§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 4.37 p.m.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir Reginald Manningham-Buller)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The Bill is designed to effect a number of changes in the administration of criminal justice in the courts of England and Wales. It would not be right to describe the changes as revolutionary; but they are important. As the majority of them will have the effect of expediting the trial of criminal charges, I hope that they will meet with the approval of the whole House.
The changes are based on the recommendations of an Inter-departmental Committee presided over by Mr. Justice Streatfeild. That Committee was appointed by my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who has always taken a keen interest in this subject. Its Report was presented to Parliament in February, last year. I think that it is an indication of the thoroughness with which it did its work that we are able to bring to the House a Measure giving legislative effect to those of its recommendations which require legislation within less than twelve months of the Report's presentation.
I should like to express our gratitude to the Chairman and members of that Committee for the excellent work which they have done. Governments are from time to time criticised for failing to act on the recommendations of the committees which they set up. Indeed, it is sometimes alleged that Governments set up committees merely to avoid taking action. No such charge or criticism can be made of the Government in this instance.
The Committee's terms of reference fell into two parts. It was asked to review the present arrangements in England and Wales for bringing persons to trial and, no less important, to review the arrangementsfor providing the courts with the information necessary to enable them to select the most appropriate treatment for offenders, and to 62 consider whether, having regard to the desirability of ensuring that cases are brought before the courts and disposed of expeditiously, any changes are required in these arrangements or in those for the dispatch of business by the courts.The Committee made some ten recommendations under the second part of its terms of reference, and several of those ten recommendations were sub-divided. In all, there were some 25 separate recommendations that fell to be considered by the Government. The Government welcome and endorse the Committee's approach to its terms of reference as it is reflected in these recommendations, and we are now studying ways and means of giving effect to them.
Only one of them, however, requires legislation, and that is dealt with in Clause 14, the effect of which will be to enable a court of assize or quarter sessions which adjourns a case to enable inquiries to be made in order to determine the most suitable method of dealing with a convicted person to order the case to be resumed by another competent court if this will enable it to be disposed of more quickly.
Under the existing procedure there is difficulty about adjourning a case after conviction before a court of quarter sessions which sits four times a year, and sometimes in doing so after conviction at assizes. A three months' adjournment to the next quarter sessions may be unnecessarily long and if the case is tried at the last town on an assize, the adjournment may have to be of too short a period to serve a useful purpose.
The difficulty with regard to quarter sessions will be largely overcome by the proposals to which I shall refer later of having what I may call "continuous" quarter sessions, but the Streatfeild Committee felt, and we feel, that the court of assize or quarter sessions should have power, if it will enable the case to be dealt with more speedily, to send it for sentence to another competent court.
I have mentioned this Clause first, not because I think it is entitled to pride of place, and still less because I wish to brush it aside, but to clear the way for the review of the other provisions of the Bill which form its main content.
These provisions give effect to the recommendations made by the Committee under the first of the two heads of its terms of reference, namely, to review 63 the present arrangements in England and Wales for bringing to trial persons charged with criminal offences, by which, of course, is meant trial at courts of assize and quarter sessions.
Under this head the main preoccupation of the Committee was with the length of time which accused persons spend awaiting trial and sentence, and the Committee had before it the results of an inquiry by the Home Office Research Unit which disclosed that in some cases these periods are at present far too long.
The figures which the Streatfeild Committee give in its Report relate to 1957, but, as the Committee says, it is not thought that the general pattern has changed significantly since then. These figures, which are set out on pages 4 and 5 of the Report, show that the average waiting period before trial was five weeks; but it can range from less than two weeks to over four months.
In 1957 over 1,200 people waited more than three months, and 400 for more than four months before being tried.
Forty per cent. of those committed for trial are committed in custody and not on bail. Of those committed, 76 per cent. pleaded guilty at their trial. Of the remaining 24 per cent. who pleaded not guilty, 7 per cent., that is to say, 1,700, were committed in custody. Of these 1,700, 300 were subsequently acquitted after having spent varying lengths of time in custody awaiting trial.
We can all agree that the time spent in awaiting trial should be reduced so far as is consistent with the need to secure a fair and proper trial and proper administration. I refer to administration, because, as the Streatfeild Committee points outa criminal court is a complex mechanism and careful arrangement of the business is necessary to ensure that the work is done with efficiency and economy. A trial involves not only a court with the necessary jurisdiction but also jurors (who have to be summoned some time in advance) witnesses, counsel and solicitors, prison escorts, police and court officials.Some delay in bringing a man to trial after the committal proceedings have concluded is usually necessary, for the defence wants time to prepare the 64 defence after it has heard the case for the prosecution at the magistrates' court, and sometimes the prosecution too wants time to do further work. But the delay should, in my submission, be kept to the minimum, for, as the Streatfeild Committee points out,all the benefits which flow from justice being done will be more potent if it is done quickly.The longer the wait, the staler the evidence and the more clouded the recollection of witnesses. Finally, it is in principle undesirable that the accused, whether in the event he prove guilty or not, should be kept waiting for the court's verdict any longer than is necessary.
The Streatfeild Committee came to the conclusion, which the Government accept, that the object to be aimed at was a procedure which resulted in no man being kept waiting, save in the most exceptional cases, more than eight weeks. For this purpose the Committee recommended changes both in the procedure of the courts and in their jurisdiction.
The changes the Committee has recommended in procedure derive from the conclusion, reached in the light of the evidence presented to it, that the waiting period of eight weeks was in fact as a general rule achieved in respect of proceedings brought before what may be called the courts in continuous session, that is to say, the Central Criminal Court, London and Middlesex Sessions, and the two Crown Courts at Liverpool and Manchester.
The Committee reached the conclusion, natural in the circumstances, that similar results would follow if assizes and quarter sessions were, so far as was practicable, also converted into courts which sat throughout the year. It did not, however, take what might seem to be the obvious course, namely, of recommending an extension of the Crown Courts.
I do not want on this occasion to go in any detail into the objections which the Committee saw to that system or to balance them against its undoubted merits. I will only say that a radical extension of the system—and a radical extension would have been inevitable—would have involved discarding the traditional assize system in the form in which we know it; and it did not seem to the Government that so drastic a 65 step as this was necessary if the assize system itself could be reorganised and brought up to date. We are satisfied that this reorganisation is practicable. Indeed, arrangements have already been made for revised itineraries to be brought into force during the next legal term, provided, of course, that this Bill has by then been brought into force.
The arrangements that have been made require the legislative changes which are made by the first three Clauses of the Bill. First, Clause 1 increases the number of High Court judges by adding five to the present statutory maximum of 48. It is not the intention that all the five judges to be appointed by virtue of this provision should be assigned to the Queen's Bench Division for the purpose of working what my noble Friend in another place called the new Streatfeild itineraries, or even that all five vacancies should necessarily be filled at once. But, as my hon. Friend said, it is important that there should be some reserve for contingencies, and that he should be in a position to take account of the needs of the other Divisions of the High Court, in particular the Divorce Division, where, as the House knows, it is the intention to replace the divorce commissioners by High Court judges as opportunity occurs.
Clause 2 provides for the appointment of assistant clerks of assize which will be necessary when the circuits are split into two. Clause 3 enables a high sheriff to be appointed for the Sheffield Assize Division which will be known as Hallamshire, and the need for it springs from the new arrangements which have been made for the assizes on the North-Eastern Circuit, as a result of which Leeds and Sheffield Assizes will be sitting simultaneously.
The procedural changes proposed for courts of quarter session are made by Clause 4, the principal effect of which is to enable those courts to be free to arrange their sittings to the best possible advantage and to dispose of cases with the least possible delay. The only condition—I will not call it a restriction—to which they will be subject is the provision in subsection (1) that they should be held at least four times a year. Although these courts will, therefore, sit as often as is necessary—some may even be virtually in continual session—it will continue to be appropriate for them to 66 retain their ancient title of "quarter sessions".
The other procedural changes designed to expedite the trial of persons committed by magistrates' courts are contained in Clauses 12 and 13 of the Bill, which deal with the committal itself. Clause 12 implements two recommendations of the Streatfeild Committee. Subsection (1) permits committal of a case to a sitting of assizes or quarter sessions already in progress. Subsection (2) extends the power of magistrates to commit a case to assizes instead of quarter sessions so as to include among the grounds entitling them to take this course the fact that the trial is likely to be a long one.
Clause 13 extends the procedure known as the "convenient court procedure", in the first place by extending it to committals for sentence and in the second place by imposing on the magistrates the duty to commit to a more convenient court if the case would be unlikely to be dealt with within eight weeks if it were committed, in accordance with the general rule, to the assizes or quarter sessions for their area.
I have now dealt with the principal Clauses of the Bill altering the procedure relating to committal to assizes and quarter sessions and to trial at assizes and quarter sessions. I will now turn to the provision dealing with the jurisdiction of the courts.
These provisions are contained in Clause 10 and the Second and Third Schedules of the Bill. Their effect is to give quarter sessions jurisdiction to try some offences at present triable only at assizes, thus relieving the work of the assizes; and to give courts of summary jurisdiction power to try cases at present triable only on indictment, thus relieving both assizes and quarter sessions. The Bill gives effect to the recommendations of the Streatfeild Committee, and I do not think it necessary for me, at this stage, to go in any detail into the reasons, set out in the Committee's Report, for the changes which it is proposed to make.
These, then, are the principal changes which it is proposed to make in the procedure and jurisdiction of the criminal courts. The Bill also contains a number of miscellaneous reforms of the law. Clause 5, for example, provides that no 67 one may be elected chairman of county quarter sessions unless he is legally qualified, and Clause 7 deals with the appointment of deputy recorders and assistant recorders, enlarging the power of the recorder to make such appointments. Clause 8 changes the law relating to the remuneration of recorders, chairmen of County of London Sessions, and their deputies and assistants. One feature which I am sure will be particularly welcome to those Members of the House who hold recorderships is that the onerous duty of paying their deputies will no longer fall upon them but on the council of the borough concerned.
I should also mention, in this part of the Bill, two Clauses which do not follow recommendations of the Streatfeild Committee, although they are not in any way inconsistent with them. The first of these is Clause 6, which transfers from the Home Secretary to the Lord Chancellor the responsibility for regulating the arrangements for sittings of quarter sessions for the County of London and is a natural consequence of the changes made by Clause 4 in relation to other quarter sessions. The second is Clause 9, which enables the Lord Chancellor to remove a recorder, chairman or deputy-chairman of London Sessions for misbehaviour. These appointments are held during good behaviour and the power of removal therefore is not in substance a new one.
Finally, there are two minor but useful reforms of the law, in Clause 11, which generalises the power conferred on magistrates' courts to resume proceedings as examining justices after they have begun to try an indictable offence summarily, and Clause 15, which provides that a sentence imposed by a court of assize shall take effect from the day on which it is imposed, unless the court otherwise directs, instead of from the first day of the assize, as is now the case.
The remaining provisions of the Bill are of a consequential or formal character, but I should mention that special provisions are being made for the allocation of costs where a case is committed from the area of one court into that of another. That is Clause 16.
At the beginning of my speech, I said that the Bill was designed to effect 68 changes which would have the result of expediting the trial of criminal cases and to ensure that courts should have all proper information before sentence is passed. These are objects which I am confident will commend themselves to the whole House, irrespective of party. I am confident that these objects will be achieved by the Bill and that they will be achieved at additional expenditure which, as the House will see from the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum, is not very substantial.
It is on that basis that I commend this Bill to the House, as a useful and uncontroversial Measure, and I invite the House to give it a Second Reading.
§ 4.56 p.m.
§ Sir Frank Soskice (Newport)
I agree with the right hon. and learned Attorney-General that this is a very useful Bill. Its introduction has been made possible by the extremely comprehensive and valuable quality of the work of the Interdepartmental Committee presided over by Mr. Justice Streatfeild, upon which the Bill is based. It is a legal Bill—the sort that might tempt lawyers to take their traditional holiday in this House—but it has its human aspects. On looking at it, and on looking through the technicalities of it, which have been so clearly explained by the Attorney-General, I discern two major motives on the part of the members of the Committee—both legal and non-legal members—who must have worked extremely well together.
First, they were confronted with the problem, which is of concern to everybody, lawyers and non-lawyers alike, of the delays which sometimes ensue before persons accused of crimes are finally brought to trial and either acquitted or sentenced, and their motive was to solve that problem. The second motive, of a wider character—not of peculiar technical import—is that described in the second part of the Report, which centres upon the provision to judges sentencing persons who have been convicted of offences with the appropriate information about the individual they are sentencing—information about his background and his general circumstances; in other words, everything which, according to modern concepts of appropriate penalties, would be thought of relevance by a tribunal sentencing a criminal.
69 Views upon the awarding of sentences have changed very much in recent years. What is perhaps somewhat disrespectfully referred to in the Report itself as the "tariff system" of penalities—that is to say, the giving to a criminal of an appropriate dollop of years or months proportionate to the quality and culpability of his crime, has been superseded by what I think we would all regard as a more enlightened and contemporaneous approach, which not merely takes into account the moral quality of the transgression for which the criminal is being sentenced but also his character and antecedents, and the circumstances of his upbringing and his early and middle life, the endeavour being to make the penalty more appropriate to the broad objects which courts seek to achieve by the imposition of penalties—in other words, not merely to punish the criminal but to do what is best to protect society and to bring him back, in due course, as a useful member of society when he has suffered his punishment. That is the second human objective which the Committee obviously had in view.
I shall briefly review the Bill and offer some observations, not of a controversial character, because I entirely accept what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said about it. It is shocking for the ordinary person when he is told that large numbers of people have to wait three months—and in many cases four months—before they are brought to trial. The right hon. and learned Gentleman analysed the figures which are set out in the Report and gave us the figures which appear in the tables of the Report, reminding us that, according, to the Home Office Research Unit, in 1957, about 1,200 persons had to wait for three months and over, and about 400 persons in that year had to wait for over four months before they were finally brought to trial. I should like to supplement the figures which he gave by one other figure which appears in the Report. Eight weeks are taken by Mr. Justice Streatfeild and his colleagues as the proper period which should elapse before the trial takes place, but in that same year no fewer than 5,000 persons had to wait for varying periods over eight weeks before they were brought to trial.
70 Faced with that problem, the Committee, as I read its reasoning, really had to face the problem in this way: the Committee said, "We could achieve speedy trial if we enlarged the system of permanent criminal courts." That is, in other words, extending over a national network, as I think the Committee called it, the existing system under which the Crown Courts of Liverpool and Manchester are organised, and, indeed, the Central Criminal Court, London Sessions and Middlesex Sessions. That was one way in which it seemed to the Committee that it might compass the object of bringing about speedy and regular final disposal of criminal cases brought before courts of quarter sessions and courts of assize. That method the Committee rejected. When this matter was discussed in another place it was thought that this rejection was quite right, and I also take the view that the Committee was perfectly right in deciding against the wholesale extension of criminal courts permanently in session. I think that was a wise decision.
When this House, only a few years back, set up the Crown Courts of Manchester and Liverpool, which are permanent criminal courts, and when we have before us the example of the Central Criminal Court, London Sessions and so on, all of which courts are accepted as having operated admirably over the years, it may, in a sense, be rather inconsistent now to say that that is a system which we do not think should be extended. When I think of that, I remind myself of what my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda, West (Mr. Iorwerth Thomas) said on the Licensing Bill. When dealing with the intervention of an hon. Member who asked if he were not being rather inconsistent with something that he had said before, his answer was that "consistency weighed upon the human intellect like an alp". I think that is perfectly true. I do not think that one can aim at complete consistency in the conduct of human affairs. I support the view, which I have ventured to offer, that the Committee was right in not deciding to extend the system of permanent criminal courts by the reflection that the administration of justice by a judge is a very human proceeding. It requires a broad and sympathetic view of human affairs and a full and sensitive understanding of human motives.
71 As was pointed out by the Committee in paragraphs 128, 129 and 132 of the Report, it is difficult—I do not say that it is impossible—for a judge, who is trying criminal cases day in and day out and who is in an area in which [...]e necessarily must be, as it were, somewhat socially aloof, to maintain that sensitive, quick and alert understanding of the way in which people react which is so necessary to a full discharge of the functions of a judge.
I do not offer any criticism of any permanent criminal judges at the moment. I think that they discharge their functions admirably, and I can speak only with admiration of the way in which they have surmounted the difficulties to which the Committee point. The Committee itself points to the danger of a judge in that aloof position dealing only with criminal cases and not being, as the Committee puts it, refreshed by contact with litigation of an entirely different type, raising utterly different types of situation and human problems becoming—it is the Committee's own word—"stale". It imposes a great burden upon the judges, and one which, speaking for myself, I think that it is better, if some other system can be devised, not to call upon judges to undertake. For that reason—I really re-echo the findings of the Committee itself—it decided that the better course was to adapt the existing procedure for the sittings of quarter sessions and assize courts in such a way that we get, as the Attorney-General indicated, the equivalent in effect of a constant and regular administration of justice, which makes it unnecessary for the delays with which the Committee was concerned to occur.
The Attorney-General indicated the various ways in which the Committee sought, by changing the existing arrangements, to bring that about. There are the most elaborate provisions with regard to the sittings of the Assize courts. They are to be divided, in the terms of the Committee's proposals, into special and general itineraries. I understand the proposal to be that certain circuits, the busy towns where there is a heavy flow of criminal business, should be grouped together, and assize judges should go around these towns, as it were, on a special visit. That they should do no less than four times a year, although the 72 normal assize takes place three times a year, and, I suppose, will continue to do so for the ordinary visits.
Concerning the business of quarter sessions, as the Attorney-General has pointed out, the business of the magistrates' courts, the petty sessional divisional courts, is to be enlarged to remove from assize courts and quarter sessions some of the types of offence with which the petty sessional courts cannot deal at the moment, and there is also to be a general rearrangement of their sittings and the way in which they transact their business. Notably the system of referring cases to what are described as convenient courts is to be enlarged, in my opinion very properly, and, I hope, in such a way as to achieve the objectives which the Committee have in mind.
In putting my views on this Bill before the House, I do not think that I should be serving any useful purpose by going into the minutiae of the intricacies of what must necessarily be a very technical Bill. Having said that I welcome the Bill and desire to be joined in the thanks repeatedly expressed in another place, and again here, to the Committee for the admirable work it did, I should like to put two broad questions to the Attorney-General. They centre on the propositions advanced in another place by Lord Goddard.
This Bill would abolish appeal committees. Clause 4 (5) implements the recommendation of the Streatfeild Committee, contained in paragraphs 197–201 of its Report, that appeal business should be done at ordinary quarter sessions and that the appeal committees at present existing, set up under Section 7 of the Summary Jurisdiction (Appeals) Act, 1933, should be brought to an end. In his speech in another place—which I am not allowed to quote, but I think it is in order for me to give the effect—Lord Goddard raised the question whether it was wise to abolish the existing appeal committee procedure. The objective which it was sought to accomplish by Section 7 of the 1933 Act, as he explained it, was that for the purpose of dealing with appeals we should have, as it were, a specially selected panel of experienced justices.
Lord Goddard pointed out that when dealing with appeals at quarter sessions from petty sessional courts it was a 73 matter of dealing with cases in which there was an appeal from justices to justices, from magistrates to magistrates, and the burden of the noble and learned Lord's argument, that being the case, was whether there was an adequate reason for dispensing with a procedure which had worked admirably, and which had been designedly conceived not so long ago, in 1933?
I ask the Government whether they have thought carefully over the argument used by Lord Goddard and have come to a final decision. The noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor, in his Third Reading speech, in another place, dealt with this argument and, as I read his speech, came down against the proposition of Lord Goddard, but not very strongly. The reasons he gave were that there are now more legally qualified chairmen and deputy-chairmen than in 1933, and that no doubt is a fact. The Lord Chancellor said further that it is the case that now justices are better trained because of the procedure for training which has been introduced. No doubt those are arguments which deserve careful consideration, but they do not leave me altogether satisfied, and I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman to think again. I do not say necessarily to reverse the view held so far on the matter by the Government, but to think again whether they are right to abolish this appeal procedure.
The reason the Committee recommended that appeal committees should be abolished was to avoid wastage of time. I am not sure that that is not too great a sacrifice. I simply pose the question; I have still rather an open mind about it. But I think it is a matter which should be considered further by the Government. No doubt during the Committee stage discussions, which will follow if the Bill be given a Second Reading, hon. Members will desire to probe the matter further.
The other matter raised by the noble and learned Lord was his proposal that boroughs with a population of 65,000 persons and upwards which had no separate commissioner of the peace and no separate court of quarter sessions might he required by the Lord Chancellor to petition Her Majesty for a separate commissioner and a separate court of quarter sessions. He further proposed that if within three months of 74 the Lord Chancellor requiring them to do so they did not present a petition, the Lord Chancellor himself might present a petition on their behalf.
There are a number of boroughs, as the noble Lord pointed out, which have populations very considerably in excess of the limit of 65,000 and which still have not their own separate court of quarter sessions or recorder. This leads to rather ludicrous results. For example, Lord Goddard pointed to Swindon with a population of 83,000 which has no court of quarter sessions. Offenders from Swindon have to go for trial to the Wiltshire Quarter Sessions which are held at Salisbury or Devizes. This means a difficult, inconvenient and somewhat expensive journey. It would seem to be quite unnecessary for that to have to take place.
Another example is that of Ilford, with a population of 178,000. Offenders from Ilford go to Chelmsford, which seems an arrangement not easy to justify. It was quite recently that Parliament took the recorders from boroughs with a population, I think, of under 65,000 where recorders existed. It would seem a reasonable extension of that rearrangement that boroughs with a population substantially above that limit with no recorder should be able to petition to be granted a recorder.
Lord Goddard was supported by Lord Silkin, who instanced the 15 new towns, notably Basildon, where the population would he likely to be very large. According to his argument Basildon and similar towns should have their own recorders and try their own offenders. I have no interest to declare in this respect as this does not apply to my constituency. That was dealt with especially in debate. County sessions sit at Newport although we have not our own quarter sessions and recorder, so I have no personal interest to declare. Newport does not come within the scope of the criticisms advanced by Lord Goddard.
The Lord Chancellor replied for the Government, and, as I understood his speech, again somewhat hesitantly he said he would still think about what was proposed by Lord Goddard. I gather that Swindon had decided to present a petition, but the Lord Chancellor pointed out that possibly, in view of the 75 impending reorganisation of local government, any such proposition would be somewhat premature. I understand that the matter is one on which the Government have not closed their minds. They are influenced by the consideration that it is perhaps better to use persuasion rather than to use on the boroughs, in the Lord Chancellor's words, "the big stick". I think that is what the Lord Chancellor called it.
In putting my considerations to the House, I ask the Attorney-General what is the present thinking of the Government on these matters and whether they have come to a concluded view. Certainly I think this a matter which will be further explored during the Committee stage discussions, as no doubt will many of the other Clauses in the Bill.
Another matter on which I have no personal interest to declare is the question of the salaries of recorders. I realise that some hon. Members will have a particular concern about this, and it is perfectly right that they should. But, as the Committee pointed out, recorders are the linch-pin in a great deal of the administration of justice at quarter sessions, and it is unreasonable that the present system should continue which requires them to make financial sacrifices in order to discharge their duties. The position of recorder is one of great honour and is valued. The post is sparingly conferred. But I put it to the Government that the time has come—I think it is recognised by this Bill—that there should be some more sensible assessment of the remuneration payable to recorders; and possibly a slight adjustment in the Income Tax law which makes it impossible for them to charge their hotel and travelling expenses as expenditure against income, and therefore singles them out for treatment in a manner which seems harsh compared with the treatment accorded to many other taxpayers in the matter of expenses.
I have not so far said much about Part II. Part II, in a sense, is the most important part of the Bill, because it is the part which deals with the question of punishment. I say little about Part II because, with one exception, I understand from Government spokesmen, the proposals in Part II can all be imple 76 mented by administrative means and, except in one particular case in Clause 14, do not require legislative change. However, such legislation as is required is now in the Bill.
All I desire to say about that is that a large number of separate and specific proposals are made with reference to the furnishing of information about convicted persons. In Committee we shall all probably want to know in considerable detail what administrative arrangements are to be made to implement those proposals. I think they are of the greatest value, but, as they do not appear in the Bill and this is the Second Reading and not the Committee stage, I do not think it would be useful to seek to discuss them further.
I certainly hope that the House will be ready to give the Bill a Second Reading. We shall want to examine its specific provisions much more carefully in Committee, but I think that it is a very useful and excellent Measure. In that respect, I wish that it did not stand out in such marked contrast with other Measures introduced by the present Government.
§ 5.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Rawlinson (Epsom)
I share with the right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) the welcome given to this Bill. The only thing on which I disagree a little with him is that he said that this was a legal Bill on which lawyers would have their traditional holiday. Undoubtedly lawyers will speak in this debate, but the part we play nowadays is stressed a little too much compared with economists and financiers who get a far greater share of the opportunity to address the House.
This, as the Attorney-General said, is a useful Bill. I think it is also a very important Bill. The administration of justice—particularly criminal justice, but generally all justice—is a matter which touches us in this House very closely and touches everyone throughout the whole country. This is an important Bill, because it produces a much-needed review, based on the great work done by the Streatfeild Committee, of the administration of criminal justice.
As we all know, pressure of business has increased tremendously in the past 77 few years and undoubtedly the system was beginning to creak. It was creaking to such an extent that it needed the additional appointment of extra judges. But flowing from the appointment of extra judges, there must come a review of the court accommodation and other such matters resulting from having more courts to be able to deal more speedily with offenders. I recollect an occasion when on the hottest day of summer the winter assize was being wound up by a commissioner who had come to deal with civil cases because the judges had been so pressed by criminal business that they had little time to devote to civil business. In those circumstances civil litigants had to wait long months before their cases were tried.
I share with the right hon. and learned Member for Newport the fairly common view of the Committee, which is held generally among members of the profession, against the establishment of more Crown courts. The right hon. and learned Member spoke about inconsistency and quoted what the hon. Member for Rhondda, West (Mr. Iorwerth Thomas) had said. Emerson said:A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds".I quite agree that this was an experiment worth making in Manchester and Liverpool, but one which it would not be satisfactory to extend generally throughout the length and breadth of the country. There is the special case, which is quite obviously different, of London where there are a number of permanent judges—not single judges but a body of judges—who sit at the Old Bailey and London Sessions. They have the opportunity to mingle with members of their profession and the breadth of the kind of cases which come to be tried at those courts makes London distinct and separate from other cities in this regard.
I think the ordinary litigant in civil matters certainly wishes to have his case tried by a High Court judge. In crime also it is essential that they should be the judges who try the cases. Very useful work has been carried out by commissioners who have been sent to assist judges in clearing the gaols, but in principle it is a task to be done by a judge. Therefore, although on occasion there 78 will be need for commissioners, nevertheless the principle to be aimed at is that nearly all the cases should be tried by judges.
Following from the appointment of these judges, and though it seems that extra circuits will be arranged and that the judges will be sitting in courts which otherwise would be empty nevertheless, with the amount of criminal business there is a tremendous need for a considerable review of the proper accommodation of the courts. Courts are places where large numbers of people foregather. The accommodation for members of the public is essential; there should be proper accommodation for witnesses waiting to give evidence, and proper arrangements for bringing prisoners up from the cells for their trial and taking them away. In some cities throughout the country the accommodation needs considerable overhaul.
We should also not forget the pressure which the amount of criminal business has brought to bear on members of the public. There is a tremendous amount of extra work which has to be done by those called to give their services as members of juries. I personally regret that juries are not used more often in civil actions. Apart from this House, I believe juries to be one of the great standbyes and safeguards of an Englishman's liberty. This involves no reflection on Her Majesty's judges, but formerly juries played a part in civil cases in which they were able by verdicts to express views which may not have been the views of the judges or persons practising in the courts; but they were able by their individual idiosyncrasies to influence and indicate what public opinion was about the law in another way different from that through their elected Member of Parliament.
We have had to call many more citizens to service as jurors, and it should be appreciated that a great burden has been put on men and women called away from their homes or offices to do this very essential work. Although speed is an important facet to criminal administration, I sometimes think that it can be over-emphasised. Although one looks with horror at the delays in certain other countries in regard to the administration of justice, nevertheless speed can be over-emphasised. There 79 can be occasions when the procedure is too speedy between trial and committal.
It is a time when very hard work often has to be done by the defence. Sometimes very difficult inquiries have to be made. The trial should not be rushed upon too speedily after committal. This is also a period when a great attempt should be made to obtain from the person awaiting trial information which may be necessary should that person be convicted and have to be sentenced by the appropriate court. I should like that time to be used more than now by the court—not by the prosecution—to find as much information as possible about a person not on bail but in custody awaiting trial.
I, too, look forward to that provision of information referred to in paragraphs 9 and 12 of the Streatfeild Report. I think it essential nowadays when the great task, the first task, is to try to prevent first offenders from becoming second offenders. If we can only cut that figure by 2 or 3 per cent. then the whole back of the problem will have been broken. Therefore, I hope that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will be able to provide those statistics and that information which I personally feel can play in these modern days a great part in assisting the person sentencing to impose the correct and appropriate sentence.
It would give an opportunity of comparing, of seeing the successes and also the follow-up of persons who have been sentenced to a term of imprisonment or a certain type of treatment. It is essential that we should see how best we can relate the great task not only of protecting the public and of punishing the crime but also of ensuring that the convicted person never again comes before a court. I think that this is a very important administrative matter which I trust will speedily be available to the advantage of the sentencers.
I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Newport who spoke on behalf of the Opposition, that this is a useful Bill, but, in my opinion, it is also a very important Bill.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Sir Lynn Ungoed-Thomas (Leicester, North-East)
Like everybody else, I am sure, in the House, I welcome the Bill, 80 and am grateful to the Streatfeild Committee for its admirable Report. I was particularly interested in two of the observations made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice). Like him, I agree very strongly with the attitude which the Government have taken over the Crown courts. My right hon. and learned Friend, if I may say so, put the position very sensibly and I do not wish to add to or to detract from anything that he said. It is a consideration which applies not only to criminal courts, but also to a certain number of civil courts in the country, but that I shall not weary the House with on this occasion.
The other remark which my right hon. and learned Friend made was about the recorders. Like him, I am not a recorder and never shall be one, and therefore I feel completely free to make my observations on the matter. I think it utterly wrong that the country should try to get its justice on the cheap by paying for it out of the pockets of the recorders. In a number of cases not only are recorders paid sums which do not cover expenses, but they are not even allowed local expenses, as my right hon. and learned Friend said. They cannot even have the expense of travelling from the Temple to their court allowed for Income Tax purposes. This really is a matter which is scandalous and which ought to be properly reviewed.
My purpose in intervening in the debate is just to deal with one very limited matter to which the hon. and learned Member for Epsom (Mr. Rawlinson) refered—the question of accommodation. I am very much perturbed about the matter of accommodation not only in some places in the provinces, but also here in the High Court in London. I think that the position has really become extremely bad.
I should like to know whether in the sums referred to in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum any provision at all is made in the budget for improved accommodation. It is proposed to increase the number of judges. I do not know how far that would mean that more judges would be sitting in London, or whether it would mean a greater demand for accommodation in the provinces or what is being done 81 about it. As I say, it is about accommodation in London in particular that I wish to make a few observations.
Some time ago a committee was set up under the chairmanship of former Lord Justice Romer. That committee I believe, submitted a report to the Lord Chancellor, but as far as I know it has never been published. At any rate, I have not seen it. I should be interested to know what that report contains and the first question I wish to put to the Government is whether they contemplate publishing that report or will make it available in the Library of the House. It would be interesting to know what the recommendations of that committee were.
In the High Court in the Strand we have at present not only temporary, make-shift accommodation inside the stone building, but we have as courts in a yard there a couple of wooden huts which were put up at the end of the First World War and which were supposed to be temporary. I visited them today and these two utterly tattered wooden places are still performing after many years what was supposed to be a temporary function.
The Government and the people of the country really ought to make up their minds about this matter. Do we really want the dignified administration of justice, or do we not? It is a little foolish to have wig and gown, to have the panoply of the law and the dignity of the law, of which I am all in favour, and, at the same time, to put it into accommodation which is utterly inadequate. Not only is this undignified, but it is insufficient and leads to inefficiency, and this I should like to expand a little.
The courts with which I am particularly concerned are, of course, the Chancery courts, and we now have one of the Chancery courts put in a temporary room at the top of the building in the Strand. I also visited other temporary courts on the Queen's Bench side and in the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division. I do not think that any of them has quite all the disadvantages which this Chancery court has, but I have no doubt that all of them have one or more of these disadvantages. To get to this court at the top of the building one has 87 stone stairs to climb if one goes by the shortest route.
82 If one goes in from the Strand, as most litigants do, one has over 100 stone steps to climb.
It is true that there is a lift, but no one who is in a hurry to take part in a case before the court at the top of that building would dream of taking the lift. I have, on occasion, attempted to do so. One has to wait to find someone who will take one up. If there is someone there, one does not know how long it will be before the lift arrives and when travelling in the lift one never knows with whom one may be travelling and that, on occasion, may be extremely embarrassing if one is involved in a case where there is, shall we say, a little tension. I have never gone up to that Chancery court in the lift though on various occasions in the past I have attempted to use the lift.
My experience applies equally to all the other Chancery practitioners whom I constantly see climbing the stairs to the courts or descending from them. It applies also to the judge. The court itself is a small ordinary room—the dimensions are not the dimensions of a court at all—it was never built for the purpose. It is an obscure room intended for an obscure official who was put in the most obscure part of the building. That room has been converted into a court of the High Court of Justice in which the administration of justice is conducted on the very highest level.
It really is a ridiculous situation. Once one is in the court one faces the judge behind whom are two vast windows, which are the only source of light. One has to face the glare of those windows for day after day, as any sensitive counsel must, in trying to see how the judge's face is working—which is sometimes an indication of how his mind is working. Anyone who tries to face the glare of those windows for any length of time finds it extremely trying.
As everyone who conducts such cases knows, there are occasions on which one wants to talk with counsel and solicitors on one's own side and perhaps with the client without everybody else in the court knowing precisely the point one has in mind, the point one wants to make, or the point about which one is ignorant and wants information. It is not advisable to give away points, or expose one's ignorance. But in that small room one is literally cheek by jowl 83 with one's opponents, without adequate space, and it is extremely difficult in present circumstances to conduct a case properly. The court is stuffy. If the windows are opened—and they are the only means of ventilation—it is draughty. One has a choice.
The judge has a small room next to this converted court-room. He has to walk through the well of the court to get to the bench, and anyone who knows anything about the construction of courts knows that that is, undesirable. His permanent room gives immediately on to a public passageway, which means that if any normal care is taken, the judge has to be kept under lock and key. He should have a room which opens on to a passage which is not a public passage and which gives immediate access to the bench on which he sits instead of into the well of the court.
I know that some of these temporary courts, which have been temporarily converted, are reasonably tolerable for a certain time, but this court, which has all the disadvantages of a temporary court, should not be continued. Even a temporary court should be either on the ground floor or reasonably near it. It should be of adequate size, with proper lighting and ventilation, and should provide a certain amount of privacy for the judge. It should not involve everybody—judge, counsel, solicitors and litigants on both sides and the public—being mixed up together in their approach to the court, inside the court, and in getting away from it. What is needed is a thorough review of the distribution of the accommodation at present available.
I want to draw attention to one or two further considerations which apply particularly to the Chancery court. There are six Chancery judges and six Chancery courts. The nature of Chancery business is such that it is important that these courts should be grouped together and that it should be easy to move from one court to another. Let me give as an example the regular Monday business in the Chancery court. On a Monday, two courts do chamber summonses, with about 12 cases in each court during the course of the day. In other words, 20 to 30 cases are considered in those two courts in the course of the day. There 84 is a third judge sitting in the Companies court, in which there may be 30 to 40 cases. In other words, in those three courts on that one day 50 to 70 cases are considered.
This means that a number of counsel are engaged in all three courts on the same day and that a number of solicitors are similarly engaged. If the proceedings are to be dealt with properly, it is vital that they should be able to get quickly from one court to another. On two other days of the weeks, Tuesdays and Fridays, although we do not have the short cases to the same extent, we have motions, and therefore a considerable amount of shod case work is going on during those two days in the Chancery courts. Again, it is extremely important that counsel and solicitors, in their clients' interests, should be able to get quickly from one court to the other. On three days out of the five it is extremely important for the proper administration of justice that the Chancery courts should be grouped together conveniently.
This is fully recognised, and the Chancery courts were built together in the same part of the building. In fact, on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays, which are the chambers days and the motions days when these numerous short cases occur, an effort is made to bring down the judge, when he is involved in the short cases, from his top room into one of the collection of regular permanent Chancery courts and to enable him to sit there. Think of it—the judge has to come down, robed, from his own room, by 87 or more steps, or has to borrow, if he can, a room from another judge. That is not the way in which to conduct business. No business organisation would conduct its business in this way. No business organisation would dream of it. Which company director would tolerate his business being dealt with and interfered with in this way?
The obvious solution is to have all the Chancery courts together in the same part of the building and readily accessible to each other. This is not just a question of dignity, although that is extremely important in the administration of justice. It is also a question of sheer efficiency of organisaiton—the sheer business efficiency test. It does not pass that, let alone the test of the 85 proper dignity required for the administration of justice.
We all know that the difficulty is that although there are only six Chancery judges and six Chancery courts, a seventh judge has been allocated to the Chancery Division who does not do Chancery work. The obvious solution would be for his court to be restored to the Chancery judges so that business can be properly conducted. I cannot understand why that is not done. The learned judge—a very senior judge for whom we all have the greatest respect—could be provided with another regular court in the building. I do not understand why this course is not followed.
The Chancery Division is "fed to the teeth" with the present position. If this were not so I should not be making these observations in the House. There must be a good deal of feeling about it before one brings this kind of thing forward to Parliament for consideration. I should not otherwise dream of taking up the time of the House upon this limited administrative matter. But, as the hon. and learned Member for Epsom indicated, it is not an unimportant aspect of the administration of justice. We are all concerned that it should be administered efficiently and with dignity and we feel that in the Chancery court and elsewhere in the High Court, let alone in the provinces, the court is not adequately accommodated to enable this to be done.
§ 5.49 p.m.
§ Mr. W. G. Morgan (Denbigh)
I am grateful for the opportunity of making a few observations about the Bill. I do so especially because I have the honour to be a member of the Northern Circuit which, solely among the seven circuits in England and Wales, has had experience of the functioning of Crown courts. I shall say something about the functioning of Crown courts later. Before doing so I join with other hon. Members who have already spoken in paying tribute to the Streatfeild Committee for the very valuable work which it has done. Its deliberations lasted over two and a half years. I suppose the greatest compliment that we can pay the Committee is the fact that we have introduced the Bill and are considering it today.
One of the many sayings of the great Bacon which is frequently quoted to this 86 day is that "justice is sweetest when it is freshest." That is something to which the Committee gave particular attention. Its general finding was that the period of waiting for trial is too long. Point is added to this finding of the Committee in that since 1957, the year for which the Committee took its figures, there has been an appreciable increase in the crime rate. Even during 1957—these figures were referred to by the right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice)—5,000 accused had to wait over eight weeks for trial; 1,200 had to wait for over three months; and 400 had to wait for over four months. This was a deplorable state of affairs.
One statistic which has not been referred to so far is perhaps more important than any of these. This is the disturbing fact that about 300 people were subsequently acquitted after spending varying lengths of time in custody awaiting trial. Society clearly owes a duty to such people to ensure that the waiting period is kept as short as possible. I welcome the fact, as I am sure every hon. Member does, that the Government accept as a principle that only in the most exceptional cases should the waiting period for trial be more than two months.
As my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General said in his opening speech, the obvious solution which would commend itself to most people is that the existing system of Crown courts should be extended. This system was established in 1956, as most hon. Members will know. As I have said, I am a member of the Northern Circuit, and I believe that I am right in saying that the principal consideration which led to the establishment of the Crown court system in 1956 was not so much that it should deal with criminal cases as that it should enable the backlog of civil cases to be disposed of at the assizes while the criminal cases, or most of them, were dealt with by the Crown courts. Paradoxically enough, by the time the Crown court came into being in Liverpool the backlog of civil cases had largely been dealt with, though I do not think that this was so in Manchester.
There is no doubt that the Crown courts have served a very useful purpose, both in expediting the hearing of criminal cases and in preventing the assize 87 crime lists being cluttered up and thereby allowing civil business to be dealt with expeditiously. The system is open to criticism. Criticism was, in fact, made of it in another place, and I do not propose to repeat anything that was said by any one else. I am glad to see that the heads of our judiciary have adopted a very human view of the difficulties of judges. The case against the Crown court system could be put in a nutshell in this way: a judge cannot he expected to remain at his judicial best when he is dealing with the same kind of case all the time in the same place, with the same police officers, the same advocates and, very often, even the same criminals, before him.
As was pointed out in another place—this is a matter of general application—there is much to be said in favour of the system of the anonymous judge who appears in one place relatively seldom and is in no sense bound to the locality. It is only fair to say out of justice to the Crown courts—in this I echo something said by the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, North-East (Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas)—that these criticisms can be applied to many local courts, including civil courts.
I pay tribute to the Crown courts for the valuable work they have done, but I am glad that the Government have decided not to extend the system but to deal with the increase in crime, and in work generally, by a system of extended assizes, even though the system may be more difficult to administer than that of the Crown courts as they exist at present. I stress in this connection that a system of extended assizes will help appreciably in the disposal of civil cases. We should not lose sight of this fact, because this was one of the main reasons for introducing the Crown court system.
I welcome many of the provisions in the Bill which are designed to hasten the trial of accused persons, and particularly the extension of the jurisdiction of quarter sessions and petty sessions. I was rather surprised that in another place some criticism was voiced of the proposal to extend the jurisdiction of petty sessions. Without going into details, these are eminently sensible pro visions. Indeed, I go so far as to say that, if they work well in practice, as 88 they no doubt will, consideration should perhaps be given later to further extensions of powers of petty sessions.
There is also an eminently sensible provision to enable a legally qualified chairman of quarter sessions in appropriate cases to deal with cases by himself without the assistance of another justice. It is, furthermore, a very good thing that the length of the sentence should be reduced by the amount of time an accused has already spent in custody following committal for trial. There is at present no obligation upon a judge either to take this into account or, if he has taken it into account, to say that he has done so.
As I understood one point raised by the right hon. and learned Member for Newport, when he voiced something which was discussed in another place, he wanted some degree of compulsion to be brought to bear in certain circumstances for boroughs to apply for recorders to be appointed. Not to put too fine a point upon it, the suggestion was that in certain circumstances a recorder might be forced upon a borough. If a recorder were to be forced upon an unwilling borough, it could cause a good deal of unpleasantness. As was pointed out by the Lord Chancellor in another place, it is very unlikely that any borough council would decline to petition for a separate court of quarter sessions if it was suggested to the council plainly that it was its duty to do so. Experience so far appears to be that there has been more difficulty in restraining unsuitable applications for such courts than in encouraging petitions to obtain them.
I should like some information on one matter which was raised in another place, but which has not been referred to here. It is the costs of prosecutions and who shall bear them. This matter was raised, but not pursued, in another place. The point was made very trenchantly that the unfortunate County of Northampton—in which I have no pesonal interest; I cite is merely as an instance—has suffered very heavily and has had increases in rates on two occasions when the offences concerned had only the most fortuitous connection with the county. One case was as far back as 1931—the well-known case of Alfred Arthur Rouse, when quite by 89 chance a murder was committed within the confines of the county by someone who was travelling north. It might equally well have been committed two or three counties away. I understand that that led to an increase in the rates. Latterly, there was an Income Tax evasion case which was committed to trial within the county simply because the Income Tax district concerned had its headquarters in Northampton, although the offences were not committed there at all.
I suppose that some relief will be granted by the provisions of Clause 16, and it may be that those provisions were introduced as a result of discussion of this matter in another place. I also understand that it is possible to recover from the Police Fund up to 50 per cent. of the costs of prosecution. I am rather vague about the present position and would be grateful for some information about it. Would not the Government consider a total change of this policy so that the central Government would bear the costs of prosecutions? I understand that that was, in part, at any rate, the position until the County Councils Act came into force in 1888. It is a matter of some importance, because certain local authorities can suffer quite heavily as a result of criminal offences being committed fortuitously within their boundaries, and I think that some relief is due.
I welcome the Bill as, I am sure, does every other hon. Member, and I am very grateful for having been given the opportunity of supporting it.
§ 6.1 p.m.
§ Mr. A. J. Irvine (Liverpool Edge Hill)
I join in welcoming the Bill. The Streatfeild Committee, so to describe it, was appointed in June, 1958, reported at the end of 1960, and this Measure is brought before us now after consideration in another place. I am grateful that the whole matter has been dealt with so expeditiously and thoroughly. I could wish for the same stream-lined efficiency and speed in the Government's treatment of other matters.
It may be thought to be a duty of a member of the Bar who is also a Member of this House to try to discover from the public, and from his constitutents in particular, what requirements the public feel must be fulfilled in the administra 90 tion of the law, and then he may be able to bring to bear his experience as a lawyer on the consideration of how far existing practice and proposed changes meet those needs.
Approaching the matter in that fashion, I would suggest that what is sought most by my constituents and, I have no doubt, by the constituents of all hon. Members, is speedy justice and, at the same time, justice that is dispensed by fair-minded men of unmistakeable and exceptional ability. Those two requirements are reconcilable, but it requires vigilance to ensure that they are reconciled.
There is no doubt that at present there is too great delay in the treatment of criminal cases. The figures have been referred to more than once, and they are important and significant. We have been reminded that in 1957 over 1,200 people had to wait for more than three months before being brought to trial; that is the lapse of time occurring between committal and date of trial. We have also been reminded that nearly half of those people were committed in custody and not on bail, and that in 1957 a substantial number of them—I think that 300 was the figure—were acquitted after having spent varying periods of time in custody. In the context of circumstances of that kind there is no doubt that there is too much delay.
I think that an important part of the Committee's recommendations consists of the proposal to reorganise the itineraries of judges of assize. It is important for the House to bear in mind that it is this plan, I understand, which particularly requires and is made the occasion for the proposed appointment of extra judges to the High Court. When the statutory maximum of High Court judges reaches 53 the question inevitably arises as to whether there is any threat to the very high standard of the English judges.
That matter has given rise to discussion under two heads, in particular, with which I will shortly deal. First, it has been said that it is time to see whether there can be found recruits for the judiciary from sources other than the Bar alone. On that, perhaps I may be permitted to say, with great respect, that the proven capacity of English judges in criminal matters to sum up at 91 the end of the evidence and of speeches, and of judges in civil cases to deliver judgment immediately at the end of counsels' speeches—there being comparatively seldom any need or occasion to reserve judgment—is a factor that contributes in a very real and practical way to the speedy administration of justice. I am led to think that those qualities are the envy of foreigners. As I well remember, for any student coming to the Bar and for any member of the Bar recently called, it is a capacity that fills him with well-warranted awe.
I think that if judges were asked about this they would probably acknowledge that the faculty of thus summing up a case without delay, or of delivering judgment in complicated matters without requiring to reserve judgment, derives from their training and experience at the Bar. This is really the nexus between the two functions that are performed in court. The duty and function of an advocate may be very different from the duty and function of a judge, but they still have this in common: that they both call for a capacity to marshal facts, and long training undoubtedly greatly contributes to this.
The second line of discussion to which this part of the matter has given rise relates to the concept of the ladder of judicial promotion. I understand that it has been suggested that there should be a more regular ladder of promotion; In particular, perhaps, from the county court bench. We have been assured more than once, and in another place, that this field will continue to be surveyed when occasion demands or requires it. Some of us, however, are not altogether happy about the concept of the judicial ladder.
It has been said in another place that the underlying principle of our system is that judicial decisions are not to be influenced, on the one hand, by fear of dismissal or, on the other, by hope of promotion. I speak cautiously on a subject of this kind—I recognise its importance—but it seems to me that this is a correct view and one with which many will agree. It has been regarded as fundamental that the fear of dismissal because of a decision unpalatable to authority should not be allowed to affect 92 judges. I suggest, in that connection, that it is rather difficult to distinguish in principle between the fear of dismissal and the hope of promotion.
As has been said, the Bill might have provided for more Crown courts. For my part, I am glad that it does not. Such a course was not recommended by the Streatfeild Committee. There has been reference to the risk of staleness and of a sense of isolation in these continuous courts as they are sometimes called. My view is that there is some evidence to support this. These features and the undue concentration upon criminal cases are precisely what Our assize system avoids.
I was very glad that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) went on to deal with certain matters affecting the jurisdiction and administration of quarter sessions. I think that the association of lay justices with qualified chairmen is an invaluable feature of our system, spreading the idea of doing justice, as it were, throughout the community. I would not want anything to be done that would diminish the proper sense of justices of their significance in the whole system.
From this point of view, I should have thought that the provision that a qualified chairman of county quarter sessions may sit alone to hear a case if no lay justice is available needed watching. I can see, of course, that at first sight that is an obvious enough method of avoiding one amongst many possible sources or causes of delay, but one cannot help wondering whether it may not possess rather more significance than appears at first sight. May it not perhaps be the thin end of the wedge and tantamount to an intimation that the presence of lay justices is not required?
Similar considerations affect my mind with regard to the proposal that appeal committees of county quarter sessions are to be abolished. That, as has already been said, has been referred to in another place. I have always understood that the justices had a way, in conformity with our traditions, of sorting themselves out, as it were, so that the ablest and most experienced of them sat on the appeal committee. I should have thought that that was useful and had good results, and that justices might be discouraged by what is now proposed.
93 Henceforward, under the new dispensation, a person may be convicted at quarter sessions before a bench consisting of a qualified chairman and two or three justices of ability and experience, and then, on appeal, under this new system he may find himself before a chairman of equivalent qualifications but before justices of less ability and less experience. This would seem—although I am open to hear any defence of the proposal covering this point—to be a possible and undesirable consequence of the change that is proposed.
A voice of great authority in another place has spoken of the value and importance in this respect of the appeal committee; and, as I say, if there has been built up this practice by which the most experienced magistrates come together on the appeal committee for their own benefit and for the benefit of the administration of justice, we would want to be assured that that factor had been fully weighed before the proposed change is finally decided upon.
Attention has been drawn to the fact, also, that many boroughs which are centres of large populations have no recorders. Some emphasis has been laid upon the obvious difficulties in the way of making it, in effect, mandatory upon boroughs to ask for recorders. But surely we can find an appropriately diplomatic, constitutional and correct way round that kind of difficulty. It is desirable that where we have these great centres of urban population there should be courts of quarter sessions. Where this is not so, a great deal of time is undoubtedly lost—travelling time and time expended by all concerned in the trial. It may well be—I know not—that some of these boroughs prefer that the expense of mantaining a court of quarter sessions should rest upon the county, but this is surely not a factor that should carry decisive weight.
It seems rather unsatisfactory that, when so much time and trouble are given, as in Appendix C of the Committee's Report, to working out elaborate and complicated plans for the reorganisation of the itineraries of judges on assize, anomalies such as those to which I have referred in the large boroughs where there are no courts of quarter sessions should be allowed to continue and survive.
94 However much I welcome the Bill, we shall not have an entirely streamlined system of administration of criminal justice so long as anomalies of that kind are allowed to survive, with the very real, practical and important difficulties and complications to which such arrangements are apt to give rise. I would not, however, wish these comments to be treated as derogating in any substantial way from my welcome to this most useful Bill.
§ 6.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
I decline to be overawed by the fact that during this debate the House has heard only from right hon. and learned and hon. and learned Members. I believe that so far every speaker is a member of the Bar. I at once declare my interest as being from the solicitors' profession and I hope that I can give a different slant to some of the arguments in favour of the Bill.
May I join at once in the praise and congratulations to the Streatfeild Committee and for the most valuable Report on which the Bill has been based. As has been said, the objective of the Committee and of the Bill has been, first, to see how the administration of criminal justice can be more expeditiously carried out so as to avoid delays, and secondly, to see how full information of the background of convicted persons can be provided to the courts so that the courts may know the appropriate penalties to impose.
In dealing with criminal justice, one is always apt to think only of the housebreakers, the personal assault cases, robbery with violence, and so on, but a great deal of the time of the criminal courts is taken up, on the one hand, with serious motoring offences, and, on the other, with very long Revenue cases, conspiracy cases, or cases arising out of company law. I think that a very useful provision of the Bill recognises that fact. It occurs in Clause 12 (2), which empowers magistrates to consider, when committing, the fact that the trial is likely to be a long one and to choose the assizes or quarter sessions appropriate for it. I think that that will assist in the general speeding up of administration.
Clause 1 provides for the increase in the number of judges; one is, therefore, 95 concerned to see whether the time of the judges is to be properly spent. Unlike other speakers, I regret that the Streatfeild Committee did not recommend, and as a result the Bill does not include, the extension of the system of Crown courts. We have seen the success attending the permanent courts in Liverpool and Manchester, and it seems to me that both the final decision of the Streatfeild Committee and the Bill are perpetuating the rather archaic system and paraphernalia of the assize court, and, indeed, the discomfort and disorganisation of the assize system.
It is not only a system of a peripatetic judge, but a system of peripatetic administration. To that degree, those of us in the solicitors' profession who deal with these cases from the administration point of view, have great difficulty in dealing properly with a case under the assize system, where even the administration of the court is moving about the country. Surely modern transport makes it wholly unnecessary that the judge should go to the people with a fanfare of trumpets, as he did in the old days.
May I quote from the Streatfeild Report the paragraph which, when I first read it, made me think that the Committee would recommend the extension of the Crown court system? It is paragraph 124, on page 40, in which the Committee says:We are satisfied that if the need to solve the present problems were the only relevant consideration, there would be clear advantage in setting up Crown Courts in those areas where there was sufficient work to occupy a continuously sitting court. A Crown Court would provide speedier trial, would result in more judge-time for civil assize work and would automatically solve any problems caused by pressure of work at those quarter sessions which it absorbed.The paragraph goes on to give further reasons why the Crown court system would provide a more expeditious administration of justice.
The members of the Committee then put forward, as I read the Report, only one reason why they did not adopt the Crown court system or did not recommend its extension. The reason which the Committee gives is that it would cause staleness in the judge. Frankly, I do not follow that argument. I have never heard it put forward about stipendiary magistrates or county court 96 judges. Even if one accepts it, the judge of the Crown court could be changed over a matter of years. There is no need for him to remain the judge of that court for life. The whole administration of justice would, I am sure, as the Streatfeild Committee says, be speedier and more convenient if the Crown court system were extended. However, the provisions in the Bill which extend the jurisdiction of quarter sessions and the provision for magistrates to commit to the more convenient court will be extremely beneficial.
In general, what the public will look for in the Bill is whether it meets the situation which has arisen out of the increased volume of crime. Many people are most concerned about the attitude of the Government towards crime generally, and they will consider whether this piece of legislation deals with the matter as seriously as the situation demands and whether the Bill treats the administration of criminal justice quite seriously enough.
I should like to deal now with one or two narrow points. One arises out of Clause 7, which deals with the position of recorders, and the appointment of deputy recorders and assistant recorders. It does not make provision for a solicitor to be appointed a recorder. We already have laid down by Statute the fact that a solicitor can be appointed a stipendiary magistrate, chairman of quarter sessions or deputy-chairman of quarter sessions. If the qualifications of a solicitor are sufficient for appointment as chairman of quarter sessions, I should have thought that they would be sufficient for appointment as recorder, or certainly for appointment as a deputy recorder or assistant recorder. For that matter, why should not the solicitors' profession qualify for judgeships? Some who have sat as chairmen of Commissions or Departmental Committees are well known to this House and would be admirably suited for judicial appointments. However, that is a rather wider point than that which I wanted to make, which was that solicitors should be qualified for appointment as recorders.
The next point arises under Clause 8, which deals with recorders' salaries, and the unfortunate position in which the recorder has been placed up to the present with regard to his salary. May I remind my right hon. and learned 97 Friend that this position applies equally to clerks of the peace of cities and boroughs. Clerks of the peace of both cities and boroughs rely for their salaries on the good will of the local authority. Local authorities do not realise the amount of work which a clerk of the peace has to undertake. The Bill provides that, in future, the Lord Chancellor shall be able to fix the salary of a recorder. Why should not the same apply to clerks of the peace? Why should not the Lord Chancellor or the Home Secretary be empowered to fix their salaries?
I have here lists of clerks of the peace of cities and boroughs who are receiving fantastically small salaries. When some of the salaries are worked out on an hourly basis, they amount to far less than a charwoman is paid. A clerk of the peace has to put in an immense amount of work and yet, in very many cases, his services are not recognised in any way by the local authority. In my view, it is time that the Lord Chancellor or the Home Secretary was given the right to direct the proper salaries, especially since under the Bill the duties of clerks of the peace are bound to be increased.
My last point relates to Clause 12. By Clause 12 (1) magistrates may commit to assizes or quarter sessions which are already in session. I foresee difficulty here if both parties do not agree. I should have thought it a very reasonable provision if there were a proviso that both prosecution and defence should agree to such a committal. Before the magistrates' court, the prosecution's case is usually complete. The prosecution has very little work to do between committal by the magistrates and the hearing of the case at quarter sessions or assizes. For the defence this is not so. The defence probably does not know the full purport of the case until the magistrates' court proceedings are completed.
A great deal of time is taken in obtaining the depositions from the prosecution. Sometimes one waits, as defending solicitor, literally for weeks before one can wheedle the copy depositions out of the prosecution.
§ Mr. Page
Out of the court. I accept my right hon. and learned Friend's cor 98 rection. At any rate, it takes a long time to get them.
It may well be that the defence is put in great difficulty if it is forced into a trial as quickly as is contemplated under Clause 12. One must remember also that, very often, at the magistrates' court stage the defendant is not represented and there is then all the business of his arranging for representation before trial. I hope, therefore, that my right hon. and learned Friend will consider this provision again.
Finally, in general I should have liked to see a far bolder treatment of the subject of the Bill and far more imaginative reforms. I believe that the Bill's provisions could have been more revolutionary and could have brought about far more expeditious and far more convenient administration of criminal justice than will be the case as matters now stand. However, the Bill goes a long way and, of course, I strongly support it for that.
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)
There has been a delightful spirit of harmony in the Chamber this afternoon which I should be the last to try to disturb. I, too, congratulate the Government upon what must be almost unique expedition in the presentation of the Bill. The Streatfeild Committee was appointed in June, 1958. It reported in February of last year. The Second Reading of the Bill in another place was in November last year. I am very glad to see the Government acting with such expedition. The Bill, of course, implements the recommendations made in Part A of the Report of the Streatfeild Committee.
The Streatfeild Report revealed what was described, I think, in the Report itself as indefensible, that is to say, the delay which many accused persons suffered before being brought to trial. The learned Attorney-General gave us the figures, quoting from the Report. 'I wish to refer to some of them again because they are, I believe, of very great importance.
In 1957, 1,200 people waited more than three months from the time they were committed to the time of trial, and 400 actually waited more than four months. As the Attorney-General told 99 us, 40 per cent. of that number were in custody throughout that period. More significant still is the other figure which was quoted, of 1,700 people committed in custody. Three hundred were subsequently acquitted. Of course, when a sentence of imprisonment is imposed, the learned judge can take into account the period during which the person has been kept in custody, but of 9,200 who were kept in custody, 2,000 were given sentences which did not involve detention and, therefore, of course, the period of custody could not be taken into account.
Merely to state these figures is to show how manifestly unjust such a system is. It is unfair to the accused person, of course, that there should be this delay, but it is also unfair in the public interest because the public interest requires that justice should be expeditious. Witnesses have to come along after a long period to give evidence at a time when their recollection is not very clear and they may have forgotten many things. On the face of it, therefore, this reform is plainly necessary.
I gladly welcome the provisions in the Bill for the increase in the number of judges, for the arrangements for the reorganisation of quarter sessions and assizes, and for the extension of the jurisdiction of magistrates. I am sure that they will help to solve our present problem.
In another place, reference was made to the recommendations in the second part of the Streatfeild Report. Those recommended provisions were welcomed and it was said that, apart, I think, from one point only, nothing was required by way of legislation to implement them. It was clearly promised that administrative measures would be adopted to deal with the recommendations under Part B of the Report. The discussion in another place was in November last year.
Can the Attorney-General tell us what arrangements, if any, have been made and whether any of the measures recommended by the Streatfeild Committee under Part B of its Report have yet been adopted? If they have not, what is the intention with regard to them and what measures is it proposed to adopt? This is a matter of very great importance, and 100 everyone agree, I think, that the recommendations are well worthy of consideration and adoption.
I turn now to the question of Crown courts. Apparently, the only criticism of the recommendation made by the Streatfeild Committee and of the course adopted in the Bill has been the criticism offered by the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page). I cannot disagree with him more. I carefully read the arguments put forward concerning the adoption of the principle of Crown courts. There is a great deal of weight in the argument that if one has a Crown court the judge is isolated and tends to become stale. There is a great deal in the idea of having a High Court judge travelling round the country, at times doing civil work and at other times criminal work, bringing a fresh mind to bear. The decision of the Streatfeild Committee not to put forward an idea of a system of Crown courts but, rather, the system now embodied in the Bill, is, in my view, the correct one.
I must say a word in criticism of Clause 15 (2) of the Bill, which states:The length of any term of imprisonment, corrective training or preventive detention imposed by the sentence of any court shall be treated as reduced by any period during which the offender was in custody before the sentence by reason only of having been committed for trial, remanded after arraignment, or committed (under section twenty-eight or section twenty-nine of the Magistrates' Courts Act, 1952…)Of course, it was always open to the tribunal to take into account, when sentencing a man, the period during which he has been kept in custody. I am glad to see this is now mandatory, but I wonder why the period a person is kept in custody before committal is not to be taken into account? This is limited only to the period after committal. I should have thought, in principle, that whatever period a person has spent in prison—whether before or after committal, whether it was, in fact, in summary proceedings or otherwise—should be taken into account.
After all, if the tribunal desires, it can always take the matter into account by adding some period of time to the sentence. It must be remembered that not only does one get a delay, as it is set out in the Streatfeild Report, but one often gets delay in summary proceedings. It was not within the terms of the 101 Streatfeild Committee to deal with summary proceedings, but the Committee pointed out that there is the occasional delay in arranging for summary cases to be heard. Therefore, I urge that if it is right to take into account the period spent by a person in prison while awaiting trial it should be the whole period and not merely the period after committal.
I referred earlier to the expedition with which the Government have dealt with this Report. What a contrast this is to the way the Government have been handling some other necessary reforms in our criminal administration. The Report of the Streatfeild Committee pointed out that the recommendations made by the Byrne Committee on Depositions, in 1949, has not yet been implemented and I would remind hon. Members that one of the main recommendations of that Committee was that a sufficient number of sittings in each week should be set aside to ensure that all indictable cases are dealt with regularly and promptly.
All who are familiar with the long cases that come for trial know that committal proceedings in the magistrates' courts take a long time. They are often heard with long gaps between them for short periods on different afternoons. What a saving there would be, not only for the accused person but to everyone else concerned, if that recommendation were adopted.
I notice that the Report of the Aarvold Committee—the Inter-departmental Committee on Magistrates' Courts in London—has just been issued. That deals with many important things in connection with magistrates' courts, but not with the point which I am putting, and I should have thought that the opportunity might have been taken to have dealt with the matter in this Bill.
The Streatfeild Committee's Report refers toa body of opinion which takes the view that the present procedure is outmoded and that the evidence should no longer have to be heard by the magistrates in every case and then recorded in sworn depositions.It goes on:This radical reform, which would result in a substantial saving of time in magistrates' courts,…I realise that the Government may say that the Bill under discussion deals only with the recommendations made by the 102 Streatfeild Committee. But, after all, it is a very important Bill carrying out very important reforms—and carrying them out essentially for the purpose of having cases dealt with expeditiously and to avoid delay. Why was this opportunity not taken to adopt these other methods which would certainly have assisted considerably the aims of the Bill, to deal with these matters expeditiously and to avoid delay?
May I suggest a further necessary reform which should have been dealt with in the Bill? The Tucker Committee was appointed in June, 1957. It reported in July, 1958, and made unanimous recommendations with regard to the publication of detailed evidence in committal proceedings before the examining justices. I know that the Attorney-General supported those recommendations. Indeed, he gave evidence in their favour. That Committee was asked to deal with the matter with a sense of urgency in 1957. The Committee did so. It handled the matter as an urgent and important one. The Committee held a considerable number of meetings, heard evidence and, as I say, reported in July, 1958.
More than three and a half years have passed and not only has nothing been done to implement any of its recommendations, but there has not even been an opportunity for the House to discuss the matter—a matter which, in 1957, this Committee was told to deal with urgently and as a matter of importance. I emphasise that because I have raised this matter on a number of occasions without receiving any reply. I hope that something will be said today so that hon. Members will know just what are the Government's intentions. I hope that there may be an opportunity of inserting something in the Bill during the Committee stage to deal with the recommendations made by the Tucker Committee.
I welcome the Bill and the reforms it initiates. I think that it goes a long way to solve the problems dealt with by the Streatfeild Committee.
§ 6.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Antony Buck (Colchester)
It was not originally my intention to participate in the debate, bust there have been so many interesting points raised that I am grateful to have this opportunity of commenting on some of them.
103 At the beginning of his speech the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) laid great stress, as have other speakers, on the delay in criminal proceedings and the great improvement that the Bill will make in the affairs of the administration of criminal justice. The Bill should, and almost definitely will, cut down many of the delays about which the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North complained, delays, that is, in bringing criminals or alleged criminals to trial. We hope that the Bill will lead to an improvement in the statistics set out in the Streatfeild Committee's Report.
This is largely to be done by the appointment of new judges, supported by a reorganisation of our circuit system. There is another aspect of delay which, I hope, will be assisted after the Bill becomes law. The judges have, naturally, felt the weight of the number of cases which is placed upon them. This has led from time to time to another type of inconvenience and delay, namely, the gross overloading of lists on circuit and elsewhere. By the appointment of more judges and by the reorientation of the circuit system, the pressure should be taken from the judges so that there will not be the overloading of lists which there has been from time to time on circuit and elsewhere.
On occasions, witnesses, sometimes medical witnesses, or witnesses with important jobs to do, are kept waiting all day, until perhaps five o'clock in the evening, just kicking their heels in the corridors with virtually no chance of the case in which they are concerned coming on, but they have to wait because some other case might collapse, or the judge might have half-an-hour to spare while a jury is considering its verdict.
That has been a feature of the past and one which will be alleviated by the Bill. Judges will not feel it absolutely imperative that every moment of their time must of necessity be filled. They may feel that they have greater leisure and are in a position to organise their lists in a way which does not involve periods of substantial delay for witnesses and for counsel, although, of course, counsel are of much less importance.
104 In a most interesting speech, the hon. and learned Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine) expressed his devotion to the proposition of having legally qualified chairmen of quarter sessions supported by lay magistrates. This is a proposition to which I subscribe, and, like the hon. and learned Member, I view with some suspicion the Clause which makes it possible for a chairman of quarter sessions to sit alone if justices are not available. This is a principle of some danger which will have to be watched most carefully.
The overall proposition of having a legally qualified chairman sitting with lay justices is, as I say, one to which I subscribe. In this context, I would refer to the question of the training of magistrates. It was referred to in another place and, in my submission, it might well have been dealt with in the Bill, although it is not covered directly by the Streatfeild Committee's recommendations. One of the great values of the Bill is that it ties up many loose ends and strengthens the position of the magistrates. Here was an opportunity to put the question of the training of magistrates on a more regular basis.
During the very few moments that I have been out of the Chamber, I turned up the Report of the Royal Commission on Justices of the Peace, the du Parcq Commission, which reported in 1948. It dealt with the question of the instruction of justices in their duties and stated:What we think is possible and should be done is to train justices to understand the nature of their own duties rather than the substantive law that they administer".That is a proposition to which I think we would all subscribe. At the moment, there are most admirable training courses organised on a local basis by the committees of the justices and clerks to the justices. There has been an interesting correspondence in The Times on the subject of the quality of such courses. I do not feel in any way qualified to comment on that, save to say that, reading the correspondence, one notices that some doubts are cast on the efficacy and efficiency on some of the courses. But some are of the highest order.
What is a little disturbing is that so many of the magistrates who attend the 105 courses do not need to do so. The keen ones, the ones who know their rules of procedure and rules of evidence, attend, while those who could do with a course do not attend, and there is no compulsion on them to do so. I should have thought that it was appropriate to deal with this problem in the Bill and to make sure that magistrates receive some instruction in the rules of evidence; and particularly in these days, when the means of dealing with a criminal are more manifold than they were in the past, that they should be instructed in what they can do by way of sentencing a person who is found guilty. This would strengthen the position of the magistrates and would thus strengthen our legal system.
I should now like to comment on some of the remarks of the right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) and of the hon. and learned Member for Edge Hill who took it upon themselves to criticise the Clause in which the appeals committee of quarter sessions is done away with. I have the temerity to take up arms against them secure in the knowledge that I am supported by the Streatfeild Committee and by my own Front Bench. I should like to deal with the arguments put forward on a practical basis. Precisely the same people tend to sit on appeals committees as sit at quarter sessions. With an occasional exception, that is what happens in my experience. In these circumstances, the preservation of the appeals committees is doing no one any good.
The existence of an appeals committee as a separate entity from quarter sessions leads from time to time to somewhat ridiculous results. For example, recently, to my knowledge, a person was committed from a magistrates' court to a quarter sessions appeals committee under Section 29 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1948, for sentence. This young offender was put before quarter sessions through another body. The same bench sat as quarter sessions and as an appeals committee, yet it had to go through the farcical business of constituting itself first as a quarter sessions and then as an appeals committee. It had to defer one case and then, in this schizophrenic situation, change itself into an appeals committee. That is the sort of thing which happens in practice. I would give 106 my support to the Clause which does away with appeals committees.
All in all, the Bill has been universally welcomed on both sides of the House. In spite of the fact that he is not present, I should like to comment on the most interesting speech of the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, North-East (Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas) about the hazards of going into the Chancery Division. As a common lawyer, I have always been conscious of those hazards, but for the first time I realise their degree. Friends of mine who practise in that Division say that it conducts its affairs on the highest level, and the 87 steps to which reference has been made gives even more point to that than I could. One can subscribe to what the hon. and learned Gentleman said about the need for better accommodation, not merely in the Chancery Division, but in other divisions of the High Court and in courts throughout the country. That is a point of general application.
Some of the courts—the Probate and Divorce courts, for example—not only have the hazards which are experienced in the Chancery Division, but during the summer months, often at the crucial point of one's cross-examination, the peals of "oranges and lemons" come loudly and clearly through the windows, which, one might sometimes feel, is an interesting comment on one's attempts at cross-examination.
I know that the Government Front Bench will give close attention to all these matters of accommodation. The Bill does much to streamline and to assist the administration of justice and it will command respect from all sides of the House.
§ 7.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)
It was correctly anticipated when the debate began that this would be a lawyer's holiday. I certainly am diffident about creating an atmosphere which would in any way mar the holiday which has taken place. I listened with care to the interesting speech by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine), and I noticed his emphasis upon his belief that it would be inappropriate for a solicitor to take a place on the bench in this country. Despite the obvious provocation of remarks of that kind, I do 107 not want to pursue that aspect, but rather to pursue an aspect raised in another place by Lord Silkin and which has been touched upon here today, namely, whether the fact that we now create more judges may not in the long run—certainly not in the short run—lead to dilution and to lowering of the quality which is so essential if the great tradition of English justice is to be maintained.
I am aware that 53 judges is a very small number, but the fact that it is so small means that their responsibilities and their need to be of considerable quality is the greater. When this matter was raised in another place, the Lord Chancellor gave many reassurances and spoke of the fact that there was no difficulty on his part in selecting judges whom he considered to be of suitable quality. I am, however, aware of the disquiet which has been expressed that there seems to be a great change in the quality of those who one day will be expected to be judges and who have entered the profession in more recent years.
I am aware that there are considerable difficulties which have resulted, for example, in the fact that the statistics prepared annually by the Bar Council show a disquieting decrease in the number of persons called to the Bar or continuing as practising members of the Bar. In 1959 and 1960, for example, 62 barristers who had been in practice for over ten years ceased to practise, while no fewer than 27 who had been in practice for under ten years turned to other occupations.
Faced with a situation of that kind, and faced with similar dangers which occur among solicitors in an endeavour to attract greater numbers to the profession, it is to the credit of the Law Society that that body has taken considerable action whereby it has recast, or is about to do so, its whole system of education to ensure quality. The Law Society has arranged that grants will be available during training and that payment will be possible after graduation while a clerk is articled to a solicitor.
And yet, although all of us who are concerned with the quality of our justice must be concerned about the quality of the Bar, we now know that it is four 108 years since the Master of the Rolls, Sir Hartley Shawcross, as he then was, in his capacity as Chairman of the Bar Council, supported by the then President of the Law Society, put forward proposals involving some form of common educational and examination system for both branches of the profession. Obviously, he had in mind a scheme which would be likely to attract more people of greater quality to the Bar. I am well aware that the Attorney-General has taken a personal interest in the matter and, if The Times is correct, on 15th June he had some hard things to say about the inability of the Inns of Court to reach collective decisions on this very question of a common legal educational system.
I would say, speaking not as a solicitor but as a Member, that the Bar must recognise fully that as changes are taking place whereby, through legal aid schemes, the community is paying out most of the incomes of a large proportion of barristers, it has duties and responsibilities to the community.
The days when Bar students could be maintained for years are over and now, in many cases, the cream of our young men are turning their backs on the hazards of the Bar and will not continue or submit to present arrangements, which, historically speaking, are founded on considerations of wealth and social origin, considerations which are being refuted by the community at large in favour of personal merit and ability.
The Streatfeild Report has directed attention particularly to another aspect of the need for care to be taken in the education of those who contemplate joining the Bar and, ultimately, the Bench. In paragraph 299 of its Report, the Committee recognises that sentencing is an emergent branch of the law. Some of us may consider it a rather sad comment, if not a bitter one, on the present system that the Report has to recommend judges to visit penal institutions. One would have thought that that would have been done long ago.
Is it not the case that although a barrister may come to the point of being a judge, well equipped with a vast knowledge of law, it may equally be the case in many instances that he has no knowledge of penology or criminology? A solicitor lacks any formal education 109 in these subjects, too. He may know little about the etiology of delinquency, but at least empirically, if he has a sufficient desire he can learn something by his very contacts with the roots of crime.
By the way that matters are now arranged, however, the barrister is deliberately and completely insulated from any contact with the criminals with whom he has to deal. That is why he can arrive at the position that when he has to impose sentence, he has no knowledge other than a layman's knowledge of the people whom he has to sentence or recommend for this or that treatment.
Although it would be desirable for these people to have the training long before they get to the bench, I should like to ask specifically whether the recommendation made by the Streatfeild Committee in paragraph 299 that there should be available a standing booklet on sentencing is being implemented. This may seem an elementary matter, and it only shows the gaps that exist in sentencing policy that at this belated stage it has been thought necessary to introduce a booklet. I should like to know whether steps have been taken for such a booklet to be prepared.
The Streatfeild Committee, too, made a recommendation concerning the creation of a central authority to which a sentencer can notify his interest in a certain case so that he may receive regular reports on the progress of the offender in the institution and during after-care. Is such a central authority in course of preparation?
It is because of the inadequacies that, by his very training, must often afflict a sentencer that I welcome the recommendation which is intended to provide that fuller guidance and information be given from probation officers to the sentencer. The Committee, however, has certainly not overstated the position in paragraph 363 when it says:…our recommendations will substantially increase the number of enquiries made by an already hard-pressed service".These recommendations, as the House knows, would make it mandatory on the probation officer to prepare reports of all cases where the accused does not object or is under 30 or has not been previously convicted. That requires not the probation officer alone but the police, the 110 prison authorities, and, ofttimes, the medical officer to make reports.
Each Session I am in this House I find that there is another Bill placing more and more burdens upon the probation officer It is very easy for us to pass these Bills or to implement these recommendations, but they fall upon the hapless probation officer. I know what happens when one discusses these matters with any city probation officer. Typically, he has at any one time hundreds—at least scores—of juveniles and adults upon whom he has to make reports each year to the magistrates and very often scores of reports as matters stand at present on juveniles in custody, and now to the attendance officers who are in charge of the attendance centres.
Now, too, we have made him, under the Adoption Acts, the guardian ad litem, and we have given him more recently the duty of after care after a person's release from a detention centre. He has probation orders by the score to follow up. Under the last Act, the Matrimonial Proceedings Act, we even make him a vicarious parent. Now he is having thrown upon him the massive burdens of this Streatfeild Report. I think we are entitled to ask as to what is happening to the Departmental committee which is dealing with the probation officers. I believe I am correct in saying that we were told at the end of November that we should have its report very soon, but in view of the fact that we are told that this scheme is being implemented under the Streatfeild Report we are entitled to know when we may have the report which will deal with the position of the probation service and whether that report meets the needs of the recommendations of the Streatfeild Report.
There is, however, another factor about these reports which I regard as of such importance that it should not be left, to Committee, as was suggested by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice), because the extension of these reports, the reports to come from probation officers, from prison authorities, reports which have to come if necessary from medical officers, introduces, in my view, a new and disquieting if not sinister element into the procedure in our criminal courts.
111 It is not, of course, only probation officers' reports which come under these recommendations, and which must be available now, if these recommendations come into effect, to the judge 24 hours before the trial of the accused. So must the police report and the report of the prison authorities, and, if appropriate, of a doctor. It is intended under these recommendations before the trial begins that the judge will have directed to his attention all the previous convictions of an accused, all his domestic and family circumstances, the date of his last discharge from prison, his general reputation according to the police, his associates, his employment record, all, in short, that is to be known about the accused and which may be in any way regarded as related to or relevant to his alleged culpability.
The innocent man without a conviction or an innocent man under 30 living, perhaps, with someone not his wife, and who will have pleaded not guilty, will be facing a judge who will have full knowledge of all his faults and all his failures. I put the question, does not this recommendation, that the judge should know all this before the trial begins, drive a coach and four through our passionate belief in the principle that a man must be presumed to be innocent till he is proved to the contrary? What is the point of the scrupulous rules of evidence, the exclusion of knowledge of previous convictions, of the questions dealing with character, if the judge is to know all that can be known of an accused man 24 hours before his trial begins?
Naturally, this point did not escape the notice of the Streatfeild Committee, and it is discussed in paragraph 333, where it puts forward what may be called its apologia for what, in my view, is a serious breach of a great tradition. It says that the fact that this knowledge will come before the judge 24 hours before the trialwould not in our view be open to objection on the grounds of possible prejudice. The statement would not be seen by the jury, who are alone concerned with the issue of guilt, but by the judge who"—I think many Members of this House would be rather surpised to learn—has already been supplied with a confidential list of the previous convictions of the person for trial.112 In short, it is saying that there is in existence already this knowledge at least of his previous convictions and in these circumstances we should extend this principle and give all this information which is to be called for by order from all these various parties so that the judge knows all about the man when he goes to attend his trial.
We have listened today to the question, for example, as to whether we should have Crown courts in one place, and it has been pointed out that judges are fallible and so forth, and that a system of that kind may perhaps lead to deterioration in justice which should be administered. I accept the fact that judges are fallible and to ascribe to them Olympian detachment which enables them to give a summing-up completely free from any possible prejudice even although they will know every piece of possible information which can be collected by reports is, in my view, overvaluing the very great capacity and detachment of the judges of this country, and I think it requires great care and thought before we move forward—or backwards—in this direction.
However, even if we do not accept all that I am saying, I think that if there is not great care shown the whole of these recommendations concerning reports, which, after all, are the main part of Part B of the Streatfeild Report, will fall to the ground, for I would ask this of the Attorney-General: what advice are solicitors going to give to an accused? Even if the solicitor accepts the infallibility of the judge, surely he would be under a duty to explain to any man whom he is defending that he can either object to the probation officer about giving these reports or not; he would have to be told, and I think it would be the duty of his solicitor to explain to him, that if in fact he does object the judge will know nothing except perhaps for his previous convictions, but if in fact he does not object, the judge will have full knowledge of all that, for example, the prison authorities may think of him, or the police may think of him. I think it would be the duty of the solicitor to put it to the accused, and I think the overwhelming majority of those from whom it would be the duty of the solicitor to obtain instruction would decline to give a report, and indeed if they did, it is 113 possible the judge would think the accused had no record, or at least he would know very little about him even though it is desirable, according to the Report, before sentence.
All I am pointing out is that these proposals are self-defeating, and unless much more thought is directed to the question of the timing of these reports the whole of the recommendations about the information to which the judges are to have access on conviction before sentence fall to the ground. I believe—and I stress this aspect—that in any event the recommendation is dangerous, if only because it undermines our principle of the presumption of innocence of the accused. I feel that it cuts across our tradition and the notion of little delay between conviction and sentence—the very thing the Streatfeild Report is seeking—may, as a result of the timing I complain of, be sabotaged.
A few other matters connected with this important principle require clarification. I should like to know—because I cannot spell it out from the Streatfeild Report as it stands—how the man in custody will indicate his objection to pre-trial inquiries made by the prison authorities. Can I have an assurance that, if these recommendations are implemented, no attempt will be made by the prison authorities to obtain information from the accused, his employers or parents, or other outside sources, until notification has been given by the probation officer that the accused, or his solicitor, has given consent for this?
As is clear from paragraph 389 of the Report, the preparation of the prison report involves interviewing the accused. It is quite repugnant that any form of questioning should be conducted by prison staff with an accused in custody unless the accused, with the consent of his solicitor, has clearly indicated that he has no objection to this being done. This aspect of the matter is not clear from the Report, and requires clarification.
I also want to say a few words on the question of medical reports. These will now assume very much greater importance. I welcome this, and I welcome the fact that all these reports will come to the attention of the court. What I do sot welcome is the timing. I hope that these medical reports will be of 114 ever increasing influence in helping the person who has to pass sentence to decide how a man should be dealt with.
For the most part these medical reports will come from prison medical officers. Inevitably, most of them will be directed to the mental capacity or deficiencies of the accused—his aberrations, eccentricities and background; the sort of knowledge one would expect from a psychiatrist with experience in dealing with delinquents. On 15th December, 1960, I asked the Home Secretary about the number of prison medical officers who held diplomas in psychological medicine. In a Written Answer he said:Few prison medical officers who submit reports to court on the mental condition of inmates possesses a recognised psychiatric diploma, though all have experience in the diagnosis of mental disorder and the majority are approved by local health authorities for the purposes of Section 28 of the Mental Health Act, 1959."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th December, 1960; Vol. 632, c. 74.]This reply caused some comment in the medical Press. A former prison medical officer commented:It is of interest to speculate upon what the Home Secretary meant by ' experience in the diagnosis of mental disorder'.I submit that these reports will, unfortunately, come from men who, whatever their intentions may be, are not fully equipped to deal with the matters in hand and which will be of direct importance to the sentencer. The doctor went on to say:It only takes two years working in an approved hospital to sit for the D.P.M. so that many of the medical officers in the prisons without a diploma in psychiatry"—and they are the majority, according to the Report—must either be failed D.P.M.s ' or have worked in the psychiatric field for less than two years.The doctor, who is a psychiatrist, commented:It also has to be acknowledged that often the first year in psychiatry is spent in the wards with chronic deteriorated schizophrenics, etc., and not in the sort of atmosphere that leads to an interest, and perhaps expertise, in appraising the neurotics, the sociopaths and the inadequate personalities ', this latter group forming the diagnosis in some 47 per cent. of all the state of mind reports made from H.M. Prison, Brixton in 1957.There clearly needs to be a reconsideration of the method by which we can induce more psychiatrically trained 115 people to enter the prison medical service, if the reports which are to be submitted as recommended in the Streatfeild Report are to be of any real value.
The prison medical service is an hierarchical structure and the medical officer entering the service with two, three or more years previously spent obtaining psychiatric experience and a diploma is, unfortunately, not granted any seniority or additional pay; nor, indeed, is he certain to be given a full opportunity to work in the psychiatric field. I hope, therefore, that this debate will be brought to the attention of the Home Office, in order to see what can be done to improve the quality of psychiatrists in the prison medical service, so that, in the long run, we shall have doctors who can make medical reports which will be of great value to the judges who have to pass sentence.
Now I would like to turn to a matter actually dealt with in the Bill before us. Under Clause 2 provision is made for the appointment to the position of assistant clerks of assize of persons other than banisters or solicitors. I assume that such officers will have delegated to them the duties of assessing the remuneration and the fixing of the costs of solicitors both in respect of prosecutions and in cases under the Poor Prisoners' Defence Act, 1930. I know it is the view of the profession that it would be a retrograde step to assign such duties to officers whose previous experience does not qualify them to take on such an onerous task. These officers will have no up-to-date experience of work in solicitors' offices, or of the methods of assessing solicitors' costs, or of the ordinary day-to-day expenses and overheads incurred in running solicitors' offices.
If I were making a special plea in respect of solicitors' costs I might be regarded as very biassed, but I believe that the Law Society itself is going to make a report stating that the present procedure for the taxation of costs by clerks of assize is unsatisfactory. If assistant clerks of assize, who are unqualified men, are also to be allowed to undertake this duty the position is likely to become still more unsatisfactory. It is not only a question of solicitors' costs; it is a question of making certain that solicitors will defend those who are in trouble. In a recent speech the President 116 of the Law Society indicated that for every nine vacancies at present only one solicitor is available. Since many solicitors are now in a position where they can exercise a great deal of choice about the work they will do, unless the present unsatisfactory position about the taxation of costs is remedied they will be deterred from acting at all in criminal cases.
Finally, I want to deal with a very local matter, concerning South Wales. Paragraphs 182 and 183 of the Streatfeild Report deal with the County of Glamorgan. Paragraph 182 says:The assizes for the county of Glamorgan are at present held at Cardiff in the winter, at Swansea in the summer, and at Cardiff and Swansea alternately in the autumn.Representations have been made about the great difficulties arising, owing to the fact that:Most of the population of the county is grouped round one or other of these towns, and every term a large number of defendants, solicitors and witnesses travel the 50 miles or so between them.The Streatfeild Committee made a most sensible comment. It said that a prima facie case had been made out, and suggested that it should be possible for the judges to start at Swansea each term and then visit Cardiff before going to Newport and Chester. They certainly were directing their minds to the problem.
It is notorious that a large waste of public funds takes place when herds of witnesses, police officers, solicitors, and counsel all have to track 45 to 50 miles each time the assize is being held in one or other of the towns. The situation could be simply remedied if all the cases which are convenient to be dealt with in Cardiff so far as witnesses and all the other staff are concerned were set down for Cardiff, and those that affect Swansea were dealt with in the same manner.
The hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) has indicated the difficulties of the peripatetic system. It is a view that I substantially share with him, as do most solicitors who have the burden of trying to support it administratively. In this case, in Glamorgan, there is a simple remedy. I am very much disturbed to learn that despite the fact that a large amount of public money is wasted because this system is not yet 117 working, certain influences have been at work to make sure that this recommendation is not followed. I earnestly ask, since I know that it is a matter of great concern in South Wales, that it should be reviewed, and that the hint given by the Streatfeild Committee should be taken, so that there is the possibility each term of a judge being both at Cardiff and at Swansea.
I have spoken longer than is my wont, but if I have made some points of criticism of the Bill and of the Report it is not because I do not believe that in a very substantial way it is a progressive Bill.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Mr. John H. Osborn (Sheffield, Hallam)
It is not my wish to take up the time of the House for too long, but I speak as a layman and as a citizen of a city which will be affected by one Clause in the Bill. I refer to Clause 3, which relates to the appointment of a High Sheriff for the Sheffield Assize Division, which, for the purpose of the appointment of a sheriff and the execution of his functions, will be known as "Hallamshire".
Perhaps the House will forgive me, and will not regard it as irrelevant, if I draw attention to the term "Hallam-shire". It is a county that does not exist on the map. Hallam is the name given to the constituency which I represent in this House. The boundaries of this constituency are well known, but it is only part of the shire known as Hallamshire. It embraces the whole of Sheffield and covers the constituencies of my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Sir P. Roberts), part of the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Walder), and of my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. E. Wakefield), the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. J. Hynd), Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Winter-bottom), Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling), Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) and Rother Valley (Mr. D. Griffiths).
The boundaries of Hallamshire have been rather nebulous. It is, after all, a shire within a shire and the boundaries have always been in dispute. In 1638, the Earl of Shrewsbury's baliff defined Hallamshire as embracing the parishes of Sheffield, Ecclesfield Bradfield, and 118 subsequently that of Handsworth. By the seventeenth century the boundaries had become vague, particularly as an administrative area, although geographically the boundaries are still clear in men's minds. In 1624, the Act by which the Company of Cutlers in Hallamshire was incorporated specified that its authority should extend throughout Hallamshire and six miles around it. There is a map in the Cutlers' Hall of Sheffield at present showing the boundaries of Hallamshire as such and the extent of the authority of the Cutlers' Company in Hallamshire. I hope, Mr. Speaker, that you will forgive me raising this, but it is a geographic fact of interest to the citizens of Sheffield.
The main provisions of the Bill, which are, of course, to speed up the process of justice, will be welcome throughout the country and particularly in my city. My attention in discussions that I have had with people concerned with this matter has been drawn to the note on page 143 of the Streatfeild Report. Note 1 states:This has probably been the most hard-pressed circuit in recent years;This is a reference to the North East circuit.
Extra assizes have been held and the commissioners have sat frequently.The note goes on to state:In 1959, despite the extra assizes and 20 days' work by commissioners, there remanets at all towns and an estimated 93 judge-days would have been required to clear the work.It also states:It may be thought desirable that, with the York assizes regularly clashing that for the Leeds and Sheffield assizes, there should in future be two High Sheriffs.This has been brought to my attention and Clause 3 is, therefore, being welcomed. The Bill when implemented could well justify a speeding up of the long prepared proposals by Sheffield City Council for the development of its city centre. In the development plan for Sheffield it is scheduled that one day—it may be many years hence—a road should pass through the area now occupied by the present courts. But development plans can be changed, and it is my belief that the Bill will provide a reason to accelerate consideration of the construction of separate magistrates' courts in the new civic centre envisaged for my own city.
119 Comment on one of the general Clauses of the Bill has been brought to my attention during the Recess including comment from this year's President of the Sheffield District Incorporated Law Society to the effect that until a few years ago the congestion was such that Her Majesty's judges spent nearly the whole of their time dealing with criminal work and were left with no opportunity of dealing with the many civil actions which were entered in the list.
On page 14 of the Streatfeild Report there are two comments:But the judges organise the work as a team. The civil judge may take pleas of guilty on the first few days, and if the calendar is short, the criminal judge may have some time over at the end of the Assize for civil work.This has caused serious dislocation and delay.
When the Sheffield assize became an established fact it was intended that this move would do away with the arrears both in criminal and civil cases. Everyone in my area will support the recommendations of Mr. Justice Streatfeild and his Committee that a person accused of a crime shall be brought to trial as soon as reasonably may be. This has not always been possible in the past. Quite obviously, the rights of civil litigants in the Queen's Bench Division have also to be considered.
Much expense is involved in many cases where the actions have been entered for trial and had to be adjourned because they have not been reached owing to other business. Surely all Members of this House and all citizens of the country, particularly in my own city, will welcome measures to bring about quicker trials.
We are particularly concerned with the statement at the bottom of page 5 of the Report thatin as many as 5,000 cases a year (nearly a quarter of the total) the waiting period is longer than eight weeks; and it seems indefensible that 1.600 wait for longer than 12 weeks and that 400 of the 1,600 wait for longer than 16 weeks.This example was referred to by Mr. Justice Streatfeild.
I know that this Measure will be welcomed by all hon. Members, particularly the provision that divorce and civil 'proceedings may be dealt with as priority 120 matters in the criminal courts. There are many civil cases which have been waiting for years. Only too often have witnesses forgotten all the facts when a case comes up for trial and only too often are they unable to give satisfactory evidence, as it is well known that all those not connected with the law are notorious for having bad memories.
The Bill will be welcomed by all in industry, and particularly by the representatives of workpeople, as it will mean, I hope, that many of the civil cases which involve problems of workmen's compensation may be dealt with more quickly and the infliction of hardship avoided. Finally, may I take the opportunity of endorsing and welcoming the measures outlined in the Bill, particularly as they affect the people in my own city.
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
The Attorney-General must be gratified at the chorus of congratulation and approval with which this Bill has been welcomed on both sides of the House and not least by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. J. H. Osborn) who, with his special local knowledge, endorsed the proposal to create the new county of Hallamshire and gave the House such an interesting disquisition on the history of that part of Yorkshire.
The only serious discordant note was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse), who levelled a sustained barrage of criticism. I noted, however, that his criticism was directed much more against Part B of the Streatfeild Committee's Report than against Part A with which the Bill is primarily concerned. I have no doubt that my hon. Friend was wise, because it is only during the Second Reading debate, and not during the Committee stage discussions or the Third Reading, that we shall have an opportunity to refer to the important recommendations contained in Part B. I should like therefore, as did the Attorney-General, to begin by referring to the most important recommendations in Part B.
In the second part of its Report the Streatfeild Committee was charged to make recommendations regarding the provision of information necessary to the courts to enable them to select the most appropriate treatment for offenders. 121 It emerges from the Report that the Committee realised that in these days the problem of deciding on the appropriate sentence for a convicted prisoner is a much more difficult task than that of determining guilt. Indeed, one paragraph of the Report quotes the fact that nearly all the sentencers who gave evidence mentioned that passing sentence was one of the most difficult judicial duties. It is noteworthy that so much attention is being given today to this aspect of criminology.
There was a time, as the Attorney-General and others have recognised, when sentences for crime were decided almost by rule of thumb, what the Report refers to as the "tariff system". In recent years it has been recognised, with the advance of penology and the greater variety of forms of detention which are available, that far more care is required in determining what is the proper sentence. I am not sure that everyone recognises that today there is such a wide range of sentences available. In addition to imprisonment of the ordinary type, there is corrective training, preventive detention, Borstal training, detention in a detention centre, attendance at an attendance centre and detention in an approved school. The whole burden of Part B of the Report is directed to ensuring that judges, and all who pass sentences, are supplied with adequate information to enable them to award the most appropriate sentence in the interests of the public and of a convicted person.
The Report exposes the existing limitations and short-comings of that part of our judicial system. In another place the Lord Chancellor indicated that it was the intention of the Government and the Home Office to give effect to these recommendations by administrative action. I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary of State will be able to amplify that assurance.
My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool was concerned about some of the possible disadvantages of requiring probation officers to make pre-trial inquiries. I do not share his disquiet in that regard, but I am very concerned about the additional duties to be imposed on probation officers if, as I understand and hope to be the case, the Government intend to implement these requirements by administrative action.
122 For example, in future, according to paragraph 336 of the Report, a probation officer's report will include, as part of the essential details, particulars of the offender's home surroundings and family background; his attitude to his family, and their response to him; his school and work record and spare-time activities; his attitude to his friends; his attitude to the present offence and his attitude and response to previous forms of treatment following any previous convictions; detailed histories of relevant physical and mental conditions and an assessment of his personality and character.
Moreover, the Report definitely encourages probation officers not to be afraid to express quite definite opinions about the kind of sentence they think appropriate. I mention these matters because it is quite obvious that if due effect is to be given to the recommendations in the Report, the consequence seems to me to follow that the whole status of a probation officer will be considerably enhanced. His duties will be much greater. Far greater reliance will be placed upon him by the judiciary. At present, as stated in the paragraph of the Report quoted by my hon. Friend, paragraph 363, there is a shortage of probation officers. If these new duties are to be faithfully undertaken, it follows as a necessary consequence that there will be a considerable increase in the number of probation officers required, and some consequent expense. I hope that the Home Office will not flinch from the consequences which, as it seems to me, are implicitly involved in the carrying out of the recommendations in Part B of the Streatfeild Report.
Having said that, may I make a few observations about some of the provisions in the Bill. Most are matters of detail which may be more conveniently dealt with during the Committee stage. But some important points have emerged from this debate. I add my congratulations to the Streatfeild Committee on the thoroughness with which it has reviewed the problem and to the Government on the expedition with which they have carried out the recommendations.
In a nutshell, the proposals put forward provide for a more expeditious system of dealing with criminal offences 123 and in particular for removing the present state of affairs, which the Committee described as indefensible, whereby so many persons have to spend more than two months, some more than three months and a smaller number more than four months between committal and trial. Broadly speaking, the proposals embrace four kinds of change in our administrative arrangements. They enable some cases now triable only at assizes to be taken at quarter sessions. They extend the cases which, with the consent of the accused, can be dealt with summarily but which now have to go to quarter sessions. They involve a considerable extension of the "convenient court procedure". Most important of all, they involve a complete reorganisation of the present system of assizes and quarter sessions with considerable changes in the present system of circuits.
As one of the incidental consequences of these changes, I support wholeheartedly those provisions in the Bill which transfer to the Lord Chancellor responsibility for fixing the remuneration of recorders, deputy and assistant recorders, as well as paid chairmen and deputy chairmen of quarter sessions. It seems highly desirable that we should take this opportunity of putting an end to the scandalous under-payment of recorders which has existed for so long. All of us know of cases in which it has been a matter of real sacrifice and hardship for a person to accept the office of recorder. I also support the suggestion made in the Report—which has been mentioned by one or two hon. Members—that opportunity should also be taken to put an end to the anomalous—indeed, intolerable—hardship which recorders suffer in having to pay taxation on the inevitable expenses of performing their duties.
There has been a great deal of discussion about the proposal for the appointment of additional judges. I support the observations made by the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) that this Bill would seem to be an ideal vehicle for making the change which would enable solicitors to be eligible—certainly for appointment as recorders and deputy recorders—and I would go further and say, for any judicial office. Like the hon. Member for Crosby, I 124 must disclose an interest because I also am a solicitor. At the same time I would disclaim any ambition for any judicial appointment.
This problem of the judiciary to which a number of hon Members have referred is obviously a difficult one and obviously an important one. I was not struck by the argument used by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine), who objected to the proposals for strengthening the ladder of promotion whereby there would be more promotion to the High Court from the county court. His objection seemed to be that it would impair the independence of the judiciary to provide more hope of promotion. That seems totally ill-founded. One knows that in practice the independence of the judges to give fearless and impartial judgments in all cases is in no way impaired by the present system under which judges are promoted to the High Court, to the Court of Appeal, and hence to the House of Lords. It seems that the same principle would apply equally if there were greater recourse to the field of recruitment to the High Court from the county court bench.
In regard to the eligibility of solicitors it seems also anomalous that whereas a solicitor is qualified to act as chairman or deputy chairman of quarter sessions, he should not be eligible for appointment as a recorder or deputy recorder. Some solicitors have had very nearly as much practice in advocacy at county courts as some members of the Bar who become High Court judges. Apart from that, I think all of us know a number of distinguished members of the solicitors' profession who by their general ability, experience in practice and in other fields such as chairmen of Royal Commissions and Commissions of inquiry would be well-qualified to adorn the judicial bench.
All that is suggested is that opportunity should be taken in this Bill to remove the present bar of ineligibility. On this whole subject of the two branches of the profession I record my view, which I have held for some time. I do not think the watertight division of the legal profession into two branches is in the best interests either of the profession or of the public. I believe that eventually we shall move towards fusion, which 125 would be welcomed both by the profession and by the public. Already considerable judicial services that are rendered in the administration of criminal justice by solicitors as chairmen of quarter sessions, as stipendiary magistrates, and in other respects.
I share the disquiet, which was expressed by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edge Hill, and also by the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck), about the provision in the Bill that a qualified chairman of quarter sessions should be able to sit alone. I think that is an unfortunate recommendation. I do not know whether it is necessary in the interests of expedition. I think it must tend to diminish the significance and status of magistrates generally. I hope that on reflection the Attorney-General may think it an unwise provision in the Bill.
In this context I endorse what some of my hon. Friends have said on the general question of the desirability of improving existing schemes for training magistrates, I hope some attention will be given to the wider question of recruitment of magistrates. There was an important article in The Times on this subject the other day. No doubt the Attorney-General is familiar with it. A quotation was made from an October number of the Criminal Law Review expressing the opinion of a chairman of quarter sessions that about one-third of the justices on petty sessional benches are competent, one-third are passable and one-third ought not to be there at all. I have heard similar comments in different parts of the country. It is a situation which calls for attention by the Government.
Various suggestions have been made for widening the field from which lay justices are recruited. One suggestion is that there should be advisory committees. Another is that the Lord Chancellor should make freer use of recommendations by the local county court judge, the local law society and chairman of quarter sessions. Another suggestion is that there might be an increase in the practice of lay magistrates sitting with a stipendiary. Since we are in this Bill imposing additional duties on magistrates and transferring to their competence certain classes of criminal case with which they have not previously been able to deal, it is important that more attention should be 126 given to the general recruitment of magistrates.
That brings me to make two short references to two matters which are omitted from the Bill but which I hoped it might be found convenient to include in it. I should like to stress the Government's failure as yet to deal with the recommendations which were made in 1949 by the Departmental Committee on Depositions. There is a growing body of opinion which takes the view that the present committal procedure is outmoded and that the evidence should no longer have to be heard by the magistrates in every case and then recorded in sworn depositions. I hope that we shall be told that the Government are giving some attention to this.
Finally, there is the point about insanity which was referred to in the debate in another place but which was not very satisfactorily cleared up. Lord Chorley drew attention to three anomalies where the issue of insanity arises in criminal cases. The first question which he pointed out is whether an appeal should be allowed against a verdict of guilty but insane. I understand that this has been referred to the Criminal Law Revision Committee under Lord Justice Sellers. The second anomaly arose from the question whether the prosecution should be allowed to raise the issue of insanity where the defence is one of diminished responsibility. I am not sure whether that has been referred to the Criminal Law Revision Committee. There was some suggestion that it might be. Is the Attorney-General in a position to tell us whether this question will be dealt with?
The third question was the very difficult but important question of whether a person judged unfit to plead should be given the opportunity to test the prosecution's case against him. It was pointed out that there have been cases in which, owing to a finding of unfitness to plead, the defendant has never had the opportunity of establishing his innocence. He is deprived of a finding that he did not do the act alleged against him. He goes through life under a slur. His guilt has never been determined, although it is generally assumed. It is quite likely that this is an obstacle to his recovery. There is the further disadvantage that the police might well 127 drop their inquiries on the assumption that the person found unfit to plead had committed the crime. I hope that the Minister will give us an assurance that this question, difficult as it is, has been referred to the Criminal Law Revision Committee.
With those observations, like my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice), I cordially support the Bill and hope that the House will give it a Second Reading.
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Fletcher-Cooke)
We are all extremely grateful to the House for the virtually unanimous welcome which the Bill has received, and I should like to add my thanks and congratulations to Mr. Justice Streatfeild and his Committee for the first-class job which they did.
The debate has been almost entirely professional, as was expected, but, quite rightly—we do not object—it has ranged far wider than the matters dealt with either by the Streatfeild Committee or by the Bill. I could not help admiring the ingenuity of the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, North-East (Sir L. Ungoed-Thomas), who managed to give a fervent and interesting exegesis of the hopes and fears of the Chancery Division in a Bill dealing with criminal justice administration. It was a great performance and to me something of an essay in nostalgia when he explained the via dolorosa of the 87 stone steps up which litigants and their advisers have to traipse to get to the pure fountain of justice of Mr. Justice Plowman.
This Bill does not, and does not purport to, deal with accommodation except very indirectly, but I can assure him and others who have raised the question of accommodation that this is under immediate and urgent consideration by my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor and that we are by no means deaf, or unalive, to the very serious and not merely inconvenient but very undignified effect which the increase in litigation has had on the accommodation which is available.
But first things have to come first, with limited resources. The House will probably agree that the provision of suffi 128 cient personnel and sufficiently trained personnel in the administration of justice comes before accommodation, just as it does in so many other fields. For example, in my opinion the quality of the teacher is always more important than the nature of the building. Both are important, but one comes before the other.
The only lay contribution which we had to the debate was by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. J. H. Osborn), and I am sure that he will forgive me if I do not enter into this passionately-held dispute in the South Riding of Yorkshire, if there be such an area, about the exact provenance of the word "Hallam" and the word "Hallamshire". I am glad to know that a dispute which at one time looked as if it might lead almost to wrecking the Bill has been satisfactorily settled.
In his very warm welcome to the Bill, the right hon. and learned Member for Newport (Sir F. Soskice) put two questions which he wished to be dealt with, and others have done the same. Without necessarily taking up a position, he questioned the abolition of the appeal committee of quarter sessions by Clause 4. The reasons for this were partly given by my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck), whose speech we so much enjoyed. He explained from his personal experience at quarter sessions the tremendous inconvenience, amounting in his words sometimes to a situation of schizophrenia, when a quarter sessions appeals committee had to turn itself into an ordinary sitting of quarter sessions and back again, sometimes quite frequently. It would be no argument that this was very inconvenient if the reform which we proposed would lead to a diminution in the quality of justice.
However, for the reasons which have already been given in another place that will not happen. In 1933, when appeals committees were set up, things were very different. There were not nearly so many legally qualified chairmen of quarter sessions as there are now. In those days it was difficult to limit the number of justices who turned up at quarter sessions. Nowadays the rota system and other things are operating so much better that my hon. Friend will find that the quality of those who will in future listen to appeals will be just as good as 129 that of the old appeals committees. Therefore, the argument of convenience so well put by my hon. Friend seems to prevail.
My hon. Friend's second point concerned borough sessions. He asked whether it would not be right for the Lord Chancellor to have power to require boroughs to petition for separate sessions if they were unwilling to do so. Other hon. Members have explained the extraordinarily unsatisfactory situation which might arise if a recorder were to be forced on an unwilling borough. We accept that boroughs of this kind should be encouraged to apply. Perhaps there was a time when they were not always encouraged to apply, but that is not the view today. The view today is that they should be encouraged to apply.
If we were to wield the big stick, if the Lord Chancellor were to require boroughs to apply, we should get into an unnecessarily strained situation which would not be good for justice and certainly would not be good for local government. When the Boundary Commissions have finished their work and we see the picture more clearly, I believe that this problem, because it is a problem at present, will be found to be manageable and the boroughs in question will come forward, with encouragement, and apply for the sessions which they should undoubtedly have.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman was good enough to welcome the increase in the salary of recorders envisaged by the Bill. We all know that some recorders are still paid very little. Some still may be when the Bill becomes an Act. I should like to take this opportunity of congratulating my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General on his appointment as Recorder of Kingston-upon-Thames. There, he does this onerous job, which very often keeps him up late at night, for the princely salary of two loaves of sugar a year, which, in spite of the reasonableness of the salary, are sometimes not paid. It is not for me to say whether his salary in this post will be increased under the new dispensation.
As this is an uncontroversial Bill I hope that the House will forgive me if I make the rather boring speech of simply answering as best I can the questions which have been raised. The next speech 130 was delivered by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Epsom (Mr. Rawlinson), who said that he was a great believer in pre-trial inquiries in the matter of sentencing, as was the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher), unlike the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse).
§ Mr. Fletcher-Cooke
The hon. Member for Pontypool said that this was the most serious inroad into British justice, in that it would in some way prejudice the tribunal and the accused would feel that he was not getting a fair trial if all the details of his life were already known to the tribunal. I think that I am not doing the hon. Member an injustice when I make that comment on his speech.
§ Mr. Abse
That is far from my attitude. I am strongly in favour of pretrial inquiries, but I am not in favour of the result of the pre-trial inquiries being provided to the judge twenty-four hours before the trial. They should be given to the judge when the man has been convicted and before he is sentenced, but they should not be known when the man is presumptively innocent.
§ Mr. Fletcher-Cooke
The difficulty about that proposition is that, unless the tribunal is aware of the results of inquiries in advance, it is very difficult for it to have sufficient time to consider the matter. Altthough there is provision for an adjournment to consider what sentence should be imposed, and adjournments are likely to be more frequent in the future, we do not want them to be too frequent. Although adjournments now take place in about one per cent. of cases at assizes and in about 3 per cent. of cases at quarter sessions, the Streatfeild Committee said that it would not like those proportions to become very much higher. If the tribunal does not have this information and has to make up its mind there and then, it will almost inevitably mean more adjournments.
I remind the hon. Member that the Streatfeild Committee's recommendation is subject to these safeguards. First, the jury does not know any of these things before a conviction or an acquittal, as 131 the case may be, is obtained. It will know none of the results of these inquiries. It never has. Secondly, nothing will be done under the Streatfeild Committee's proposals without the consent of the accused. Pre-trial reports, not merely the factual report by the police which is at present made, but inquiries into the domestic, social and educational origins of accused persons, are essential if we are to expedite the administration of justice and not have too many adjournments between conviction and sentence. Such delays can be very bad from the point of view of the administration of justice, almost as bad as pre-trial delays.
My hon. Friend the Member for Denbigh (Mr. Morgan) answered the point of the right hon. and learned Member for Newport about forcing recorders on unwilling boroughs. My hon. Friend also raised the question of the cysts of prosecutions. This is a difficult subject. The Bill does no more than the Streatfeild Committee recommended in that to a certain extent it alleviates the problem to which my hon. Friend drew attention, but only to a certain extent. The Bill adopts this principle. It says that in transferred cases and difficult court cases and in connection with the new flexibility, when a court may differ from the ordinary court which either tries or sentences an accused, an authority shall ultimately bear the costs which it would have had to bear if the normal course had been pursued.
Therefore, there will be in nobody's mind any inhibition or bar against using this new flexible procedure relating to transferred or convenient court cases because people might think that somehow the wrong local authority would have to bear the burden.
It goes further than that, because I think for the first time, and certainly to a larger extent than ever before, recovery of costs shall extend not only to the actual costs of the prosecution—that is to say, payment of witnesses, and so on—but shall also take account of the general expenses of holding the court, and a proportion of those expenses shall be refunded. It does not go further than that, and I cannot give my hon. Friend any further answer. He said that the central Government bore a large part of 132 the costs of prosecutions in the nineteenth century. I think that I am right in saying that that state of affairs lasted for only about forty-five years. It evidently was not considered very satisfactory, because it was altered in 1888.
The hon. and learned Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Mr. A. J. Irvine) referred to something that has run through this debate: to what extent will the Bar, the traditional source of judges, be able to supply a high standard of recruits to the Bench if the Bench is increased even by as many as five? In support of him, but in answer to the hon. Member for Islington, East, I would merely repeat what was said by my noble Friend in another place; that he has no doubt whatever that at present and for the foreseeable future, there is ample talent at the Bar to fill these vacancies, and more.
My hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Graham Page) asked why the salaries of clerks of the peace in cities and boroughs were not being fixed from the centre in the same way as were those of recorders and deputy recorders. The answer is that in most cases these officers are servants of the local authority, and do other work as well as being clerks of the peace. I believe that two-thirds of them are also town clerks—
§ Mr. Graham Page
I can name at least thirty who are not town clerks, and who merely receive this particular salary.
§ Mr. Fletcher-Cooke
That may well be, but the majority of them are—and most of those whom my hon. Friend mentions are part-time, even if they are not town clerks. Their work is administrative rather than judicial, and it was, therefore, thought more appropriate that their salaries—subject, perhaps, to discussion on questions of appeal if the salaries fixed by the local authorities were ridiculously low—should be fixed by the local authority whose responsibility they are.
I was also interested to hear that my hon. Friend was not quite so enthusiastic about bringing on cases more quickly—which is, of course, one of the objects of this Bill—on the ground that, in many cases, it would embarrass the defence. I think that I am right in saying that it is no part of the intention of the Bill to bring to trial anyone who wants a 133 reasonable adjournment. There are many cases, particularly of fraud, in which there are complicated questions of accounts to be gone into and where the defendants want a long period to prepare, but it was never the intention of the Streatfeild Committee, nor is it the intention of this Bill, nor is there anything in the Bill, to suggest that accused should be tried before they wish to be tried. Many cases, of course, have been just the reverse; the accused wished to be dealt with quickly but, owing to the incidence of the circuit system or of quarter sessions in the past, he could not get to trial as quickly as he wished.
The hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) has written to me apologising for his necessary absence, and I am grateful to him for having so written. He asked what arrangements there are to be in practice for implementing the second part of the Report. This question was put to me very forcefully by the hon. Member for Islington, East. I should like to make a statement, because, as other hon. Members have said, Part B of the Report is as important, if not more important—certainly, from the Home Office point of view, it is more important—than Part A.
We endorse the Committee's general conclusion that every sentence…should be based on reliable, comprehensive information…which is relevant to the objectives that the court has in view. Penal thought has, of course, been moving in this direction for a considerable time, but the authoritative statements of the Streatfeild Committee on the subject deserve attention and add impetus to the movement. When the hon. Member for Pontypool grumbles that this has not been done before—that we have not put out manuals, given instructions, and so on—all I can say is that it would have been premature to have done so. As it is, I think that we have taken the tide on the flood, because had we earlier put out a lot of manuals and circulars we should have had to revise them all since the passage of the Criminal Justice Act last Session. It is only now that in this rapidly developing field of criminology we seem to be reaching some sort of finality.
134 We propose to adopt the Committee's recommendation that there should be a general booklet or manual about the different forms of penal treatment available under each type of sentence, their aims and effects. My right hon. Friend fully accepts the need for such a manual of guidance for sentences but, of course, that general guidance is not enough. It will, perhaps, help my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, who wanted magistrates to be trained—almost against their will, I think—but, at any rate, there will be some sort of guidance for them on the policy of sentencing.
The second aspect of the subject covered by the Committee was the provision of information relating to individual offenders. Here, the Committee made a very comprehensive series of recommendations for improving the arrangements by which courts may be given information about the personal characteristics and background of each offender. The working out of this is a task of some complication. The requirements of different courts vary. The Committee was very anxious, just as we are, to avoid duplication between prison reports, police reports, probation reports, and all the rest of it.
What we always have to remember, as the hon. Member for Islington, East forcibly reminded us, is that we must not put too much responsibility or too much weight on the backs of patient probation officers who, in any case, will have a lot more work under the new after-care provisions. Therefore, we want to see that not too many reports are called for, and that they are not called for automatically in cases where they are not really necessary. It is a complicated matter, but we certainly hope that these arrangements will begin to be put into effect in the course of the present year. I think that we may rightly claim that we are doing all we can to implement all the Streatfeild Report within a creditably short period of its publication.
I have spoken briefly because I am sure that the other matters raised by hon. Members in this most valuable debate can best be dealt with in Committee. I have not dealt with the omissions to which hon. Members have referred because, of course, we could expand the Bill—not, perhaps, in view of 135 its Short Title, as far as to deal with the Chancery courts, but, at any rate, a long way, and if I dealt with all the things with which the Bill does not deal as well as those with which it does deal we should have an unmanageable discussion. I must therefore ask forgiveness if I do not deal with all the omissions that others, including the hon. Member for Islington, East, have suggested. I will say one word about the insanity point that he raised. That, as he said, is being submitted to the Sellers Committee and in due course the terms of reference will be made known.
With that short and, I am afraid, rather atomised winding up, all in bits and pieces, I hope that we may get on with the work of the Bill, which is not just purring over the Second Reading but in fact getting down to the hard-headed work of trying to achieve what the whole House wants, namely, that we do a good and speedy job in getting good and speedy justice.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 38 (Committal of Bills).