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Page 32, line 11, at end insert--
("( ) This section applies only to early administrative hearings and not to pre-trial reviews or plea and directions hearings.").

The noble Baroness said: In moving the previous amendment, the Minister has already referred to the background to Clause 41. I have tabled this probing amendment because I should like the Minister to explain whether or not the powers of the justices' clerks will be extended to pre-trial work generally. The Magistrates' Association has pointed out to me that, as it stands, the clause is rather unclear. It refers first to hearings being conducted by a single justice, but goes on to explain that justices' clerks may also conduct them. I note that those hearings are not defined specifically or referred to as "early administrative hearings" in the text of the clause, but that the expression "early administrative hearings" is used in the side note. I beg to move.

The Solicitor-General (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): I am grateful for the fact that this amendment has been moved because it gives the Government the opportunity to describe the objective of Clause 41. I believe that that is what the probing amendment seeks to achieve. The provision will enable justices sitting alone, and justices' clerks, to conduct, shortly after charge, hearings at which arrangements can be made for the defendant to obtain legal aid and to consult a legal adviser. The clause has no bearing whatsoever on what happens at subsequent hearings, referred to in the amendment as "pre-trial reviews". Those hearings are in any event not defined in statute.

It is not clear what the effect of the amendment would be, but if its purpose is to limit the effect of Clause 41 to the first hearing in a case, it is superfluous as that clause confers no powers either on a justice or on a clerk other than that to conduct an early administrative hearing, as described in Clause 41. The single justice or clerk who conducts such a hearing may also exercise

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any other powers that he possesses, but those powers are independent of Clause 41. In the case of a single justice, they are exercised by virtue of Clause 40 or other legislation and, in the case of a clerk, by virtue of rules made in accordance with Clause 40. I very much hope that I have explained the point that the noble Baroness has raised. In those circumstances, I invite her to withdraw her amendment.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn: What does my noble and learned friend mean by "clerk"? Is he referring to a senior clerk or any clerk within the department?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: In the Bill "clerk" means a person who is qualified to act as a clerk in a relevant justices area, not just anyone in the office.

Baroness Anelay of St. Johns: I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for his explanation of the objectives of the clause. I am reassured having heard his detailed explanation. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 41, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 42 [No committal proceedings for indictable-only offences]:

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 198:

Page 32, line 15, at end insert ("and
(b) for any either-way or summary offence with which he is charged which fulfils the requisite conditions (as set out in subsection (8A) below).
( ) Where an adult who has been sent for trial under subsection (1) above subsequently appears or is brought before a magistrates' court charged with an either-way or summary offence which fulfils the requisite conditions, the court may send him forthwith to the Crown Court for trial for the either-way or summary offence.").

The noble and learned Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 198 and at the same time speak to Amendments Nos. 199 to 205. These are technical amendments to improve the Bill. As presently drafted Clause 42 is designed to secure the prompt removal to the Crown Court of indictable-only offences, but it is not sufficient for these offences alone to be sent to the higher court. If a defendant faces other charges triable either way which are related to the indicatable-only one it may be necessary for those charges to accompany it to the Crown Court. That is why where an adult is sent to the Crown Court for trial for an indictable-only offence, Clause 42 requires the court also to send there any related either-way charge which is before the court on that occasion either against him or against another adult jointly charged with him. But because of the reference to "that occasion" the clause does not take account of the situation where the defendant has already been sent to the Crown Court for trial for an indictable-only offence and there is a subsequent appearance in court on a related either-way charge either by that person or by another adult jointly charged with him. For example, a suspect may be caught and charged with an either-way offence jointly with the main suspect only after the latter has been arrested and appeared in

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court. The effect of these amendments is to give the magistrates' court a discretion to send the defendant to the Crown Court for trial on that related charge.

In deciding whether to exercise this discretion the court will be able to take into consideration the stage which the indictable-only case has reached. The appearance on the related charge may follow soon after the indictable-only one, in which instance it would be right for that case to be sent forward too so that they can be dealt with together. If, on the other hand, the indictable-only case had already progressed a long way, it is possible that sending the related charge up to the Crown Court to join it would lead to extra delay, in which case the discretion would be exercised against sending it up to the Crown Court. That is what the first part of these amendments seeks to achieve.

In relation to young people, these amendments merely bring the clause into line with Section 24 of the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980. In place of a simple discretion to send a young person to the Crown Court to be tried jointly with an adult on an either-way charge, the court is required to send him where it is necessary in the interests of justice. That is the same test as under the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980. That is the effect of the proposed amendments.

3.15 p.m.

Baroness Anelay of St. Johns: I understand the intention of the Government underlying the group of amendments to which the Minister has just spoken. Clause 42 provides that the proceedings for indictable-only offences should commence in the Crown Court. These amendments seek to speed up the processing of cases. At Second Reading I raised concerns about the potential effect of Clause 42 on the information available to the defence at the early stages and upon the administration of cases when they reached the Crown Court. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, for writing to my noble friend Lord Henley on these matters. In particular, I am grateful for his reassurance that the question of resources will be looked at in the course of piloting these new procedures.

The amendments to Clause 42 tabled by the Minister fulfil the intention underlying the clause, as the Government see it, of mopping up as many cases relating to the same defendant as possible and having them heard together in the same accelerated way. We on these Benches do not oppose the amendments. However, I should like to take this opportunity to remind the Minister of the potential effects of Clause 42. The Law Society has pointed out that the practical implications of this major procedural change must be carefully thought through to ensure that it is fair and workable. There has already been a significant increase in the number of plea and directions hearings at the Crown Court. These are invariably heard by the resident judge or senior nominated judges at the Crown Court centre. That reduces the amount of time available to them to preside over trials. If they are to undertake case management of indictable-only offences and related matters, I believe that they will have even less time to spend on trials where they would normally be

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expected to take a lead in cracking the lists. Not only will that cause delay ultimately in the disposal of cases which go to trial, there will also be a tendency to allocate trials to recorders and assistant recorders. I am referring to those who are not authorised to take plea and directions cases.

There is a risk that the provisions may change the overall character of the work of the judges in the Crown Court: they become case managers instead of presiding over trials. We on these Benches do not oppose the amendments. However, we seek reassurance from the Minister that the Government have taken into account the potential changes that may occur as a result of the amendments which build upon the original clause. It is important that the Committee is aware of the potential changes when agreeing to Clause 42 with the amendments.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I am grateful for the indication by the noble Baroness that she does not oppose these amendments. I note carefully the points that she has made about the administrative effect of having indictable-only offences in the Crown Court. I reassure the noble Baroness that considerable thought is being given to the question of how it will affect proceedings in the Crown Court. Unquestionably the overall aim is to speed up the trial of indictable-only offences. However, I reassure the noble Baroness that proper thought is being given to how this may work out in practice.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

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