Supplementary information given by the
Lord Chancellor relating to his evidence of 16 October
I refer to your letter of 19 October 2001, addressed
to my Parliamentary Clerk. I will deal with the points raised
in that letter in the order that they appear there.
Tom Watson suggested during the hearing that
trade unions are at a financial disadvantage when recovering costs
from losing opponents. This is a misreading of the changes which
took place in April 2000, and which had the effect of granting
additional benefits to trade unions and other approved membership
There are, in essence, two types of litigation
insurance: before the event insurance (BEI) and after the event
insurance (AEI). BEI policies cover costs in the event of litigation.
AEI policies are taken out to cover a case that has already arisen.
The general policy under the Access to Justice Act 1999 is that
AEI premiums are recoverable while BEI are not. It is open to
trade unions to purchase AEI on behalf of their clients and recover
In addition, and as a special dispensation to
trade unions and other membership organisations who self insure
under what are essentially BEI arrangements, they may recover
a notional premium, although it is limited to insurance against
the other side's costs only (whereas recoverable AEI premiums
may cover both side's costs). Trade unions thus already enjoy
an advantageous position and it should be noted that this exception
to the general rule was drafted in close co-operation with trade
union legal advisors.
Bridget Prentice asked me to comment on figures
pointing to a 5 per cent decline in the total number of magistrates
during the year up to April 2001. The figures for magistrates
that Bridget referred to included the Duchy of Lancaster. Therefore
the figures I give are a combination of figures from my Department
and the Duchy of Lancaster. The total number of magistrates is
indeed down on last year. There are a number of reasons for this.
Firstly, I now have a computer database which provides accurate
figures for the first time. The old manual system simply involved
adding on new appointments and taking away the number of resignations,
retirements and deaths and, over the years, errors had crept in.
Also the validation of the data brought to light a number of people
who had resigned or retired but who were still recorded as active
on the manual system. No count was kept of these but I would estimate
that these amounted to some 200 or 300.
Secondly, more magistrates were lost than were
appointed last year. My Annual Report to Parliament has not yet
been published but I can tell you that 2,638 magistrates were
lost through resignations, retirements or death last year compared
to 1,618 new appointments. The number of retirements and deaths
remained much the same as last year but the number of resignations
increased by about 600. This may have been due to the amount of
criticism aimed at the lay magistracy from various quarters, to
concern over the future of the magistracy or, in some cases, to
discontent at the amount of training following the introduction
of the Magistrates' New Training Initiative. Only 45 magistrates
resigned as a result of the training required prior to the introduction
of the Human Rights Act.
The number of appointments is 125 down on last
year but as you say, it is in line with the rate of appointment
over the last seven years. There is always a time lag between
resignations and appointing people to fill the resulting vacancies
because they are usually unexpected and cannot be planned for
when estimating recruitment needs for the year. However, I would
hope that most, if not all, of these vacancies can be filled in
the coming year. My Advisory Committees continue to undertake
a range of initiatives to recruit people to be magistrates and
in most areas there is no particular problem in attracting enough
candidates to replace those who resign or retire. Last year some
6,000 people applied to be magistrates.
The figures for both resignations and appointments
fluctuate from year to year and it would be wrong to draw conclusions
from a single year's figures but I will check the figures in April
2002 to see if a trend is developing.
I attach a table showing the figures you asked
for on those leaving the magistracy in the last three years.
I agreed to clarify the position in respect
of waiting times in the Crown Court. The Crown Court received
91,110 committals for trial in 1997, compared with 71,022 in 2000.
The main reason for this difference was the introduction of "plea
before venue" in the magistrates' courts, whereby the magistrates
take the plea before deciding whether to accept jurisdiction for
each case. This has reduced the number of cases committed for
trial to the Crown Court but led to an increase in the number
of committals for sentencefrom 14,871 in 1997 to 27,951
Waiting times in the Crown Court have increased
over the same period. In 2000, the average waiting time for committals
for trial was 14.2 weeks, compared with 12 weeks in 1997. The
legislative changes implementing the Narey reforms mean that many
of the cases where the defendant would previously have pleaded
guilty after committal for trial to the Crown Court are instead
committed there for sentence. As trials take on average nine times
longer to deal with than guilty pleas, the removal of these short
cases from the committals for trial statistics has had a negative
effect on waiting times.
As I explained when we met, another factor that
is affecting Crown Court performance is the recent introduction
of section 51 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998; whereby indictable-only
cases are sent to the Crown Court immediately after the first
hearing in the magistrates' court. This means that cases are received
in the Crown Court at a much earlier stage than before and due
to the time taken to prepare the cases (which would previously
have counted against time spent in the magistrates court) the
time prior to find in the Crown Court is inflated. My officials
will continue to monitor the situation closely as the legislative
changes bed down.
I should also like to resolve a definitional
confusion relating to the figures quoted in paragraphs 103 to
109 of the transcript. Towards the end of paragraph 103 I referred
to waiting times in the magistrates' courts having reduced since
I became Lord Chancellor in 1997. The figures I quoted referred
to the average time from charge or laying of information to completion
for defendants in indictable and triable either way cases which
fell from 88 days in June 1997 to 63 days in June 2001.
The figures which you quote for "case duration"
in paragraph 105 seem to have been taken from table 1 of the Time
Intervals Survey bulletin for September 2000 and refer to the
average time from first court listing to completion for defendants
in all criminal cases. Assuming that to be the case, the incorrect
figure for (September) 2000 has been extracted. For direct comparability
with the earlier figures quoted, the September 2000 (old basis)
should have been taken rather than that for the "new basis"in
other words, 29 instead of 32 days. This means that there has
indeed been a downward trend in the average duration of cases
in the magistrates' courts, from 35 days in 1997 to 31 and 29
days in 1999 and 2000 respectively.
Finally, I turn to David Winnick's question
about whether an applicant for judicial office would still be
appointed if they declined to state whether or not they were a
freemason on the application form.
The position is that those being appointed for
the first time, either to a part-time or full-time office, in
the professional judiciary are required as a condition of appointment
to disclose whether or not they are a freemason at the stage when
they are offered the appointment. The question of an appointment
not being made because an individual has refused to make such
a declaration has not arisen to date. The position for the lay
magistracy is slightly different in that applicants are required
to declare their Masonic status when they apply for appointment.
26 October 2001