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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, usually that would happen. Passport number one was put aside to be discarded and was stolen before it was cancelled. I could entertain your Lordships for a great deal longer!

Judges: Safety in Court

2.58 p.m.

Lord Ackner asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): My Lords, I spoke to Judge Goddard at her home on the evening of the deplorable attack on her. She is much admired. After only a day off, she was back sitting as a judge.

In all courts the security of the prisoner in the dock is the responsibility of the Prison Service, not the Court Service, for which I am responsible. Although there were three professional security guards in the dock, still the defendant escaped and attacked the judge. It was a court clerk who pulled him away, closely followed by a detective constable in court, both of whose conduct was exemplary. I have commissioned a departmental security inquiry which, among other things, will have to consider why the three security guards did not react effectively to the emergency. The lessons to be learnt from this failure will be explored with the Prison Service.

Lord Ackner: My Lords, I have to confess to the House an interest in this Question. I have a daughter who is attractive and clever--qualities that she derives entirely from her mother. That fact was fully recognised by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor when he recently appointed her as a district judge. My interest is in her safety and the safety of her colleagues. Does the noble and learned Lord accept that district judges, sitting without a clerk or even ushers in small, non-purpose-built rooms to which the public can have direct access and which have only one door for ingress and egress, have absolutely no means of escape if there is an attack and are, therefore, highly vulnerable?

Does the noble and learned Lord also accept that these judges have to hear and decide potentially explosive cases, particularly on the civil side, with the

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parties nearly always appearing in person, often with little or no respect for authority, and involving such cases as domestic violence, possession actions by housing authorities due to nuisance and annoyance caused by drug abuse, and applications to commit to prison for breaches of court orders? Can the noble and learned Lord tell the House what he has in mind to stop the already serious decline in the back-up services of judges, dictated by the Treasury?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I can confirm that the daughter of the noble and learned Lord was appointed by me to be a district judge on her strong merits and without any regard to her parentage. There are 420 guards in courts across the country: 160 in the Crown Courts, 200 in the combined courts, and 60 in the county courts, including most family hearing centres. Most are provided through contractors. At present, 8 million a year is spent on security contracts. Recently an additional 3 million for three years--that is, 1 million per year--was allocated both to secure better services and to extend guarding facilities in family hearing centres, with the object of putting 176 new guards into these centres over the next three years.

I have observed for myself the difficulties that affect district judges, as described by the noble and learned Lord. I have asked the Court Service to consider the want, as it were, of any line of retreat for a district judge in the district judge's court in the event of an incident.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, would the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor consider the installation of alarm bells, or something of that kind, so that a district judge sitting alone in his or her room who is extremely vulnerable could summon help urgently if it is needed?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I believe that that facility is available in some, but not all, cases. I shall certainly consider the possibility and request a report on the matter.

Lord Wigoder: My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord aware that an expensive glass security screen has recently been installed at Cardiff Crown Court and that, according to a report in The Times this morning, it is not proving entirely satisfactory because, apparently, the defendants can no longer hear a word of the evidence?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, there is no satisfying everyone, including defendants. However, a balance must be struck between enclosing all court rooms so that escape from them is impossible and providing an acceptable environment for defendants who have not yet been convicted of crime. Enclosed docks are provided at certain courts where high-risk trials frequently take place. It is obviously essential that the security facility should not prevent defendants hearing the proceedings.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, although the safety and protection of judges is clearly of the greatest

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importance, will the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor resist any further centralisation of courts, especially criminal courts?

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I would not necessarily give an affirmative answer to that question. I believe that most people expect uniform standards of security in our courts.

Lord Ackner: My Lords, is not the trouble with alarm bells the fact that that pre-supposes that someone is available to answer them? In the courts served by many district judges, the usher, a lady, is there only on part-time duties. In the afternoon, when things usually get most heated, she is not there.

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, there are many fundamental proposals available; for example, either the former routine uniformed police presence should be reinstated or a new uniformed service should be established by the Court Service to provide security in courts. I have asked my officials to report to me within three months on the adequacy of existing arrangements, on the options for their improvement, and on the feasibility of more fundamental proposals.

Tax Simplification Bills: Joint Committee

3.7 p.m.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That this House do concur with the Commons in their message of 21st December, that it is expedient that a Joint Committee of Lords and Commons be appointed to consider tax simplification Bills, and in particular to consider whether each Bill committed to it preserves the effect of the existing law, subject to any minor changes which may be desirable;

That a Select Committee of six Lords be appointed to join with a committee appointed by the Commons as the Joint Committee on Tax Simplification Bills;

That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following Lords be named of the committee:

L. Blackwell,

L. Brightman,

B. Cohen of Pimlico,

L. Goodhart,

L. Haskel,

L. Howe of Aberavon;

That the committee have power to agree with the Commons in the appointment of a chairman;

That the quorum of the committee shall be two;

That the committee have leave to report from time to time;

That the committee have power to appoint specialist advisers;

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That the minutes of evidence taken before the committee shall, if the committee thinks fit, be printed and delivered out;

That the procedure of the Joint Committee shall follow the procedure of Select Committees of the House of Commons when such procedure differs from that of Select Committees of this House, and shall include the power of the chairman to select amendments;

and that the committee do meet with a committee appointed by the Commons on Thursday 18th January at half-past ten o'clock in Committee Room 3.--(The Chairman of Committees.)

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees for not raising this matter with him beforehand. It shows a lamentable lack of preparation on my part. Can the noble Lord kindly explain to the House the arrangements for the quorum of this Joint Committee? The Motion states that the quorum shall consist of two. However, two is an extremely small number. Although it may be correct proportionally in accordance with precedent, I wonder whether two is an adequate quorum in this case. In the circumstances, and more importantly, I wonder whether the forum should be two, consisting of one Member from each House?

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, before the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees replies, perhaps I may make one point. The Motion before us is unusual. I wonder whether the noble Lord can confirm that my recollection of this in the Procedure Committee is correct. Most unusually for a Joint Committee of both Houses, this allows for a majority of Members of another place. The reason behind that was due, first, to the request of Members of the House of Commons that that should be so; and, secondly--perhaps more importantly from our point of view--to the fact that this Joint Committee will deal with tax powers. It should not, therefore, be seen as any precedent for the House of Commons being able to have a majority on joint committees of both Houses on any other matter.

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