so do they, as a sort of school of instruction where we learn a great deal from one another about the administration of justice.
I should like to congratulate the Home Secretary on his particularly self-denying ordinance, by which he has handed over some of the powers exercised by him and his predecessors to the Lord Chancellor. It is absurd that at a time like this some of these appointments should be made on the recommendation of the Lord Chancellor, some on the recommendation of the Prime Minister—the main legal appointments are on the recommendation of the Prime Minister—and some on the recommendation of the Home Secretary. My view all along has been that those should be matters to be handed over to the Lord Chancellor's Department.
There is one thing I wish finally to say. I see that the Bill recommends that the magistrates should reside in their areas or within a certain number of miles of it. Schedule I exempts judges, judges of the county court, custos rotulorum and sheriffs or sheriff substitutes in Scotland. May I suggest one other—the chairman of quarter sessions? I myself reside within my own constituency and within my native county of Montgomery, but there are instances where there is a desire for a qualified chairman of quarter sessions, and it would be putting a burden on him if he had to find a house or something of that kind within the county. Sometimes it is fortunate that one gets a High Court judge. For example, Carnarvon had Lord Justice Banks, and in Merioneth we had Lord Atkin. I see no reason why we cannot make the exemption in the case of chairman of quarter sessions. I believe there is provision in the Bill whereby special dispensation can be applied, but it would be better to include them in the Schedule so as to meet any particular case. Again, I have to congratulate the Home Secretary and the Lord Chancellor on this Bill.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Parker (Dagenham)
The hon. Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) put forward a special plea on behalf of a small town of 3,000 inhabitants in order to retain satisfactory facilities for providing justice for those inhabitants. I should like to put in a bit of special pleading on behalf of a township of 110,000 inhabitants which has grown between the two wars, which I do not think has adequate facilities for dispensing justice for its. inhabitants. I am speaking of my own constituency of Dagenham, which is only one of many industrial townships which have grown up in recent years in big. counties like Essex, particularly in the area around London. These towns are part of the legal machinery of the counties in which they are situated and have no legal machinery of their own.
I should also like to put in a special plea for one thing which is omitted from this Bill—the payment of lost time for justices. In Dagenham we have very great difficulty in getting people who can serve as justices. It is mainly a working-class township, and I should like to follow up a point made by the Home Secretary in his peroration, when he said that the people would have respect for a judicial system if they thought it was being run "by people who understood the way of life of the people." People for the bench must be drawn from a cross section of the whole people if that is to be realised.
I should like also to follow up the point made by the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe). He said the people in this country wanted justice to be "even handed" as between rich and poor. If we are to have that, reputable people must be selected as justices from a cross section of the whole people, and not just from a section of the people. That means the Government must be prepared to pay for lost time by people who are serving as justices. I cannot understand how that was left out of this Bill. In the Local Government Act, 1948, we agreed not to pay salaries to councillors. Nobody supported such a proposal. What we did agree to do was to pay for lost time. A Schedule was drawn up and payment was fixed at 10s. for over four hours and a pound if it was for more than four hours in any period of 24 hours. Some similar payment should be made for lost time for 839 people serving as justices, because it means that a good many people cannot accept this job on account of what they would lose in income, or if they do accept the job they cannot put in the proper attendances to do it properly.
I should like to read a letter which was sent to me by a justice of the peace in my own constituency which sets out the matter very clearly. He says:I am a member of the National Union of Railwaymen. I have served as a councillor both in the North of England and in an Essex borough, having been mayor of the latter for one year. Two years ago I was asked to serve as a justice of the peace, but I am now considering resignation, because I have lost a good many days in serving and if I continue it will mean a loss of wages which makes a considerable inroad in my small income. British Railways are most helpful in allowing me time off but they cannot be expected to pay for time I do not give them.That is the position for a large number of people most of whom no doubt are members of the Labour Party. But there may also be such people who are not members of the Labour Party who are in a similar position. I regret that this Bill has been introduced by a Labour Government, which wants to provide a more democratic way of life for the people, and yet did not think fit to include in it a proposal of this kind. I know that when this proposal was put before the various committees which were reviewing the position of justices of the peace, it was turned down. But because it was turned down does not mean that the Government should not think again on this matter and be prepared to introduce a Clause to cover it.
We are not asking for payment of justices of the peace. We want to retain the position as a voluntary job, but there cannot be equality between the different sections of the people if one section cannot serve because they cannot afford the loss of time. There are many who can serve without considering loss of time because they are retired, are elderly, have not got an actual job at the moment, are married women, have private means of their own, have their own businesses or are in professional life. Without this provision for payment of loss of time the Government are limiting the section from whom justices can be chosen to the particular classes I have mentioned. It is 840 unsatisfactory that that should be the case, and I would ask the Government to consider seriously introducing an Amendment into the Bill to allow payment for expenses.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ General Sir George Jeffreys (Petersfield)
As was stated seriously and rightly by the Home Secretary, this is a nonparty Measure, and, judging from the speeches we have heard, it is generally acceptable to all parts of the House. There is nothing in the Bill at all about the selection of justices, and I hope this, too, is regarded as a non-party matter. I wonder if it would not be as well to regularise, and perhaps improve, the present advisory committees. The composition of those committees is very limited, and I think the members are appointed because they represent either some party or some particular interest. In a big county it is quite impossible for one small committee to know the circumstances in all the far-flung petty sessional divisions.
I suggest that the whole question of these committees should be gone into again and that they should be enlarged and made representative not so much of parties and of special interests but of all parts of the county for which they act. It is very desirable that the names of the committee members should be known and published. It is a source of weakness that these committees and their composition are kept confidential. Some names leak out, and it is generally known who the chairman is, but no particulars are published. I believe there would be much more confidence in the work of these committees if it were known by everybody concerned how they were composed.
Clause 3 lays down that a justice who is member of the local authority is not to act in proceedings either by or against that authority. No doubt it is right that that should be the law. I do not hesitate to say that it has been the practice in all well-regulated county magistrates' courts for a very long time past. I believe it is difficult for a borough magistrate to avoid having to deal sometimes with cases in which the borough or the borough council is either prosecuting or is being sued, but if that is so, it will die away with the passing of the Bill.
841 Clause 4 lays down that the Lord Chancellor may make rules for a supplementary list. I would ask, and possibly the Attorney-General will answer the question, why the Clause says "may" make and not "shall" make. If a Bill of this kind is being passed there is very little doubt that the Lord Chancellor will take advantage of this Clause. It would be much simpler and clearer to everybody if, instead of saying that the Lord Chancellor may make rules, the Clause laid it down that he shall make rules.
The Clause goes on to say that such rules shall provide in the first place for persons of 75 years of age or over to be placed upon the supplementary list. Leaving out the question at the moment whether that is desirable, I wonder whether it is necessary, in view of subsection (4) which says that the Lord Chancellor may direct the transfer of persons to the supplementary list on account of age or infirmity. Surely that is the important point, not whether a person has reached the age of 75 but whether by reason of age or infirmity of any kind, particularly deafness, he is unable or unfit to perform his duties. Some people at 75 are very fit and can hear perfectly. It has been published in the newspapers of late that at least one distinguished and eminent High Court judge is over 80. I believe that everybody has great confidence in his decisions and ability.
I wonder whether it would not be very much better to use this subsection, which gives power of direction to the supplementary list of a person who, by reason of age or infirmity cannot carry out his duties, rather than to lay down an arbitrary limit of age which may have the effect of causing the compulsory transfer of efficient and very experienced justices. If that were done, subsection (5), which provides for the extension for five years from the coming into force of the Clause, would be unnecesary.
Clause 10 provides that there shall be a commission for every county and county borough, and for those non-county boroughs which had a commission and a population of 50,000 or more at the end of June, 1948, or alternatively had a commission and a court of quarter sessions and a population of 20,000 or more. The remaining boroughs lose their separate commissions and quarter sessions. I agree that the provisions of the Clause 842 are wise and in all the circumstances necessary. It is very wise to leave the commissions and quarter sessions to the 20,000 boroughs, if I may use that expression. They are nearly all historic boroughs in one way or another and their quarter sessions is undoubtedly very precious to them. Among them I am glad to say is the ancient City of Winchester in my own county.
The loss of quarter sessions by some of the smaller boroughs is more of an injury to their dignity than to anything else. Those boroughs have most certainly relieved the county quarter sessions of a great deal of work. That work is increasing. Unfortunately there is a very great deal of crime and there is a corresponding increase in the work of quarter sessions. To my knowledge some of the boroughs have taken a considerable amount of that work off the shoulders of county quarter sessions. In some cases relief for the position may be found if adjacent county borough quarter sessions could help by taking some of the work which comes before the county sessions. Questions of expense would arise, as to whether county boroughs should pay for dealing only with their own cases and not those of the county, but such questions would easily be susceptible of arrangement. It is undoubtedly the fact that the work falling on county quarter sessions in late years has increased out of all conscience.
One point which may commend itself to the inhabitants of some of the smaller boroughs is in regard to the liability for jury service at quarter sessions. In the very small borough that liability is pretty heavy, but now it will cease. Like the Home Secretary, I have thought that a ballot for the position of chairman or vice-chairman of a bench would be unnecessary and that the privacy of the magistrates room would be sufficient, but if it is desired there can certainly be no objection to a ballot.
Clause 14 lays down rules for juvenile court panels. I am not on a juvenile panel myself. Those rules may—again that expression "may"—include provisions that a justice shall not be a member of the panel after attaining the retiring age prescribed by rules. The Roche Committee recommended the age of 65 as the limit. It was stated in another place, and I think the Home Secretary said some- 843 thing very like it, that it was essential to have young parents on the juvenile panel Much of the juvenile crime, of which there is such a lot these days, is due to bad bringing up by the same young parents who very often disclaim responsibility and try to put the responsibility on the schools. Not unnaturally the school teachers retort that, where there is bad bringing up and bad discipline in the home, the school teachers cannot put it right in the schools alone. I suggest that at 65 a person is not necessarily deaf or incompetent.
It would be a great pity if we had to lose a great many very experienced and excellent magistrates in children's courts because of an arbitrary age limit of that kind. A good grandparent is at least as good a magistrate, assuming that his faculties are all there, as a good parent.
§ Sir G. Jeffreys
That is undoubtedly a possibility, but I merely say that neglect of responsibility for their children is very much more marked among the present generation than it was in the previous generation.
Clause 15 lays down that the Lord Chancellor "may" appoint a rule committee. Why "may" and not "shall"? On the advice of this committee he may make rules regulating and prescribing procedure and practice in magistrates' courts. There is not the slightest doubt that rules are very necessary. Though no recognised rules are at present in existence, magistrates' courts undoubtedly adhere to codes of rules which have been customary in their practice. I speak subject to correction, but I believe that to be the case. Rules ought to be laid down and this is a very necessary Clause, but I should like to see it read that the Lord Chancellor "shall" rather than "may" appoint.
I am very glad that this is to be undertaken by the Lord Chancellor and not by the Home Office. I yield to none in my admiration for the Home Secretary who is a practical magistrate with great experience of magistrates' courts and their work—we are extraordinarily fortunate in having the right hon. Gentleman here to introduce this Measure—but at the 844 same time we shall not always have Home Secretaries who are practical magistrates, and Home Office officials have in the past not always been found to be very sympathetic or understanding about the difficulties of magistrates' courts.
I am therefore glad that the Lord Chancellor is dealing more and more with the various problems affecting magistrates' courts, and with this one in particular. With every respect to the Attorney-General and other right hon. and learned Gentlemen in this House, I sometimes wonder whether those who are very high in the profession of the law and could teach us all a great deal about the higher courts, have a very great deal of experience of such humble things as magistrates' courts. No doubt some have, but I fancy that a good many have not.
Clause 16 deals with magistrates' courts committees which are to be set up with various functions relating to justices clerks, the division of counties into petty sessional divisions and other administrative matters. The appointments are a very necessary function of a committee, but are these new committees necessary and what will they do which the old standing joint committees cannot do? As everybody is aware, the standing joint committee is composed half of magistrates for the county and half of county councillors because of the financial responsibility of the county council. I do not know what the magistrates' courts committees, for whom certain financial provision is made in the Bill, will do that the old standing joint committees could not do and did not do in many cases very efficiently indeed.
Under Clause 17 magistrates' courts committees are to make arrangements for courses of instructions for J.Ps. That is most necessary. Many justices of the peace on appointment know very little of procedure or of such elementary matters—they are elementary—as the rules of evidence, and I welcome this Clause which makes possible instruction for newly appointed J.Ps. Before sitting on courts martial young officers in the Regular Army not only have to learn a very considerable amount about military law, which is, after all, only a branch of the general law, but they have to attend, not to sit in judgment but for instruction, a number of courts martial until they are 845 deemed to have learnt sufficient by watching the proceedings and listening to what happens to be able in due course to take their place at courts martial. Something of that kind would be very valuable for newly appointed justices of the peace.
Clauses 19 to 23 deal with the appointment and conditions of justices' clerks. These Clauses are very necessary. If magistrates sometimes continued too long on the bench, justices' clerks not infrequently also went a good deal too long.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir Hartley Shawcross)
Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman realise that these Clauses would not be operative unless we had the magistrates' courts committees about which he spoke recently? Standing joint committees would not be able to exercise the powers which are envisaged in this part of the Bill in regard to magistrates' clerks.
§ Sir G. Jeffreys
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has. certainly given me some information, but I still wonder whether powers could not be conferred by the Bill on the existing standing joint committees without the necessity of setting up new committees. The matter of the qualification of clerks is very important, and, in spite of the explanation given by the Home Secretary, I hope that the appointment of unqualified clerks may at any rate be kept to a minimum. The clerk is the adviser of the court. He does not conduct the proceedings or in any way settle its decisions, but he is the adviser of the court on points of law. I suggest that both the magistrates and the public might not have full confidence in an unqualified man. That does not alter the fact that a qualified clerk may have an unqualified assistant of considerable experience who may sit in a second court and conduct the taking of the evidence and the business of the court and, if some difficult point of law arises, can call in the qualified clerk who will be next door. There should be in every court at least one qualified clerk if possible.
The Second Schedule deals with arrangements for Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. The administrative counties of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight together form what is known officially by the ancient term of the County of Southampton, and for the purposes of 846 quarter sessions, and so forth, those counties have been one in the past. Now they are to be separate for these purposes, and the terms of separation have been drawn up by agreement between the parties concerned. I believe that to be by far the most satisfactory way in which a matter of this kind could be settled. Both the parties concerned are agreeable to the arrangements made and outlined in the Bill, which I hope may become law.
§ 6.52 p.m.
§ Dr. Broughton (Batley and Morley)
I shall confine my remarks to one small but none the less important aspect of this Bill. I have the honour to represent a constituency which comprises three non-county boroughs, not one of which satisfies the conditions laid down in Clause 10 (1) to enable it to retain its own commission of the peace. Each has a population of less than 50,000, none has a court of quarter sessions. This Bill proposes that there shall not be a commission of the peace or justices of the peace for such boroughs.
I suggest that this is drastic treatment to force upon any body of people having only one disability, that of not being large in numbers, and I shall try to put the case for the small towns. I regard it as a serious blow at the power, the authority and the prestige of our smaller towns. Perhaps this bitter pill would have been easier to swallow had it not followed swiftly upon treatment given by various Governments the effects of which have been to rob non-county boroughs of their powers and to reduce to a shadow their control over their own affairs.
With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I will inform the House briefly of what has already happened in the non-county boroughs. The control of education has passed to the county councils. The fire brigades were absorbed into the National Fire Service and their control has not been returned to these boroughs. Maternity and child welfare committees have ceased to exist, their functions having been taken over by the county councils when the National Health Service came into operation. Hospitals and maternity homes have passed into the hand of regional hospital boards. The control of electricity supplies has passed to the boards of the nationalised industry. Gas committees have similarly gone from the boroughs. In my constituency a grammar school, founded in 1612 and 847 having some centuries of remarkably good record, is administered under an order of the Board of Education, which means that it is controlled largely by a remote county council.
No doubt there is good reason for every one of the changes I have enumerated, but when viewed in the aggregate they constitute a serious decline in the status of non-county boroughs and may weaken the stimulus of civic interest and responsibility which has hitherto urged capable townsmen and townswomen to take a leading part in the public life of their communities. I know of the resentment of the people when the status of their towns is reduced, and this Bill, by proposing to remove from them a commission of the peace, rubs salt and sand into a painful wound. I ask my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General—do they not fear that this step is a further remorseless stride towards stereotyped and soulless boroughs?
From my own observation, I say that I have seen some inefficiency in the administration of local affairs, and that may apply also to the local administration of justice. I have two things to say on that aspect of the case. I believe, first, that inefficiency has not been as prevalent as many people are apt to imagine and, secondly, that human needs are not always best served by aiming only at perfect administrative efficiency. The more serious charges against persons should be and are heard by our impersonal and expert higher courts of justice, but when the matter is one such as Alf Smith having had "one over the eight" and quarrelled with his neighbours, or Jack Brown having left his car without lights, or Mrs. Higgins having failed to renew her dog licence, a personal knowledge of the people concerned and of the local conditions assists the bench in distinguishing between a rogue and a fool.
A question I should like to put to my right hon. Friend is: Where will the magistrates' courts be held in the county areas? If some boroughs are to lose their commissions of the peace and their justices of the peace, it is reasonable to assume that some of the present courts 848 will not be needed. I think the answer will be: At those places most conveniently situated for the administrators of justice.
§ Dr. Broughton
If that is so, will that not probably cause inconvenience to witnesses, accused and others? I am afraid that many people will be put to trouble and expense by having to travel out of their own towns.
I am aware that many hon. Members wish to speak on this important Bill, and I will draw my speech to a conclusion. This is a substantial Bill with 46 Clauses and seven Schedules. I welcome the proposals for the compulsory retirement of justices of the peace at the age of 75, for the courses of training for justices of the peace, and many other excellent points. However, I regret that a good Bill should be marred by the abolition of the 'commission of the peace from the smaller non-county boroughs. I have tried to put the case for these areas, and I ask my right hon. Friend to reconsider Clause 10 when the Bill goes through the Committee stage.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ Brigadier Peto (Barnstaple)
This is an important Bill, as has been stressed on all sides of the House, and it does not follow party lines. In that sense, the Debate has been an extremely good one—until my intervention. I will take up my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys) on one thing he said with which I do not altogether agree. He said that it was not a good thing to have an age limit of 75. I think there are many men who are justices of the peace today and who would hate to be removed from that job toy any other means than by law, but who would be quite glad to hand over to younger people if it were honourably done.
Of course, there are exceptions. I have in mind my own father who was a justice of the peace almost until he died at the age of 82. He had his entire mental faculties at his disposal. He was neither blind, nor deaf nor "gaga," and he sat on the bench as a regular attender and therefore would not have been removed on account of non-attendance.
§ Sir G. Jeffreys
It is always open—and such a step is frequently taken—to any justice of the peace who thinks he is getting too old for the job, or who wishes to do so for any other reason, to apply to be placed on the supplemental list.
§ Brigadier Peto
People do not like doing that. Neither do they like admitting to the world that they are considered too old. The age limit of 75 will be an excellent rule.
The hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) referred to payments to recompense justices for loss of time incurred by their duties on the bench. This raises a much larger issue and one with which it is difficult to deal adequately in the time now available. It resolves itself into a question of voluntary service as against paid service. There is likely to be the risk of losing a certain number of justices who cannot serve on a voluntary basis, but who might be available under new arrangements whereby they are paid for loss of time.
§ Mr. Swingler (Stafford)
The hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) made it clear that he was opposed to paid service, but he thought that if we were to have a cross section of the community, those who serve should be paid their out-of-pocket-expenses because otherwise they could not afford to serve as justices.
§ Brigadier Peto
I agree that that was what the hon. Member said. I was about to say in his support that, on balance, it is wiser to have a wider cross section of the public available as magistrates by removing any fear of their disability to serve because of loss of time in connection with their livelihood. There is, however, a very strong case against this procedure. No service that is paid for by way of taxation or any other method, is as valuable as the voluntary service which is given freely by the grace of the donors. Voluntary service, such as that which is given freely and of good will by, for instance, lifeboatmen, and such as was given by Members of Parliament in the good old days before they were paid, is far more valuable than paid service.
On the question of Part II of the Bill, I interrupted my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis) who suggested that in his constituency it might be possible to have a combined recordership of 850 Devizes and Marlborough. I pointed out that in my constituency—we are unique in this—we have for many years had a combined recordership for Barnstaple and Bideford. Barnstaple has a population of 16,000 and Bideford, 11,000. The recordership of Barnstaple dates back to 1377 and that of Bideford to 1574. I think I am right in saying that the recordership for Barnstaple is the oldest in England. I am considering tabling an Amendment whereby those two towns, with their joint recordership, whose joint populations total over 20,000, should be put in the same category as other boroughs with a population of 20,000 or more and added to the list in Part III of the Third Schedule.
The geographical aspect also needs consideration. Parts of North Devon are extremely isolated, and Barnstaple, as the main commercial or industrial centre, has an importance which is different from that of any other borough. It would be asking a good deal of justices, of juries and, indeed, of prisoners to have to travel between 40 and 60 miles each way to Exeter and to stay overnight. The financial consideration and loss of time for which claims would be made, might prove to be very considerable.
Furthermore, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys) has mentioned, people affected in this way are liable to feel that their dignity has been injured. This matter was brought out very clearly and well by the hon. Member opposite. Councillors in the smaller boroughs already feel a great sense of loss and are liable to begin to wonder exactly what they are intended to do. Their prestige and importance need to be reinforced rather than diminished. I ask the Home Secretary, when he considers the Bill in its later stages, to allow the boroughs of Barnstaple and ' Bideford, with their joint population of 21,000, to be considered together for a continuation of the existing joint recordership.
§ 7.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Proctor (Eccles)
I appeal to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to reconsider the position of the non-county boroughs, which, under the present proposals, are very hardly dealt with. The immense amount of administrative 851 work and power which in the immediate past we have concentrated in the county councils has, by and large, been justified, but I cannot see any rhyme or reason for the proposals contained in the Bill which affect non-county boroughs.
The Roche Report recommended that only in those boroughs where the population was less than 25,000 should separate commissions of the peace be abolished, but that, even in those cases, if there were special circumstances in the administration of justice, a separate commission might be desirable. We should do well to return to that proposal and to amend the Bill along those lines. By doing so, every objection which has been put forward today would be met.
I have heard of no reason on the ground of either efficiency or expense to justify the new proposals. In abolishing these separate commissions of the peace we are going right against local pride and ancient history. I am always prepared to face reforms of this kind where they are necessary. Transport and communications have given us an entirely different form of society from that which was possible years ago. We must take advantage of the changed circumstances and bring ourselves up to date, but our connections with the past should not be ruthlessly cut away without very good reason.
I represent two county boroughs. One has a commission of the peace, the other has not. The Eccles section of my constituency was granted its commission in August, 1894. It is a self-contained borough with a population of 44,000, is the centre of a very large business community and has connections with the outside areas. This system has worked well and, judging it locally, I see no reason why it should be altered. I hope that those responsible for the Bill will look carefully at the situation and see if there is any reason to interfere with present arrangements.
To concentrate power in the county council areas is to deal with the matter in an entirely different way. I know Monmouthshire very well; it is a county in which I lived for a very long time; it is a small county compared with Lancashire. It is an entirely different thing to concentrate all power in Preston and to concentrate it in the centre of a small 852 county. The very great size of some of the counties should be given careful consideration when we deal with this part of the Bill in Committee. I hope we shall be able to deal with the matter in a different way from that in the proposals before us. The Roche Committee thought of a number, 25,000. The Government have doubled that number, but I think there is something more to be said on the matter and that some different figure from 50,000 should be used. I think we would do well to go back to the proposal of the Roche Committee.
No cases of incompetence of justices' clerks have been quoted, and, as far as I know, no difficulties have arisen justifying the exclusion of assistant clerks from what in the past has been regarded as possible promotion. I am well aware that we live in a society in which professional qualifications count for everything, and competence does not always count for much. We see a tendency to exclude people of great ability, great knowledge, and great understanding simply because they have not passed an examination, whereas doing the work is the real test which should be applied.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
Can my hon. Friend say what test he would apply? Nearly all professions and all trade unions have an apprenticeship period and some method of qualifying before a man is entitled to play about with the lives of other people.
§ Mr. Proctor
I anticipated that my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) would interfere. In fact, it was a nod of his head that caused me to make the statement about qualifications. We have had experience of this. I know one great trade union which instituted an examination for Parliamentary candidates and succeeded in examining and passing them, but they abandoned it afterwards as not being much of a success. I might have complained, because I passed the examination.
§ Mr. Silverman
Will my hon. Friend say if they have also abandoned the apprenticeship period in their own craft?
§ Mr. Proctor
I do not say that they have, but I say that in this case there are people of very high qualifications to whose personal ability, so far as I know 853 the people, I can testify. They have entered a profession and are now assistant justices' clerks, and until now could reasonably have looked forward to becoming justices' clerks at some time or other. I say we have no right arbitarily to alter the conditions in which a man has entered a profession, unless we prove he is incompetent for the job.
Those who are now assistant justices' clerks should not have the conditions of their employment altered in this arbitrary fashion. That position appears to be preserved, provided that by 1955 or at the time of their appointment they have been for 10 years assistant justices' clerks. When dealing with this matter under Clause 20, subsection (3, b), I would like the Attorney-General to say if it is possible for a person who is now an assistant clerk to be appointed as clerk in the ordinary way? The Clause says:if … he has served for not less than ten years in one or more of the said capacities and, in the opinion of the magistrates' courts committee and of the Secretary of State, there are special circumstances making the appointment a proper one.Can he expect promotion in the ordinary course, or must the magistrates and the Secretary of State be convinced that there are special circumstances? If that is so, I do not think he will ever get a job and the qualification of 10 years is merely a little legal verbiage which does not give him the job, but excludes him from it.
The question of travelling, lodging allowances and the payment for loss of time was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker). I think that loss of time comes into exactly the same category as lodging allowances and travelling allowances. For a rich man to receive payment for driving to court in, a motor car, while a working man is not allowed the amount of money he loses in wages, is a wrong principle to adopt in this legislation. If one can claim a fare for travelling there, surely a man who has had to lose time to get to the court should receive payment.
Another aspect of the matter is much more harmful and should be considered more carefully than the mere question of payment. That is the question of who is to pay. The trade union and Labour movement banded together for long periods and were prepared to pay fellow members for certain services rendered, on 854 local councils, or in other ways. We had to consider the matter of the payment to magistrates and at one time I asked the National Union of Railwaymen whether a magistrate should be paid out of branch funds for time lost. They came to the conclusion that it would be an improper thing to pay a man for loss of time when attending court and that it might undermine the question of his impartiality. I would like the Home Secretary specially to consider the point whether the proper authority for any payment to assist the man to carry out his public duties should be not a trade union, or any voluntary association but that in this special respect it should be the State. I hope my right hon. Friend will give an indication of whether he thinks it proper for a trade union to make a contribution, or whether he would prefer the State to make a contribution.
As regards the rest of the Bill, I congratulate the Home Secretary on the tremendous amount of work he has put in and on the fact that we are to discuss it in a non-party atmosphere.
§ 7.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)
I share the view, very well expressed by the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Proctor) in the beginning of his speech, that Clause 10 is something of a blemish upon an otherwise admirable Bill. And I must confess that of all the speeches I have listened to this afternoon the one which roused the most definite echo in my heart was that of the hon. Member for Batley and Morley (Dr. Broughton) no doubt because, like him, I represent in this House three non-county boroughs. I must also say that it seemed, in the Home Secretary's admirable exposition of the general principles of this Bill, that his argument, when he came to Clause 10, tended to drag and certainly, so far as I am concerned, failed to convince.
He stated that small boroughs should not have separate commissions of the peace and he gave as his reasons for that that they would not have sufficient justices or sufficient criminal work to secure that those justices were properly aware of their duties and properly experienced in them. As a general proposition that is obviously and demonstrably true, but it all depends, as Dr. Joad would say, on what you mean 855 by "small." In fact, as the right hon. Gentleman very fairly admitted to the House, the Roche Committee thought the line of demarcation should come at a population of 25,000.
What to my mind makes the Home Secretary's argument so difficult to understand is that in the same Clause it is provided that where a non-county borough at present has a court of quarter sessions then a population of 20,000 shall also save its petty sessional court. If with 20,000 inhabitants a non-county borough has not enough justices and not enough work, what difference does it make that it also has a court of quarter sessions? Whatever may be said about recorders, they do not tend to increase the amount of criminal work in the boroughs in which they sit. Equally they do not, sitting in their own court of quarter sessions, give extra experience or at least extra work to the magistrates sitting in petty sessions. I should be grateful to the Attorney-General, if, when he replies—and I note in his absence the Solicitor-General is taking notes—he would direct his argument to why if d court of petty sessions cannot work satisfactorily in a town of less than 50,000 people where there is no recorder's court, it is perfectly possible to work it satisfactorily when there are only 20,000 people if there happens to be a recorder. At the moment the argument does not seem to dovetail.
I should like to quote by way of illustration the experience of the court in my own constituency with which the Home Secretary is, I know, in some degree familiar. I seek to quote it not in any attempt to argue a special case for the elimination of that court from the provisions of this Bill, but rather to cite it as an illustration of how unfortunate this selection of 50,000 as the demarcation line is. The point I wish to make is that if, as I shall seek to show, the provisions of Clause 10 in so far as they affect the Royal Borough of Kingston-upon-Thames are unfortunate, it is not because the case of Kingston-upon-Thames is peculiar, but because these provisions are fundamentally and in principle wrong. The Royal Borough of Kingston-upon-Thames has a population of about 40,000. It is also in the peculiar position of having a recorder but no court of borough quarter sessions.
856 Before I pass to the facts so far as they affect the Royal Borough, I should like to ask a question of which I hope the Solicitor-General will make a note. It is fortunate in view of the natural modesty of the Attorney-General that the Solicitor-General is on the Bench at the moment because it is a question which directly and personally affects him. The Attorney-General holds the office of Recorder of Kingston-upon-Thames, but he does not sit because there is no court of quarter sessions in the borough. I should like to know whether his position as such is or is not affected by this Bill? I have been led to believe that because there is no court the recorder's position will not be affected, and that he will remain. I should welcome a public and definite assurance on behalf of the Government on that point when the right hon. and learned Gentleman winds up the Debate. I say that because, without for one moment accepting all that the right hon. and learned Gentleman does and says in another capacity, it is right I should say that the inhabitants of the Royal Borough regard his position as Recorder of that borough with great appreciation and regard it as an asset to have available his legal advice, particularly bearing in mind that they do not at the moment pay anything for it.
This is because, as the Home Secretary is aware, by tradition the Recorder's emoluments consist of two sugar loaves which I understand the regulations of the Minister of Food prevent the Corporation from bestowing upon their Recorder, the more so because if they did it would no doubt call upon them the adverse attention of the Law Officers of the Crown.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
Not only did they do so, but they tendered the two sugar loaves at the time of his appointment, but owing to the regulations and the right hon. and learned Gentleman's knowledge of them they were not accepted and were returned to the donors. So far as the Corporation is concerned, the Home Secretary can acquit them of insincerity in their desire to pay a proper fee for the work done, or what I might coloquially call the "rate for the job."
857 Now as to the position of the petty sessional court which it is proposed by Clause 10 to abolish on the grounds put forward by the Home Secretary—that it has insufficient work and insufficient justices—anyone with experience of it knows that it has large numbers of capable justices. That is just as well because there is a great deal of work. I have obtained the figures for last year. It is a fact that they show an increase on those of the previous year, and there has been a steady upward tendency since the war. That is not due to any high incidence of crime in the Royal Borough but to the fact that it is the county capital, and that compared with its population of 40,000 there may be four or five times that number of people come to it daily about their business. I will not cast any aspersion in the Home Secretary's presence on the county council as being a cause of crime.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
It so happens that the county council sits in the Royal Borough and whereas the right hon. Gentleman's resignation took place, as he says, in May, my figures relate to last year so that I feel it necessary" to acquit him of having any connection with them.
The figures are remarkable. They show that the petty sessional court sat on no fewer than 290 days a year, which is substantially every working day of the year. On top of that the juvenile court sat on 43 occasions during the year. And the total number of cases dealt with was 2,962. It is a little difficult in face of those figures to suggest that there is not enough work for that court. When on top of that there is licensing work involving the supervision of 93 licensed premises within the borough, it shows that there is no case whatever for the abolition of that court. I have introduced these figures because they tend to illustrate the error which is being committed not only in the case of the Royal Borough of Kingston-upon-Thames but elsewhere by the elimination of these courts.
There is also the element, which I know will appeal to the Home Secretary, of tradition and continuity. As the hon. Member for Eccles rightly said, if there is real necessity for change for practical purposes, then too much regard cannot 858 and should not be given to tradition and continuity. But when there is an excellent argument for the retention of a petty sessional jurisdiction on practical grounds, one is entitled also to call in aid the long background of tradition. The hon. Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) sought to support his case by stating that that borough had a history of 400 years. By the standards of Kingston-upon-Thames South Molton is a mere parvenu. The first Charter of the Royal Borough was given by his late Majesty King Athelstan in 933. The earliest document which existed as regards petty sessional jurisdiction is the Charter of King John in the year 1200.
To destroy a story with a thousand years of background, unless there is an overwhelming practical case for so doing, seems a sad and sorry thing to do. I hope that when we come to the Committee stage the right hon. Gentleman will be convinced, as I think he may well be by the speeches made from all quarters of the House this afternoon, that there are many petty sessional jurisdictions in many of the non-county boroughs which can justify their continued existence not only by ancient lineage but by hard, practical, contemporary work.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge)
I think that I am alone in drawing attention to the position of Scotland. I am sorry that there is no representative of Scotland on the Front Bench. I wish to comment on the age of magistrates. I notice that on approaching 75 years, a justice of the peace may be told to go on the shelf—to go on to the supplemental list. I think that justices ought to retire long before the age of 75. It is most undesirable that old people, even beyond 65 years, should still be allowed to attend juvenile courts. It may be, as hon. Members opposite have said, that these people are very fit and that men approaching 75—and I presume women also—can hear perfectly. Surely that is not sufficient.
Surely anyone who has sat on a bench of magistrates knows that power of concentration, a keen analytical mind, memory for detail and for certain aspects of the comportment of witnesses are necessary. All these may be evident in a person over 70 years old, but even if they are I still object to old people like that—even to people of 60—sitting in 859 juvenile courts. They are an entirely different generation, a generation perhaps twice removed from the people who come before the courts. As near as possible the generation on the bench and the generation in the dock should be the same. I am very disappointed that no stronger action is proposed. No doubt that is because no one wants to give offence and because certain people wish to retain prestige and to cling to the office of justice of the peace.
Anyone can have my office as J.P. anytime they like. I am willing to give it up. This is where I wish to mention Scotland. I consider that the position has been farcical. Ten years ago I was asked if I would accept office. I had been a magistrate and, as a kind of reward for magisterial work duly performed, this offer was made. I never felt satisfied that I had been a good magistrate. Often I had great misgivings about my judgment, but it was expected that I should accept this offer to become a J.P. It cost me nearly 6s. I had heard people offering £1,000 to be in a position to put these initials after their name. I heard that in the Lord Provost's room in the City of Glasgow. Fortunately, the Lord Provost was too wise to promise anything of the kind, but in my hearing, £1,000 was offered to the Provost's Fund—a sort of charitable fund that we have in Glasgow—if he would nominate a certain individual who was totally unfit for the position.
Since I had this honour conferred on me ten years ago, I have been called twice to the court, and on the last occasion I discovered that I was not expected to give a judgment at all. I refer to what happens in the Glasgow J.P. court where I sat. All the time the official in the court passed judgment. The cases in front of me five years ago, in 1944, were debt cases. On one occasion a young lady appeared for her elderly parents who were summoned for a debt in connection with furniture for which they could not pay. Their boys, who at that time were in the Merchant Navy risking all the hazards which merchant seamen faced in 1944, had taken on the debt. The parents were brought to court and I had great difficulty in intervening. Judgment was being passed and a decree was being given, when I intervened to point out that this House 860 had protected such parents from having decrees passed against them whilst their sons were serving in the Forces. I had the decree suspended. But undoubtedly decrees were being made before I arrived and I am certain that the same thing went on after I had left.
This brings me to the point that whilst I welcome Clause 3, which deals with the disqualification in certain cases of justices who are members of local authorities, I have found in Glasgow that credit drapers make up the J.P. bench and sit on cases concerning credit drapers' debts. Day after day there is a bench of merchants, possibly engaged in trade themselves, who sit all the time considering cases of delinquents who cannot pay their debts. They decide the amount that shall be paid each week. I do not think it is right that men who are interested in these accounts, or in the accounts of their colleagues, should sit on the Glasgow J.P. bench and decide whether a decree shall be given and for how much it shall be.
I think that that bench should be impartial. I think that I could be impartial. Perhaps some people might have big doubts about that. The custom in Glasgow is to take the J.Ps. who are willing to come down day after day, and it has been found that those willing to do so are merchantmen, tradesmen in Glasgow, who are really interested in the payment of debts as quickly as possible to drapers, furniture people and the like. If it is wrong for councillors to take part in a case in which their own council might be interested, it is a far greater wrong to allow men to sit on a bench who are more than interested in how debts—drapery, furniture and other debts—shall be paid in the city of Glasgow. I hope that the Lord Advocate will pay attention to what I have said.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Marlowe (Brighton)
As far as the particular problem of the hon. Lady the Member for Coatbridge (Mrs. Mann) is concerned, since it relates to Scotland and to a particular court there, I am not qualified to make any comments thereon. The hon. Lady did, however, make a general observation regarding compulsory retirement at the age of 75, which is referred to in this Bill. I am bound to say that, personally, I do not share her views that a person is necessarily too old to discharge this function at any particular 861 given age. It is entirely an individual matter concerning whether the person has the necessary qualities. After all, within a very few months from now, a certain right hon. Member of this House, who will be 75 on Wednesday, will be Prime Minister of this country, and if the right hon. Gentleman is entitled at 75 to be Prime Minister, I cannot see any objection to justices of the peace being of the same age.
§ Mr. Marlowe
I agree, but it shows the necessity for judging individuals on their own particular merits.
The matters to which I wish to refer are largely matters which can be dealt with in greater detail during the Committee stage, but I want to draw attention to them now, because I hope some attempt will be made to meet those particular points. I will refer, first, to the qualifications of justices' clerks, to which references have been made already. I hope the Government will think again on this question of requiring a professional qualification for the appointment of justices' clerks. I have never been a believer in a closed shop in any form. In this particular instance, I think it will result in the necessary manpower not being available to fill these posts. The argument has been provided by the Home Secretary himself when he gave figures, which I think were the 1938 figures, and I presume they are the latest which are available. He said that there were some 820 justices' clerks at that time, and that, of that number, only 30 were qualified professionally. If that is fight, it shows that the vocation of justices' clerk does not provide a great attraction.
§ The Attorney-General
Perhaps I can explain the matter to the hon. and learned Gentleman and save him from making a false point; I think he must have misunderstood my right hon. Friend. He was referring, I think, to the proportion of whole time clerks who are qualified, and he gave the figures, which were 30 out of about 90. The larger figure to which the hon. and learned Gentleman has referred is that of the part-time clerks, almost all of whom, so far as I know, are qualified.
§ Mr. Marlowe
I am much obliged to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. 862 The figures I took down were correct, but, of course, the figure of 30 relates only to a proportion of the full-time clerks. I accept what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said.
In any event, the proportion is significant. It shows that only one-third of these people were qualified men. I have not got the figures for the rest of the justices' clerks, but if these figures represent a fair picture of the position, it does seem to me that we shall not get enough qualified men to provide the necessary number needed to fill the posts. I do not see why it should necessarily be the case that because a man has a professional qualification he therefore makes a good justices' clerk. He is only required to pass an examination in order to become a qualified person, but to become a justices' clerk requires a considerable knowledge of human nature, and a knowledge of how to handle matters in a court and how to handle the bench whom he has to serve. They are far more important qualifications than can be acquired by sitting for an examination. It very often happens that the man who most easily passes the examination is not the man who is the most practical when it comes to duties of this kind.
I prefer the present system by which the justices' clerk is a man who qualifies for his position by reason of his experience, first of all, serving a period of apprenticeship as assistant to the justices' clerk, and gaining the necessary experience until he is responsible enough to take on the job himself. I am bound to express my view that that is a far better qualification for this responsible position than the mere passing of an examination. As a matter of fact, subject to the saving clause till 1955, every justices' clerk will have to be qualified and it will not be possible for men to become a justices' clerk merely by reason of having passed an examination without having had any experience in administration at all. I hope that aspect of the matter will be reconsidered.
The next matter with which I want to deal is that relating to magistrates' courts committees in Clause 16. The effect of subsection (2, c) is that there shall be a magistrates' court committee for a non-county borough with a population of 75,000. I am totally at a loss to understand why the figure of 863 75,000 has been chosen. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, after many negotiations and compromises, the commission of the peace has been given to the non-county borough with a population of 50,000, and yet, for some reason which I am quite unable to understand, in connection with magistrates' courts committees an entirely different criterion is adopted and the required population is 75,000.
I hope the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be able to give some explanation of this, but I cannot help feeling that it is a hangover, as it were, of the original idea of the size of population for a commission of the peace, and that it has not been altered. It seems to me utterly illogical to have a commission of the peace in an area with 50,000 population, and not to have that same figure to qualify for a magistrates' courts committee.
I can give the right hon. Gentleman an instance of the rather illogical effect of that provision if I mention the non-county borough in which I am particularly interested, because I represent it in this House. I put it forward as an illustration of what I believe will occur in many cases, and the illustration relates to the non-county borough of Hove. Hove was threatened with the loss of its commission at one time when the population minimum was 75,000, but has been saved by the reduction of that figure to 50,000. It is a non-county borough with a population of 60,000, and the reduction of the population figure to 50,000 has now made it safe. The clerk to the borough justices, as is usually the case, is also the clerk to the Hove county justices, and the total population of the area concerned is 85,000.
Yet the absurd result will follow that this area of 85,000 people, because of this figure of 75,000 being the qualification for a magistrates' court committee, will not be entitled to have one. The commission of the peace will be retained on the 50,000 basis, and the magistrates' court committee will be lost on the 75,000 qualification. That will be the result, although, in fact, the number of persons involved in the area is 85,000, though split into two lots of 60,000 and 25,000.
That, I am told, is a perfectly typical case, and I hope the right hon. Gentle- 864 man will look into it. It has the absurd result that, by losing its magistrates' court committee, that non-county borough with 60,000 people, will find that a gentleman sitting in Rye at the other end of the county will have as much say in whether the justices' clerk in Hove shall buy some more notepaper or not, as the Hove member of the magistrates' court committee. That seems utterly illogical.
There is one other general matter to which I want to refer—the question of the justices' clerk being secretary to the magistrates' court committee. I understand that in the past it has been the practice for the clerk of the peace to be clerk to the provisional magistrates' committee, and, presumably, that arrangement is likely to continue because the matter is not dealt with in the Bill. I suggest to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that it would be much more logical for the function to be discharged by the clerk to the justices. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be aware, the clerk of the peace is nearly always clerk of the county council, and may well find himself discharging a dual role with opposite interests. If by an Amendment to this Bill that office could be taken away from the clerk of the peace and given to the clerk to the justices, that clash of interests could be avoided.
There is one other matter which has already been drawn to the attention of the Home Secretary and to which I have also been asked to draw his attention. I understand that representations have been made to the Home Secretary with regard to the Becontree petty sessional division which represents a particular problem. The hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) made a speech limited to one particular subject—whether a magistrate should be paid expenses for loss of time. I am not going to deal with that problem, but Dagenham is one of the areas affected in this matter, and a very curious position will arise if this Bill remains as it is.
Hon. Members will realise that in South-East Essex there has been an enormous growth of population in the last 20 years or so. There are six boroughs comprising a total population of between 600,000 and 700,000, and there is only one petty sessional division area. In fact, those boroughs—Barking, Dagenham, Ilford, Leyton, Wanstead, 865 Woodford and Walthamstow—represent half the population of Essex, and, as the position stands at the moment, they will have one nominee on the magistrates' court committee of the county. It means that on the Essex county magistrates' court committee 19 of its 20 members will come from the rest of the county, and only one from this vast area which contains half the population of the county.
I am told that the anomaly could be put right by an Amendment which would permit a group of areas such as these to be put together for the purposes of consideration, and that, if that were done, they could themselves become a magistrates' court committee area. As the position is at the moment each one of those boroughs cannot have its own magistrates' court committee although the populations of the various boroughs range from 124,000 to 79,000. That seems to be a matter which requires consideration. I draw attention to this matter now—although I shall, if necessary, put down an Amendment at the appropriate time—as one which has, I understand, been represented to the Home Secretary and which I believe he has under consideration. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will think it right to put down an Amendment with regard to it because such a difficult problem should, I believe, be dealt with by a Government Amendment.
None of these difficulties would arise if we adhered to the old principle of not allowing this question to be dealt with arbitrarily on the basis of numbers. I do not think it is right to standardise these matters; I think that the old principle which existed uder the Municipal Corporations Act whereby a borough which wanted a commission of the peace could petition for it was far more satisfactory. We cannot cut across one particular level and say that in boroughs with a population of over 50,000 the matter is to be dealt with in one way and in boroughs with a population below that figure it is to be dealt with in another.
I think that what my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) said with regard to the extraordinary position which will arise in that Royal Borough reinforces that argument. It is far better to maintain 866 the old system of allowing each borough to apply on its merits, and I do not abandon the hope that that principle may be restored. After all, this Bill has been one of many compromises, and it is a Measure which we all want to see come into effect at the earliest possible moment, certainly before the end of this Parliament. If that is to happen, it must become effective very soon.
§ 7.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Weitzman (Stoke Newington)
Our system of trial by justices of the peace is a unique one, and, as the Home Secretary said, it has grown up through centuries of English history. It has been said that something like 99 per cent. of the criminal cases in this country are dealt with by lay magistrates, and when it is remembered that in the majority of these cases questions of fact rather than questions of law are dealt with, it is, on the whole a very good thing that they should be tried by a bench of public-spirited laymen rather than by trained lawyers I think that every lawyer with any experience of magistrates' courts will recognise that the justices of the peace do an immense amount of important work.
It is a very good thing that the Government have found time to present a Bill of this kind. It was very important, when we had the examination and detailed results of the Roche Committee and the du Parcq Commission that opportunity should be found to coordinate the various provisions dealing with justices of the peace and to bring them into one Act of Parliament. I suppose that even hon. Members on this side of the House will agree that this is an example of a non-party Measure where the prolonged investigations and study in another place and the qualities of the members there made their task a very useful one indeed.
In my view, there are a number of very excellent things in this Bill. I am very glad that a retiring age for magistrates is to be fixed. The spectacle of a man who is obviously too old or too deaf, clinging to office is not in the best interests of justice. Of course, they are men who have done useful work and who have earned honour as a result of that work, and it is fitting that they should go on to a list, like the supplemental list, where they can continue to do very useful work by way 867 of signing papers and documents, and matters of that kind.
It is also an excellent thing that there is to be provision for the appointment of a rules committee. It has always been an extraordinary thing that with regard to the supreme court and the county courts we have a rules committee dealing with questions of procedure, whereas in regard to magistrates' courts, where, perhaps, it is needed more than anywhere else, we have not had a rules committee. In my view, it is one of the most important provisions in the Bill.
Thirdly, it is a good thing that provision has been made, although some Members have disagreed with this, for magistrates' courts committees and particularly for courses of instruction for magistrates. One recognises the value of the work done by magistrates. One recognises that as laymen they play an important part, but undoubtedly it is essential that, as magistrates making important decisions on matters which may be vital, they should know something about the rules of evidence and should be able to appreciate points of law. Clause 17 deals particularly with this matter. I hope that although courses of instruction will have to be imposed, so to speak, on a voluntary basis, steps will be taken to see that magistrates take up those courses, and that if they do not do so, they should not be regarded as magistrates who are properly carrying out their duties.
Reference has been made to the conditions of justices' clerks and the question of their appointments, and the view has been expressed that qualification often comes by actual experience. Of course, it is true there are in our courts today many unqualified men who have gained a wealth of experience by the work they have done, although in fact they are untrained lawyers. In my submission, it is wrong to start off by having men other than trained lawyers. The Bill contains a provision which deals with the continuance in office of those unqualified men in special cases and the chances of their promotion, but it is essential in work of this kind to have justices' clerks who are qualified by their training. Every hon. Member will be aware that magistrates depend to a very large extent on the guidance given to them by their clerks, 868 and unless their clerks are qualified they may well go wrong in some matter.
I am also glad to see that the rather illogical system whereby the Home Secretary dealt with appointments of stipendiaries has now gone. Obviously that function ought to have been performed by the Lord Chancellor. Another important provision in the Bill of great benefit is that which will prevent justices of the peace from participating in any decision in a case where they are members of a local authority. I know it has been customary in many courts where justices were members of local authorities, for those justices not to take part in decisions involving the interests of local authorities, but there is no doubt that the law has not been clear on the matter. It has been said that justice should not only be done but should seem to be done. It is obviously an important principle of law that a justice who adjudicates in a case should be free from any suspicion of bias or prejudice of any kind.
I am not too happy about the provisions relating to mayors of boroughs and chairmen of county and urban districts. I know there was considerable discussion on the matter in another place, and that as a result a compromise, the provision now here, was inserted in the Bill, but I feel very strongly that it is wrong that because a person is mayor or chairman of an urban council he should as of right sit in a judicial position. He may be quite unfitted to act. I know that the argument is put forward that we should not alter the position now, that there is to be a Measure some time in the future, that all these local arrangements concerning boroughs will be gone into and that we should do it then.
But I submit that this is the time to do it. We are now dealing with justices of the peace and the way in which they are appointed, and I suggest that it would be a good thing if we boldly decided that these persons should not as of right be appointed to sit on the bench. If they are capable and have the necessary qualifications for adjudicating in cases, there is nothing to prevent the Lord Chancellor from appointing them as justices of the peace.
I should like also to mention the rather extraordinary position of the City of London. There we have one untrained layman administering justice, and that 869 position has been left unaltered. Whether or not it is because it is desired that the privilege of the City of London should be retained I do not know, but I suggest it is a bad thing that one layman alone should sit in that position and adjudicate.
There are one or two difficulties to which I would like to draw the attention of the House. From my experience I believe that there is far too much work put upon the lists in the courts presided over by stipendiaries and lay justices. It is a common experience to go down to these courts and find extremely heavy lists. The result is that the stipendiary or the justices make tremendous efforts to get through their list, and inevitably a number of cases are dealt with in a hurried fashion. Moreover, as a rule if a heavy case is started only about an hour of a particular day is devoted to it, and the case is adojurned for three or four weeks, or possibly longer. When it comes on then for hearing, either the evidence has been forgotten or matters have to be brought to the attention of the learned magistrates again. Obviously, in these circumstances a considerable hardship is imposed on the parties.
Provision ought to be made so that these courts are constituted to deal with cases of that kind in the same way as the High Court deals with them; that is, by sitting from day to day. If there are not enough stipendiaries to carry out that task, let enough stipendiaries be appointed. A great deal of time is frequently wasted in waiting for cases to be heard. Very often parties and witnesses are kept in court for long periods. I suggest that it is far better that the time of the judge should be wasted than that a considerable number of business men should have to hang about a court waiting for cases to be heard, those cases sometimes being adjourned in the end.
One thing has been overlooked, and this is particularly so in London. It is an extraordinary fact that if I go to a court adjoining my constituency, such as, for example, the Tottenham magistrates' court, lay magistrates sit there and adjudicate. If I go a very short distance away to the North London police court or Old Street police court, or to any of the other London courts, a stipendiary adjudicates. In the very same type of case, on the one hand we have lay magistrates, and, on the other hand, stipendiaries.
870 Not enough use is made of the lay magistrates in London. There are a great many competent lay magistrates. I suggest that the business in the courts in the whole of London would be greatly relieved if some system could be adopted whereby lay magistrates lent assistance. I know of no reason why a system could not be adopted in that way, having, for example, a number of cases of lesser importance dealt with by lay magistrates, while stipendiary magistrates dealt with the others.
I have dealt with a number of points and I know some of them may be characterised as Committee points. I hope some attention will be given to them when the matter is considered in Committee. The Bill itself is a fine piece of work, long overdue. As I said, it puts into effect the important work of two important committees and I trust it will have a very speedy passage on to the Statute Book.
§ 8.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Collins (Taunton)
I should like to echo the closing words of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke Newington (Mr. Weitzman) in praising the Bill. Indeed, throughout the Debate, of which I have heard almost every word, there has been an almost unanimous chorus of support. When the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) opened for the Opposition, his manner and the substance of his words to the Home Secretary were almost similar to those on the retirement of a magistrate from a local bench, when the superintendent of police rises to say a few kind words.
The criticism, such as it is, has been concentrated almost entirely on Clause 10 of the Bill, and I was very disappointed that when the Home Secretary dealt with that Clause he did not give any effective reason—or any reason that I heard—for departing in the Bill from the recommendations of the Roche Committee with regard to the line of demarcation of 25,000 population. I know that if we draw a line, people who are outside it are bound to complain, and in many of the speeches which have been made by representatives of constituencies which include non-county boroughs, it would seem that there has been a good deal of special pleading, but I hope that when the Attorney-General replies he will not deal with 871 the matter in that fashion but will indicate the precise reason why that part of the Roche Committee's Report was not accepted.
I do not believe that the Home Secretary would light-heartedly deprive the non-county boroughs of the commissions of the peace which many of them have held for centuries, and I think we should hear real, concrete reasons for this decision. I am not suggesting that sentiment should decide the matter, but we should hear sound reasons. I do not think it can be argued that the principal object—the creation of areas capable of employing a full-time clerk—could not equally well be achieved by co-operation between the magistrates of existing petty sessional divisions. I do not think there can be many non-county boroughs where it can be alleged that there is any real difficulty in finding a sufficient number of competent men and women for appointment as justices.
The Home Secretary said that our people had their causes determined by those who know them and who wish to serve them. That is very true, but surely in Clause 10, as it now stands, he is destroying a great many of the benches where people who really know those they are trying, are actually dealing with the cases. I urge the Government to look at this point again to see whether some means cannot be found of continuing many of the petty sessional benches which will be abolished under the present provisions.
I know that the experience of boroughs and smaller authorities in the recent past with the Somerset County Council in many things such as education and town planning has been very bad indeed. In the divisional educational executive committees for example, the powers which have been delegated and the way the committees have been handled by the county have been, in a way, unsatisfactory. The respective Acts promised real delegation, but it has not worked out very well. The same thing applies when boroughs go to the county about their delegated town planning functions. I do not think it can be argued, therefore, that, in surrendering the petty sessional benches, they will get on just as well as before.
The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) mentioned 872 what I thought was a quite remarkable anomaly which would arise if the Bill went through in its present form. In his area there is a petty sessional bench which tries nearly 3,000 cases a year, which sits nearly every day of the year except Sundays, which covers a population of some 40,000 people and which has a charter which goes back to the 12th century. My division includes a non-county borough, Taunton, which is a county town with a population of 32,000 people. It dates back to the 8th century. It is to lose its commission of the peace, although in almost everything to do with the county it is the county centre. All the Government departments have branches there. The county office is there, and the county council meets at Taunton. It is a great road junction and one would imagine that in every respect it would have the right to retain its commission of the peace.
By comparison, what to my mind is one of the most absurd anomalies is that in Part HI of the Third Schedule Bridgwater, a very much smaller town, with only 20,000 people, is to retain its commission of the peace simply because it has a quarter sessions. I cannot imagine anything more absurd or anything more calculated to cause complete dissatisfaction than that situation concerning these two towns, within 14 miles of one another and both in the same county; and the only reason I can think for the continuance of the commission of the peace in Bridgwater is not because of any action of the Home Secretary but because 200 or 300 years ago Bridgwater came down on the right side and Taunton came down on the wrong side. We therefore have the situation where Bridgwater still has a quarter sessions and Taunton has not. I cannot think that that is a very reliable basis for the decision.
The petty sessional bench at Taunton meets every week and there is usually a day's work. In fact, there is far more work for the court in the Borough of Taunton than there is in the county, and that applies particularly to juvenile cases. I think that this decision will cause a great deal of difficulty. The bench was constituted in 1900 when the population was 16,000. Today, when there is a population of 32,000, there is far more reason why the bench should be in existence than there was even in 1900. I think we are entitled to know why it should be changed.
§ Mr. Collins
That is just it. We do not know where the bench will sit. The cases may be heard in Taunton and they may not be, but even if they are, the situation of the bench and of the people who will serve on it will have county affiliations and not local borough affiliations, and I think that that is one of the chief points of criticism. I do hope that in his reply the learned Attorney will tell the House precisely why the Government have accepted so much of the Roche Committee's Report and not the recommendation that boroughs with a population of over 25,000 should retain their own benches. I do not think the Home Secretary attempted to explain this point or this decision in his speech, and I think we are entitled to hear the reason now. I do hope that on the Committee stage this matter will be considered again, because I think the Debate has shown that a great many anomalies have been created, a great many injustices done, and considerable dissatisfaction caused without sufficient reason.
§ 8.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Walkden (Doncaster)
It is tempting to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. Collins) in many of the matters he has raised, some of which I had wished myself to raise, but I am inclined to follow the good example set by one or two other speakers who have referred only to one subject. I liked the point raised by the hon. Member for Stoke Newington (Mr. Weitzman) and I think that up to now he is the only one tonight who has spoken of Clause 3 of the Bill, with a slight reference to Clause 2.
Clause 3, in particular, requires a considerable amount of examination. I am sure the Home Secretary is well 874 acquainted with some of the strange circumstances with which this particular Clause is intended to deal—disqualification in certain cases of justices who are members of local authorities. As the Home Secretary may be aware, in the County of Surrey, where we both reside, we have strange circumstances created as a result of the appointments of magistrates in certain areas. Indeed, I know of one borough where it has been almost difficult to get the bench assembled because there was a local authority case to be heard, and it was not easy to find justices not in some way involved in the local authority. I can recall another occasion when certain magistrates had to be sorted out and chased around to get summonses for non-payment of rates signed, because two-thirds of the bench were disqualified altogether being in some way associated with, or members of, the local authority.
I want to ask the learned Attorney-General to look at this Clause as drafted, because it is an attempt to tidy up this situation, although I think the Government have gone rather farther than we can allow in legislation. We see that Clause 3 (2, a) states:any reference to a committee of a local authority includes a joint committee, joint board, joint authority or other combined body of which that authority is a member or on which it is represented. …I would draw the mind of the Attorney-General to one particular issue which arises here. When we use the termof which that authority is a member or on which it is representeddo we include, for instance, a regional executive authority under the National Health Scheme? Such authorities are bodies on which local government authorities are represented. Does the term include, for instance, a divisional executive under the Education Act? Again, local authorities are members of such committees, or they are committees on which they are represented.
I gather that the Attorney-General is not in agreement with me. If that is the case, may I ask him this? If a man is to be disqualified by virtue of the fact that the local authority has one representative on such divisional executives, will there not be in some areas 100 per cent. disqualification of benches? I gather that the Attorney-General is dissenting. Let me put this to him. The words of the 875 Bill are: "on which it is represented." I suggest those are the only words on which I can argue, because those are the words which appear here.
Will the Home Secretary try to meet such a situation as this? There may be a divisional executive in the area in which he and I reside. There may be only two persons out of ten on that executive committee who are members of the local authority. There are probably on that executive, school teachers—all sorts of persons—who are not members of the local authority. Will those persons who are teachers, who are in different walks of life, be disqualified from dealing with a case that comes from the local council because they sit on a joint authority involved in that particular summons? It is a very important point.
I am afraid that those who have drafted this Clause have gone a wee bit too far. I would commend its examination at the Committee stage, because this is dangerous. I do not want the Home Secretary for one moment to think that I disagree with the idea that a local councillor or a local alderman should not be allowed on the bench to deal with rates summonses or any other issues in which his own council is involved. I have not the faintest thought of making such a suggestion. But I do beg the Home Secretary and the Attorney-General to examine very carefully the meaning of these words in the Clause, and if it should be as I have indicated it may be, I hope they will alter the words very considerably in Committee.
One other point. I do not know whether it can be included. I understood that in another place some undertaking was given as to the disqualification of a certain type of person. I refer to licensed victuallers. The Attorney-General will remember that at one time he acted for the licensed victuallers in Liverpool, but none of those gentleman with whom he was proud to associate—and who themselves are still proud of it—could, according to the law as it then stood, become magistrates.
§ The Attorney-General
I can help the hon. Gentleman at once by saying that there was never any legal disqualification of licensees. There was a disqualification in practice, but that has now gone, and 876 advisory committees can recommend licensees if they think that having regard to all the circumstances, including the fact that the candidate is a licensee, he would none the less be a suitable person to appoint.
§ Mr. Walkden
I am glad to have that assurance, because I did myself lead a deputation to the last Government on this very point, when the then Lord Chancellor told us that it had become the practice, although there was no Act of Parliament which laid it down.
§ The Attorney-General
The hon. Gentleman is quite right. The present Government are apparently more amenable to reasonable representations on matters of this kind than the last Government.
§ Mr. Walkden
No Act of Parliament amending that has since been passed, but am I right in assuming that the guidance given to advisory committees is that that must not be a disqualification?
§ Mr. Walkden
Then I am completely satisfied. I believe three classes of persons were disqualified at the time: priests, pawnbrokers and publicans. I believe that priests are still disqualified, and the pawnbrokers have almost passed out of existence today. Having had that assurance about the publicans I am completely satisfied, although I do ask the Attorney-General to review the terms of the Clause I have referred to, to ensure that we do not make a bigger mess than the one we are trying to clear up.
§ 8.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Swingler (Stafford)
I shall be mightily pleased if the Attorney-General can satisfy me to the extent that he has just satisfied the hon. Member for Don-caster (Mr. Walkden). I was afraid that this afternoon I should find myself trespassing in a lawyers' paradise, but I make no apology for following in what I am glad to say has been a fairly long line of representatives of non-county boroughs, who have dominated this Debate. I sincerely hope that the Home Secretary and the Attorney-General will not think that this is the mechanical reaction of a pressure group.
Whilst I think all concerned, and all who understand it, welcome this Bill as 877 providing some steps forward in many directions, there is real and genuine concern about Clause 10 and the Third Schedule. I have no expert qualifications for speaking on this Bill. I have appeared in magistrates' courts a couple of times, but not on the bench, and only because I have a slight propensity occasionally to travel a bit too fast in some of the big cities. Nevertheless, my relations with those on the bench have always been fairly friendly. I have the temerity to rise in this Debate because in my constituency there is a sizeable and important non-county borough which, under the provisions of this Bill, would lose its separate commission of the peace. It is felt that the way in which Clause 10 and the Third Schedule are drafted is unreasonable, and I do not think that the Home Secretary has this afternoon justified it.
There are two ways, as I understand it, in which an area can be selected for a commission of the peace. One is the status of the local authority, which I am glad to say has been rejected by the counties and county boroughs, because until the boundaries and functions of local authorities have been thoroughly overhauled that is no sure guide to whether one is getting the right basis of a commission. The other basis, apart from historic accidents, is population. The Roche Committee said that 25,000-plus should be the basis. The Government have not accepted that but have altered the figure, so that we now have the figure of 50,000-plus as the population of the local area to justify a separate commission of the peace. In the passage of this Bill through another place we have had what I regard as a curious and unjustifiable compromise of the 50,000-plus population being the basis, but a concession being made to boroughs with populations between 20,000 and 50,000 which have quarter sessions getting separate commissions.
I do not think that anything said by the Minister in introducing the Bill justified subsection (10, b) and the list of boroughs in Part III of the Third Schedule. Why should a non-county borough like Stafford lose its separate commission of the peace, and King's Lynn, Newark and Pontefract, with only just over half the population, have separate commissions of the peace for 878 the reason that they have quarter sessions? No argument has been produced why that provision should have been inserted in the Bill.
It seems to me as if it is a kind of sop which has been thrown out for the purpose of satisfying some non-county boroughs, so as to produce a division in the front of non-county boroughs vis-à-vis the Home Office. It is a wedge which is very successfully driven in. It is a bargain which has been made in another place, and now we are told: "Do not change anything in this Bill because it may rock the boat, and we should not get it through another place." I do not think that has any justification.
I think that we should know from the Attorney-General something more about this question. The Home Secretary has said, and we all realise, that there are certain criteria to be applied. We want a bigger unit because we must have a catchment area for the selection of competent justices, and we want an area which will provide them with sufficient work and a wide experience. He also said himself that we want an area which has a certain community sense, where the justices will have certain local knowledge and the people will also have certain local knowledge of their justices. That is the answer to the Home Secretary's interruption of the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Collins). After all, in Taunton they will have a court when the borough is now swallowed up in the county.
One of the things that has altered is the amount of local knowledge which the people have of their justices and which the justices have of the local inhabitants. One of the things that has always been emphasised is that the justices of the peace do have a certain local knowledge and there is a certain community area from which they are drawn. That does not mean to say that they have some local knowledge of the actual people concerned. The point is that they are respected people in a certain locality, that their competence is recognised. They are not people from far away of whom nothing is known.
That is one of the reasons why certain fairly large non-county boroughs feel, although they recognise a bigger area is required, they still have a good case for retaining their separate commissions of the 879 peace. I certainly think that if on any ground whatever, separate commissions are still to be retained for boroughs which have only 20,000 or 25,000 population, it is ridiculous not to adopt the figure of 25,000 recommended by the Roche Committee. I do not see how it is possible to say to a non-county borough such as mine, which has a population of 40,000, "You will not have a separate commission of the peace," whereas, where there is a population of only half that size, we say, "You shall have a commission of the peace." For those reasons, I hope we shall hear more about this compromise, and that we shall seek to get this Clause amended on the Committee stage.
§ 8.41 p.m.
§ Mr. John Maude (Exeter)
I do not share the enthusiasm which, I understand, has been generally shown for this Bill. In common with many hon. Members who, no doubt, have not been able to speak because they probably felt this was not their particular subject, I am interested in only two aspects of crime, one being its prevention and the other being the just and effective way of dealing with it. I do not believe that this Bill does anything to either or both of these two aspects. I believe that this will occupy justices' clerks, Home Office officials and others for hours and hours; no money will be saved, and all that will happen will be that someone with a passion for tidiness will have that passion gratified.
I wish to draw the attention of the House to two matters which, I hope, will be considered worthy of consideration, both now and during the Committee stage. The first deals with the application of fines and other things, arising under Clause 27. It would be a waste of time to read subsection (10, a), but the effect is a curious one. Ever since the reign of Edward IV, the City of Exeter happens to have had the privilege of keeping all fines they mulct from wrongdoers in the courts—that is so in the case of Road Traffic Act fines.
The House may think that we have made a profit out of this, but in fact we have not. We are out of pocket, and it may be that the Home Secretary or the Attorney-General will be able to satisfy 880 us, now or perhaps later, that we may possibly be better off. I am not sure that our treasurer feels such an enthusiasm for the tradition as our citizens, but, nevertheless, let it be said now that we in the city are immensely proud of the fact that from the reign of King Edward IV, Parliaments during succeeding centuries have, for good reasons, always thought that we might reasonably and fairly be allowed to retain this honour. But now, as I believe, for tidying-up reasons, it is to be taken away, and we regret it.
The other matter to which I should like to draw attention is a small recorder-ship. In this connection, I infinitely regret that I was not present when my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Hollis) spoke, because I held the Recordership at Devizes for a number of years. It was a small town then of some 6,000 inhabitants, and it may be that the population has increased since then. I am told that it is now 7,000. I sat there and received, and no doubt my predecessor who is sitting there now also received, a warrant from the King under the sign manual, of which I am, as no doubt he is, inordinately proud. We took the oathto administer justice without fear or favour, affection or ill will.We were not resident in this small town but came down from London, where most of our practice was, or from the Western Circuit. Not only did we try with juries cases which came from the surrounding counties, but we had this advantage—and I beg the Attorney-General and the Home Secretary to listen, because there will not be another opportunity of saying this. We tried our cases, so far as I know, without any dissatisfaction at all. During my time at Devizes there was only one appeal, and that on a sentence. With Mr. Montagu, the present Recorder of Devizes, I doubt whether there has been anything but complete satisfaction. We were, and still are. very proud of this.
We had another function to perform. We had the power of hearing appeals from the justices of Devizes. That is not an unhealthy system. No one who is an aggrieved person would go in such circumstances to the county sessions, but would go before the recorder, who is a trained lawyer and who, like many county 881 chairmen, comes as it were almost from another world and has not the slightest difficulty in applying his mind absolutely independently to the problem before him. I believe that that system worked very well.
I should like to tell the House of one matter of fact in respect of these small recorderships. A name that is immensely respected in this House—is still not too far back to forget him—is that of du Parcq. I was a pupil of Lord du Parcq, as he became, and I remember very well, when I was his pupil in the Temple, that he applied for the recordership of Barnstaple and Bideford. I remember also that Mr. Justice Rigby Swift was astonished that so eminent a common law junior should seek such comparatively paltry honours.
The point I am trying to make is this: that Mr. du Parcq, as he then was, believed himself to be well thought of by his colleagues; and in the natural passage of time at the Bar, if one belongs to a circuit, he is respected by his colleagues, by the Secretary of State and—what is particularly important—by the Attorney-General. These marks of favour are received because—[Laughter.] The Attorney-General smiles, but if he knows to the contrary, I should very much like to hear it. I imagine, however, that when a gentleman applies for a recordership the Secretary of State generally asks the Attorney-General.
§ The Attorney-General
The appointment is made by the Secretary of State. It is, therefore, quite inappropriate to say that the position of the Attorney-General is particularly important.
§ Mr. Maude
Really! Is that not the most complete and absolute nonsense? If the Secretary of State wants to know whether out of 12 persons he should appoint A, B, C, D or any other, does the right hon. and learned Gentleman really mean that it is of no importance whatsoever whether he thinks it would be wise to consult the Attorney-General of the day?
§ The Attorney-General
That is not what I said. The phrase used by the hon. and learned Member suggested that amongst the various people who may have to consider this matter, including the Secretary of State, the view of the Attorney-General was particularly im- 882 portant. The final and decisive view is that of the Secretary of State.
§ Mr. Maude
Of course it is. The Attorney-General probably thinks that some Members of this House do not know that, at any rate in the past, we have always considered his predecessors as eminently suited to speak for the Bar. In those respects it was very important what the Attorney-General of the day thought of it. It may be different now.
In these circumstances, all I would say is that we have in fact always valued the small recorderships. If they look through "Who's Who" and so on, hon. Members will find particulars of the judges of the present day. I do not remember about the Attorney-General himself—perhaps he did not—but some people move very slowly in the ordinary course of their profession, while other people move very rapidly in a different way. If one looks through "Who's Who" and tries to find the history of the judges, one finds that hundreds have started with very small offices of which they were greatly proud. Do we suppose that the salaries paid for these small recorderships cost as much in the year as painting the town hall? I doubt it. They cost practically nothing but are very highly valued.
There are some who mock at the legal profession. They mock at it, not, of course, if they have to sit behind and support the Attorney-General or the Solicitor-General, but there are those who decry the legal profession, particularly advocates. There is much that can be said in that respect, but a great deal can be said on the other side. In particular, our profession has always valued an appointment carrying with it judicial responsibilities, however small, and it has always been a stepping stone. By what I consider to be a very ill-considered Measure we are destroying a really strong incentive to youngish barristers to do their absolute best in the interests of the State, not from the profit motive, but through motives of honour. For that reason, I strongly plead, if quietly, after my slight irritation with the Attorney-General—
§ 8.53 p.m.
§ Dr. Morgan (Rochdale)
I wish to deal with a very small point in connection with this Bill, and I hope I shall not be as touchy as the hon. and learned Member who has just spoken. As this Bill is amending other Measures in connection with mental subjects, I hope that during the Committee stage some consideration will be given to the points I wish to put before the House. Under Sections 14 and 16 of the Lunacy Act, a J.P. is given power to call in a medical practitioner. It states that, he shall call in a medical practitioner to help him when he is considering the lunacy certification of any civilian patient who is before him.
Many legal opinions have been given that that amounts to an unfettered discretion given to any J.P. on a rota to call in a doctor of his choice. A case has been brought to me which I think the Home Secretary might consider. I know that the primary object of all these rules is to prevent a civilian being wrongly or indiscreetly certified, and I agree that everything should be done to protect the civilian from any risk of wrongful certification, because, after all, his liberty is at stake.
A case has been brought to my notice concerning a certain institution in this country where there is a mental observation ward. Justices of the Peace attend in that ward by rota on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. There is a competent, experienced, diplomad psychiatrist attached to the staff of the institution, and those justices who attend on Mondays and Wednesdays call in that hospital psychiatrist to help them in their judgment with regard to the certification of the patients under review on those particular days. But on the Friday another J.P. goes there in accordance with the rota, and he selects, as he is apparently entitled to do, although he is acting in a judicial capacity, a general practitioner from outside, not a trained psychiatrist, at a cost of £1 1s. a case. Within the past 15 months the cost to the nation and to the national economy has amounted in one institution to £750. As there are 600 such observation wards throughout the country it will be seen that a considerable 884 amount of public money, estimated at about a third of a million pounds, is at stake.
I wish to ask the Home Secretary whether he would consider in the Committee stage some Amendment by which an appeal could be made to the Lord Chancellor with regard to the choice of any particular J.P. in calling in any particular doctor. I am not for one moment challenging either the integrity of the J.P. I have mentioned or of any J.P. or the competence of any general practitioner outside. But when there is a trained psychiatrist attached to the observation ward of an institution I suggest that this J.P. like the other J.P.s, should call in the trained hospital psychiatrist or ask for the exchange of a trained psychiatrist from another hospital.
It may seem a minor and small point. I desire the rights of the civilian against wrong certification to be protected, but I also wish the national economy to be considered, and it seems to me that when a most excellent Bill of this kind is before the House the Home Secretary might like to consider in the Committee stage whether it is not possible to put in a Clause limiting the power of a J.P. to call in a general practitioner of his choice, to the extent of permitting an appeal to the Lord Chancellor.
§ 8.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller (Daventry)
We have had an interesting discussion a good deal of which appears to me to have been on subjects which are not specifically dealt with in this Bill. I find it very hard to relate anything which the hon. Member for Rochdale (Dr. Morgan) has said to any part of this Bill. I am inclined to agree with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Maude) that this Bill does not do very much to improve the administration of justice but on the whole what it does is good, subject to one or two criticisms which I shall utter later.
There has been some discussion as to the method of the selection of justices. That was raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys) and the hon. Member for West Salford (Mr. Royle). Both seemed rather to agree that a Bill dealing with justices of the peace ought at least to start by laying down some guiding principles 885 which should govern their selection. It is perhaps something which would strike an ordinary person not accustomed to our ways as rather curious that we have before us a great Bill dealing with justices of the peace which contains nothing about the method of selection.
I am sure that we all agree that the sole criterion for selection should be the capacity of the individual to perform his duties, and that questions of politics and age are of minor importance. Whether it is worth while to put into a Bill of this character some declaratory provision of that sort I very much doubt. We all agree that it is a very bad practice if all the members of a bench in a certain part of the country are from one particular party. Justice would not seem to be done. I have a good deal of experience of appearing in police courts in different parts of the country in days gone by. I found that there was resentment where there was a bench composed completely of Socialists—resentment which was perhaps even stronger than where the bench consisted of members of another party. It is bad if that happens. That criticism would not be met by it being said that if one takes a county the numbers of justices are pretty evenly distributed between the parties.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
I am sorry that on this occasion the hon. Gentleman has not had an opportunity of saying what he dislikes about his own county. Again, age is not of as much importance as capacity, and very often capacity varies with age. It is not easy to draw a hard and fast line but, as far as that can be done, I think the proper line has been drawn in this Measure.
The question of ex officio justices has been under considerable discussion. It was suggested by the hon. Member for Central Newcastle-upon-Tyne (Mr. Wilkes) that mayors gained their experience at the experience of those convicted. That sort of suggestion ought not to be taken in the least degree seriously. By and large mayors have proved themselves to be responsible individuals. No evidence has been brought forward that they are bad judges of fact. I welcome the departure from the Report of the Commission, I think it was, in this 886 respect. I am glad that mayors will still be able to sit as justices during their year of office.
In this connection, I should like to ask the Attorney-General one question. There is a neighbouring borough to my constituency which has the misfortune—purely temporarily—to be represented by a Member of the party opposite. A short time ago it had as its mayor a very respectable individual who was keen to discharge to the utmost his full duties as mayor. At that time the question was raised of his capacity to sit because he was the holder of a licence of a very respectable hotel. It was not long ago. I think that it was in the lifetime of this Parliament. He was greatly disappointed when he was informed that because he was a licensee he would not, as mayor, be allowed to exercise the function of magistrate in that ex officio capacity. I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be able to tell me that that position has now been altered.
I should like to ask him a question about Clause 1. It may be that this is something in the nature of a Committee point but perhaps it will be easier and save time if I mention points like this now even if I do not take much time about it. Clause 1 provides that a magistrate shall not act unless he resides in or within 15 miles of the area. Does that mean that the man who moves out of a borough into the countryside must cease to act in the borough? Does he remain on the list or does he go on to the supplemental list? What is the position? It does not seem to me that it is clear.
I welcome the provision with regard to courses of instruction, but again I think that in that there lies a danger. I should have liked to hear more from the right hon. Gentleman who moved the Second Reading about what these courses of instruction are intended to do. If they are intended to acquaint magistrates with the normal procedure of the courts, I think they are excellent, but, if it is intended to go further than that, I think there is great force in the observation of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chester (Mr. Nield) that they may tend to be judges of fact and may become amateurs of law, which would be a dangerous thing so far as the administration of justice is concerned.
887 With regard to the payment of lodging and travelling allowances, there has been no criticism of that proposal, but the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker) raised the question of payment for lost time. I do not think the hon. Gentleman is right in the view which he expressed that the fact that there is no payment for lost time prevents many people from sitting as magistrates. I do not think, in spite of the hon. Gentleman's fears, that the omission to pay for lost time will prevent benches from being good cross sections of the community, which is what we desire to see just as much as he does.
What does handicap them at the present time in some parts of the country, and much more than the proposed payments for lost time or even lodging or travelling allowances, is the absence of petrol, and if the right hon. Gentleman could make some approaches to the Minister of Fuel and Power to ensure that petrol would be more readily available for magistrates who sit on benches in the countryside where public transport is not available, I feel sure that he would find, at least in my own part of the country, that the benches would be more fully attended than they can be at the present time.
A great deal has been said about stipendiary justices, and, as to them, views differ very much indeed. The hon. Member for Central Newcastle (Mr. Wilkes) indicated that, in his view, the sooner we have stipendiaries everywhere the better
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
That view seems to be supported by other hon. Gentlemen in the party opposite. I should like to pay my tribute to the way in which both stipendiaries and lay justices do their work. I find it extremely difficult to make up my mind which group does its work best. In the days gone by, when I have been returning from the country after appearing before a bench of lay justices, I have thought that perhaps a stipendiary was best, but after appearances in another court I came to the contrary conclusion. I say that while at the same time declaring that, by and large, both do their work extremely well.
888 I am inclining to the view that, from the point of view of the person being tried, the bench of lay justices is really the more satisfactory tribunal. There does not seem to be that sense of hurry, and the proceedings do not move so quickly, so that they are easier for a man to understand, and I think that is very important. The person concerned probably goes away from the court feeling that he has been able to keep pace with the whole thing, because it has not been hurried, and that, although he might not agree with the decision, it was one which had been fairly and painstakingly arrived at. Therefore, when the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme—
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
I apologise to the hon. Member. I entirely agree as to the importance of the distinction.
While saying that about stipendiaries, it is important to bear in mind that stipendiaries can only be created upon petition, and there may be one or two cases where stipendiaries are required, at least for a short time, where a new town is being formed or a new community being developed on the outskirts of a city, and where it may be very desirable indeed to have a stipendiary, at any rate, for a short time. As I see it, there is no power under this Bill for filling that gap. I, too, welcome the decision to transfer to the Lord Chancellor the power of appointing stipendiaries. But why is it that the power of appointing Metropolitan stipendiaries has not also been transferred to the Lord Chancellor? I think I am right in saying that it has not.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
I am glad to hear that I am wrong; I may have misread the Bill.
With regard to Clause 29 (4) dealing with appointments outside London, why is it that we have the special provision for the appointment as a Metropolitan stipendiary magistrate of someone who has not practised as a barrister during the seven years immediately preceding his appointment? Many people could be appointed under such a provision, and I shall be 889 rather interested to know whether appointments have really been so very successful when they have been made from people who have not in fact been engaged in actual practice. I should have thought that if we wanted to get a high level it would be unwise, except in particular instances, to rely upon that particular subsection.
Not much has been said about the election of the chairman by secret ballot. I must say that I am inclined to agree with the views expressed by the right hon. Gentleman in moving the Second Reading. What the Bill does not say is that the appointment of the chairman is only intended to last for one year, but I rather gather from reading the Debates elsewhere that the intention is to have an annual secret ballot whether or not anyone else wants to act as chairman. Exactly how it is going to work, I do not understand.
The chief topic under discussion in the course of this Debate has, quite properly, been the area of commission. I must say that I thought there was very considerable force in the criticism that has been uttered. It is perhaps easy to say that some of it has been special pleading, but some of the pleading, even if special, was to my mind very convincing. In that connection I would refer in particular to the very powerful speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) in which he demonstrated quite conclusively that the test laid down in Clause 10 (1, a) for the retention of the commission of the peace is not the proper test to apply in every particular case.
I am sure that in the Committee stage of this Bill there will be a very great deal of discussion about this Clause, and I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman to consider whether it would not be possible, while applying what is now in Clause 10, to add something to the effect that there would be power to depart from the rules laid down in that Clause in particular instances. One of the instances, for example, would be the one given by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames.
I do not think that the population test is really very satisfactory. Mv circuit is particularly fortunate compared with some of the others. As far as I can 890 see, we should only lose the Quarter Sessions at Warwick and Stamford. I would like to make it clear that I have no personal interest in the abolition of either of those quarter sessions, but, so far as Warwick is concerned, I cannot help feeling that with the heavier amount of work dealt with at Birmingham and Coventry, the lightness of the list at the Warwick Quarter Sessions must be primarily due to the particular dates selected for the holding of the sessions. With the weight of work at Coventry and Birmingham, quite apart from assizes, I feel that there is a case there, for convenience in the administration of justice, more for the alteration of the dates of the quarter sessions than for their abolition. It is on that ground that I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman to have a further look at it, and not only at that case, because that is an illustration of what happens elsewhere.
A great deal has been said with considerable force about the quarter sessions at Devizes. It would. be much wiser if the right hon. and learned Gentleman, while keeping Clause 10 as a kind of general principle, would look through the list of the boroughs which would be excluded—it is not a very long list—and then consider whether, having due regard to the needs of the neighbourhood, its geography and things like that, there is not a strong case made out for the retention of one or two of these boroughs and one or two more of these recorderships.
The next subject of importance which was dealt with was the magistrates' courts committees. I must say that I agree entirely that the functions of those committees are the most important part of this Bill. I should like to know whether those committees will consist entirely of magistrates or whether they will have appointed to them members who are not actively engaged in the work of justices of the peace. For instance, is the Lord Lieutenant going to be an ad hoc member of every magistrates' committee or the custos rotulorum? I do not know. Perhaps the right hon. and learn Gentleman will be able to tell us about that when he comes to reply.
A case was made out for further consideration of the justices' clerks' unqualified assistants. I am sure it is a case which requires a little more consideration 891 than it has had at present. My experience has been that the justices' clerks, whether they are qualified or not, on the whole have done their work extremely well. But I do feel that where we have benches relying upon their clerks for advice as to the law, and having more and more duties thrust upon them, with the law getting more and more complicated, it becomes increasingly important that those advisers to the benches should be professionally qualified.
This Bill is right in aiming to secure professionally qualified justices' clerks and also ultimately to secure whole-time clerks. I am sure the assistants, qualified or unqualified, to those clerks are competent, but I think that the right answer to the case that has been put forward for the unqualified assistants is this—and I believe the right hon. Gentleman in moving the Second Reading referred to it: the intention should be to assist them to become qualified, not to lower the standard but to enable those whose experience of the work should fit them to become justices' clerks to acquire professional status.
In this connection I wish to ask the Attorney-General one question. This Bill lays down specifically the restriction on the right to practice as a solicitor when a member of the bench is a partner in that firm of solicitors. It lays down specifically the incapacity of a member of a local authority to sit as a justice of the peace when there is a case affecting the local authority before the bench. Is there any provision—I am not sure that there is not—which requires that a partner in a firm of solicitors who is a justices' clerk, but not whole-time, shall not practice before that court? If we are trying to introduce into a Bill a code dealing not only with justices but also with justices' clerks, it seems to me that it may be desirable to give some consideration to that.
In conclusion, it is perhaps difficult, in putting forward these points, which I think merit consideration on the Committee stage, to give the impression that one really does welcome this Bill. I should like to join in the tribute paid by my right hon. and learned Friend to the work done not only by the Roche Committee, but also by the du Parcq Commission—work which is at last reaching 892 fruition in this Bill which, I trust, will not be unduly delayed in reaching the Statute Book.
§ 9.21 p.m.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir Hartley Shawcross)
I do not know whether, as one hon. Member suggested, it is necessary to declare one's interest in this Bill, but I must say that I have been particularly interested in the discussion which we have had because, in spite of the doubts of the hon. and gallant Member for Petersfield (Sir G. Jeffreys) at one time—it seems now in the dim and distant past—I used to regard the courts presided over by the "lay beaks," as we affectionately called them, as a happy hunting ground. I have also been a recorder for some time and I used to sit as a justice of the peace.
We have had, I think, an exceedingly interesting and useful discussion, and I am glad that for once, on what appears on the face of it to be a legal Bill, our Debate has by no means been monopolised by lawyers. This is, in fact, by no means a technical Bill. It is a Bill which will effect significant changes in the machinery of justice in what are, although in a sense the lowest courts in the land, perhaps the most important courts in the country—important not only for the reasons which were stressed, I think, by my hon. Friend the Member for West Salford (Mr. Royle) because they deal with juvenile cases and with domestic cases; important not only because between them they handle by far the vast majority of the criminal cases which come before the courts at all; but important because in the vast majority of the cases which they have to handle they are dealing with first offenders.
There is, I think, no doubt that that first contact between the man or woman or boy or girl who has committed a first offence and a court of law is of the utmost importance and is frequently decisive in either retrieving that person to useful citizenship or confirming him in a life of crime. Anything that can be done to improve the administration of justice at that initial level is, I venture to think, of the utmost importance and it is gratfying to find that, apart from the dissent of the hon. and learned Member for Exeter (Mr. Maude) there has been unanimity in agreeing that this Bill 893 will effect a notable improvement in our existing arrangements in these courts.
Some hon. Members, for instance the hon. Member for Centre Newcastle-upon-Tyne (Mr. Wilkes), commented on the occasional criticisms that one hears of the lay justices. Nobody supposes that our existing system is perfect, although I venture to agree with the hon. and learned Member for Daventry (Mr. Manningham-Buller) that much of the criticism is based on particular instances, from which it would be unsafe to make any generalisation. Dissatisfied litigants, and even occasionally disappointed advocates, rarely retain as high an opinion of the counts before which they have appeared as they might otherwise have done. I am by no means of the opinion, personally, that the universal substitution of professional stipendiaries, even if it were practicable, which it certainly is not, would result in any great improvement in our arrangements.
Even at the higher levels, where one is able to recruit the holders of high judicial appointments from the very cream of the profession, one used to hear, as one is bound to hear of individuals in other walks of life, occasional criticisms. It used to be said, "So and so is too old." Or "So and so is deaf." Or "So and so takes too strong a view" about particular crimes. Or "So and so is too tolerant" in regard to another class of offence. These individual idiosyncracies, if I may call them that, are counteracted by the fact that at the higher levels judges sit with the assistance of lay juries. It is manifestly not possible to do that with the enormous number of cases that have to be dealt with summarily.
I venture to think it is far better to have a lay bench assisted by a trained clerk, and varying from time to time in the actual composition of the people who make it up. It is far better to have that than to have a single professional magistrate who, if one had to find them for the whole of the country, would inevitably be recruited not from the first rank or even from the second rank of the profession. The hon. Member for Central Newcastle suggested that one might have a qualified chairman, a professional chairman, sitting with two lay justices; but I should have thought that there was no real advantage in that arrangement over 894 the one which exists now, and which will be improved under this Bill, of having lay justices assisted by a qualified clerk.
After all, it is typically characteristic of English institutions that we have a body of plain citizens working in harness with a technical officer; and the specific instance of that is, of course, the lay justices and their clerks. I am convinced that the right course is not to do away with that system, but to improve it in the various ways that this Bill seeks to do. When the Bill is in operation we shall have a system not, I am sure, perfect, because perfection is difficult to obtain in these matters, but one which does avoid, on the one hand, the grave errors of the so-called elected "people's courts," and. on the other, the danger which arises when there is a concentration of power in the hands of a single professional person who, unlike the lay justices, once appointed is always with us. We shall have a machinery of justice which is best suited to our circumstances and our needs.
I come to some—I cannot hope to come to all—of the specific matters which have been raised in our Debate. The one which, I think, has, perhaps, excited most interest—and not unnaturally, because it is the most controversial point in this Bill—is the question of the non-county boroughs with a population of less than 50,000 which will now lose their separate commissions of the peace. Although the measures which we have taken in regard to the matter in this Bill are controversial, I think everybody who has devoted his mind to this matter and spoken about it in the House is agreed that very small separate commissions of the peace are undesirable.
We cannot constitute a satisfactory advisory committee to assist in the appointment of justices for them. Everybody knows who is on it; there are the dangers—the obvious dangers—of canvassing the members of the committee for support for particular candidates; there is the dissatisfaction, which can be given concrete expression in one way or another in small communities, when particular candidates are not appointed; the areas are sometimes too small to enable one to find a sufficient number of proficient justices; and sometimes, even though there are justices on the commission, there are not sufficient of them 895 available to form courts on particular occasions.
Then there is the obvious difficulty that in the small community everybody knows everybody else's business; it is difficult to empanel impartial juries, and difficult to keep a jury once empanelled isolated from local discussion and local influence. The smaller the area of the commission, the greater all those dangers become. On that aspect of the matter I think everybody is agreed. What we are not agreed about is what is the best solution of this admittedly troublesome problem. There is no perfect solution of it. I am quite satisfied—and I give the point away at once—that there is no completely logical solution of it.
Various methods have been canvassed. As my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. Collins) reminded us, the Roche Committee suggested that a population basis, supplemented by an arrangement for selecting clerks by a magistrates' committee for the county as a whole, should be adopted. That was the suggestion of Lord Roche's Committee, with this exception—and I make the point in answer to a question asked by the hon. and learned Member for Brighton (Mr. Marlowe)—that where the area had a population of over 75,000 it should have its own magistrates committee. That is the reason for that provision in this Bill.
The view of the Roche Committee was not entirely endorsed by the Royal Commission, which thought that the figure of 25,000, which had been suggested by the Roche Committee, was on any view the very minimum and that possibly some other system should be adopted in its place. That led to the question of status being discussed as possibly a better basis than the population basis. "Abolish all commissions," it was said, "in relation to the non-county boroughs and retain only those for the county boroughs"—although, of course, some of the non-county boroughs are larger in population than some of the county boroughs which were to retain their commissions under that proposal. Well, that seemed to be an impracticable, and certainly an imperfect arrangement, and it was rejected.
So we were thrown back on to the population basis, because I think it would be generally agreed that it would have 896 been impracticable, invidious, and would have given rise to a great deal of discussion, dispute and heartburning if we had tried to deal with each case separately. We were thus thrown back on to the population basis. I do not pretend that it is logical. There is no obvious reason—and I concede this point to the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter)—why a separate commission should be satisfactory in a town with a population of 20,000, either because it is a county borough or because it happens to have a recordership as well, and not satisfactory in a non-county borough which has not got a recordership.
In considering that aspect of the matter we had to add some weight for the long tradition and status of the county boroughs and of the non-county boroughs which possessed their own recorderships, and in the end all that one can really do in trying to find a solution to this problem is to reduce the number of cases where evils result from the existence of separate commissions of the peace in areas which are too small. They cannot be completely avoided, but one must do the best one can, and it becomes a question of degree, and one tries to get rid of the worst cases. That one can only do in what is a more or less arbitrary way. One has to try to find some figure of population at which there is the greatest concensus of opinion that to accept anything less would seriously prejudice the sound administration of justice, and a population of 50,000 appeared to be about right, and to be the figure at which most people were agreed it was right to stick and below which it would be unwise to go.
§ Mr, Spearman (Scarborough and Whitby)
The Attorney-General said just now that the test of whether non-county boroughs would retain their own quarter sessions was whether their population was 50,000, but I clearly understood from the Home Secretary—
§ The Attorney-General
I think that the hon. Gentleman misunderstood me. I am coming to the position of quarter sessions. I am now dealing with the separate commissions of the peace. The test of whether non-county boroughs will retain separate commissions of the peace where there are not also quarter sessions is a population figure of 50,000. When 897 one gets non-county boroughs which have their quarter sessions the figure is 20,000.
§ Mr. Marlowe
I do not think that the Attorney-General has answered my point as to the basis of distinction between 50,000, for commissions of the peace and 75,000 for magistrates' courts committees.
§ The Attorney-General
I thought that I answered that in passing. I said that we were adopting the figure of 75,000 because that was a specific recommendation of the Royal Commission. They suggested that the non-county borough having a separate commissions of the peace, with a population between 25,000 and 75,000, should be combined with the rest of the county in a single magistrates' committee. If there were any non-county boroughs with so large a population as 75,000—there are very few—they might be entitled to their own magistrates' courts committee. We followed that recommendation.
With regard to the figure of 50,000, I do not pretend that there is any magic about it, but one has to draw the line somewhere. I was sorry I was not in the House for the whole of the speech of the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames. He referred to the fact that I happened to be the recorder of that borough, a position which I rejoice I shall continue to retain notwithstanding the passing of this Bill. If I were to consult my own personal sympathy in the matter, I say at once that I should not be able to agree more with what the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames said about the matter. That is a town with a population of just over 40,000. I would have been very glad if it had been possible to fix the limit not at 50,000 but at 40,000 to protect that town in which I have a special personal interest.
Other people, on the other hand, much better qualified than I am to judge these matters, thought that the figure of 50,000 was much too small, and the broadest measure of agreement we could get as to what was the right figure was on this figure of 50,000. There may be some towns below that figure which because of some special characteristics—because they have the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames to represent them, or because they have the Attorney-General as their recorder, or because of other enviable characteristics peculiar to themselves—may be better able to supply good justices 898 of the peace than some towns with a population in excess of 50,000.
There must be these broad variations and that cannot be avoided, but this we thought was a good average figure based on a compromise on conflicting views. A compromise, unfortunately, never completely satisfies everybody, but in a matter like this it is better to have something which commends general and broad acceptance than to have nothing at all. That was the position with which we were faced in regard to this matter. It is one which, as hon. Members know, was very carefully considered and discussed both by the committees before this Bill came into being at all and then in another place. We thought it right to accept it here as providing a wise, middle course.
We have not lost sight for a moment of the local traditions and esprit de corps which play a most important part in our civic life and are a useful steadying element in the administration of justice. We have sought to give some effect to that in making a provision that in the case of the non-county boroughs where there is a recordership, where there is that added local tradition and where the sense of local dignity may be greater than in the other cases, the separate commission of peace should be retained at the lower population limit of 20,000.
What I want to emphasise in this connection is that, in practice, this proposed change will not profoundly affect day-today administration of justice. The same petty sessional benches will continue to sit, and the same justices will be there, but now sitting as county justices instead of as borough justices. They will probably be sitting in the same building—there is provision for that in the Bill—and very likely they will be served by the same clerks. On the other hand, the anomaly of having a duplication, having two courts, possibly both sitting on the same day and in the same building with too little to keep them fully occupied for the day, will be done away with.
I am the last person who would wish to alter arrangements simply to make them more logical and tidy, if they already work satisfactorily. That is not the object of this Bill. The evidence is really overwhelming that the small commissions of peace do not operate satisfactorily and efficiently in the administration of justice, 899 which is why we thought it right to draw the line for an area with a population of less than 50,000.
Now I come to the question of quarter sessions. I want to say a word about the position of recorders. Perhaps I might say at the outset that I hope Members will not have been prejudiced against recorders by the notably bad-mannered speech of the hon. and learned Member for Exeter (Mr. Maude), who came into the House, made his speech, and then walked straight out again. I am glad to see that he has now returned and given me the opportunity of making that comment, which is the only comment I shall make on his speech. For my part, I certainly have no prejudice against recorders. They are most useful courts. I was for a long time a recorder in a not unimportant Borough, and I join in the mutual admiration recorders have for each other. As I say, they are a most useful court. They relieve assizes and quarter sessions. They are a good appellate tribunal, and they are useful for recruitment to the higher judicial tribunals.
On the other hand, some of them, although they may be very ancient in origin, exercise no judicial functions at all, and it really is inconvenient and impracticable to maintain separate quarter sessions, with separate officials and separate police arrangements and all the rest, where practically no judicial work is being carried out. Here again we have had to adopt a compromise solution. All sorts of different methods were canvassed for dealing with this problem, and in the end we found there was general agreement in another place that the right view to take was that, in those areas where the population was less than 20,000, a separate recordership should be abolished.
A great deal has been said about the recordership at Devizes. It is an exceptional case. For reasons largely historical, which I will not elaborate here, a recorder, now long since dead, fixed his sessions between the dates of the county sessions, and so attracted many cases which normally would have gone to the county sessions. There was also the circumstance that the area was a military one, and there was special convenience in committing cases of that kind to 900 Devizes. The abolition of that recorder-ship will result, on 1948 figures, in an addition of 31 cases a year to the quarter sessions for the county. That will not overload it. A great many county quarter sessions are dealing regularly with much heavier lists than the county of Wiltshire Quarter Sessions are likely to have.
Two other specific cases which were mentioned have left my withers quite un-wrung. They are the case of South Molton, where in 1947 and 1948 the recorder tried no cases at all, and the joint recordership, as it was described, of Barnstaple and Bideford, a unique case. There, in spite of the joint arrangements, which might have been expected to give eight courts a year, over a period of two years one case alone has been tried, giving one-sixteenth of a prisoner for each sitting of that court. We hardly feel that that court is justified in continuing its existence, and those very small courts will now have to go. The net result of it all is to abolish 32 out of 56 recorderships in the non-county boroughs and to add on the basis of 1948 figures 174 cases for trial and 21 appeals to the various quarter sessions of all the English and Welsh counties in the course of each year.
Now I want to say something about some of the number of points that were raised regarding the position of individual justices; first, a word about the position of the mayor and the chairman of the county district council as ex officio justices. A number of hon. Members spoke about that matter and it is one on which there is a considerable conflict of view. The Royal Commission thought that mayors should continue to act but that the chairman of county district councils should not do so. Others went further. They pointed to the fact that 40 per cent., I think, of the ex officio justices had never sat as justices before their year of office and were consequently quite untrained when they came to the bench, and the view was taken that both these classes of ex officio justices ought to be abolished.
Broadly speaking, we think those who have favoured abolition approached the matter from a position which is perhaps over-logical—and it is very easy to be over-logical in a matter of this kind—from a position which fails to attribute sufficient weight to local feeling and the traditional practice in this matter. For 901 over 60 years chairmen have been ex officio justices; mayors have been ex officio justices for a very much longer period. It may be illogical that people should sit as justices who have not been selected on their merits so to do, but there is not a scrap of evidence that those who sit on benches in an ex-officio capacity are less good than those who have been appointed to that position on their merits.
The hon. Member for Central Newcastle-upon-Tyne emphasised the importance of the training of justices and pointed out that these ex officio judges who had held that position for a year would not get much benefit from that. That is perfectly true, but one does not get a judicial mind by training, and the vital qualifications for a justice—or a judge, for that matter—are broad humanity and shrewd common sense. The people who become mayors or chairmen of county district councils are usually selected for those positions because they have knowledge and understanding of the problems of their areas; because they are shrewd, businesslike people and because, at the same time, they have a sufficient capacity of detachment to preside impartially over the bodies of which they are the heads. We think it would be quite wrong under the existing local government arrangements to put an end to the judicial functions which have always been regarded as an extension of their duties as mayors or chairmen as the case may be. Any theoretical advantage that might be gained by it would be far outweighed by the local resentment which would be felt if this arrangement was put an end to.
A number of hon. Members referred to the question of the age limit. The hon. and gallant Member for Petersfield thought it better not to lay down any rigid rule in the statute, but to leave the matter to the discretion of the Lord Chancellor who could deal with cases individually and have regard to the various considerations which arise. I must say I listened with a great deal of interest to his speech in regard to this matter. It is perfectly true that if under the provision in this Act, or if under rules an arbitrary limit of 75 or whatever it is, is laid down some good justices may be lost. It is also true that it is notorious that lawyers and politicians always recognise that the pursuit of politics, or 902 the law, retains and enhances their mental faculties to very advanced years.
But it would be invidious to say in the case of particular justices, "This one shall remain, although he is over 75, and this one must go because, although not yet 75, his mental faculties are impaired." It is better to make a general rule. In doing what we have done in regard to that matter we have followed the recommendation of the Royal Commission. Retirement now will involve no kind of reflection on the individual who goes. Everyone will know that his, transfer to the supplemental list does not involve the conclusion that he himself is "gaga" but only that a great many of his contemporaries may be, and that being so it is better to lay down a general.' rule in regard to the matter which in the general run of cases will secure the right result.
I wish now to say a word about what the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) said in regard to the number of magistrates who should sit in a court. He expressed a diametrically opposite view to that of my hon. Friend the Member for West Salford (Mr. Royle) and I was surprised that he thought it would be desirable that the numbers should be unlimited. I should have thought myself that it is very unfortunate that a case should be tried by a multitude of magistrates. It may help in training magistrates, but the question is whether it helps in the administration of justice. I always think the ideal number would be, perhaps, three to five justices. That enables proper consultation between the various justices and for them to arrive at an agreed and considered opinion. That is quite impossible when one has not a bench, but a mass meeting of the justices.
There is another aspect of it of which I have had experience. I had to make some very minor licensing application before a court which usually consisted of three or four justices. That day they combed the highways and byways and no less than 51 justices, most of them apparently sharing only one thing in common, namely, an abhorrence of strong liquor, turned up and turned down my application. That kind of risk of canvassing and packing the bench is a real one—
§ The Attorney-General
I remember another case which will help my hon. Friend the Member for West Ealing (Mr. J. Hudson) where the son of an influential person was charged with being drunk in charge of a car. I defended him and I thought the case absolutely hopeless, but when I got to the court I changed my mind. I have never seen so many justices sitting on that remote country bench before, and that man was acquitted without any difficulty not, I fear, because of any eloquence on my part.
Let me turn now to the position of the clerks. One of the main purposes of the Bill is to implement the recommendations of Lord Roche's Committee in regard to clerks and that the Bill does, first, by the appointment of magistrates' committees for the whole county by which clerks will in future be appointed, and, secondly, by ensuring that clerks in future will be properly qualified, as indeed the vast majority of them are today. I do not want to say anything in disparagement of the non-qualified clerks. Some are good, some not so good, indeed some of the best and most experienced of the magistrates' clerks have, I believe, been unqualified men. But the functions of the magistrates' courts are now becoming much more complex. Modern statutes and regulations are more technical and difficult to administer than they used to be—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I make the point quite frankly. It seems to me, as one who has practised before these courts, that it is absolutely essential in the interests of justice that in future the clerks should be qualified people.
There are many other matters which we shall have an opportunity to consider in Committee, although we hope that the Committee stage will not be unduly prolonged because we want to get this Bill. Hon. Members will remember that the Bill has been through the most careful examination in another place, and I hope they will on the whole accept the efforts that were made there to improve its form as having produced the most satisfactory arrangements possible. I do not suggest that they are always logical or always tidy but the institutions of this 904 country are generally most successful when they are not completely logical and not completely tidy.
I do say that while this Bill does not attempt to produce a rigid uniform and wholly logical system, it will, although it may cause some heartburnings here and some regrets there, on the whole improve the administration of justice in these most important courts, and it secures the largest possible measure of agreement on the reforms that will enable these courts, which touch the lives of almost every one of us at one point or another, the better able to carry on the great tradition which they already possess.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Tomorrow.