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Before responding to the detail of each amendment, I ask the Committee to look at Clause 4(4) followed by subsections (5) and (6), which should be read together. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Borrie, whose suggestion of the interpretation that we should give to Clause 4(4) is right. He is also right, therefore, to highlight the fact that "must" is attached to paragraphs (a) to (d), which give the minimum numbers required. Clause 4 also provides that each council "may have other members". That gives us flexibility so that, if necessary, there could be more than one judge.
I know that on other occasions mention has been made of Crown Court judges. En passant, circuit judges in the civil division, not just Crown Court judges, and others will have to be accommodated in the list. Additional magistrates or members of any other category could also sit on the council. The Committee will have noted that there are to be,
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: It may be convenient for the Committee if I raise this point now. My difficulty still is that subsection (4) provides for an absolute minimum. A quorum means nothing if the provision requires that the constitution of the councils includes one of this type of person and one of that. I am worried that someone's dying may therefore invalidate the body as a whole. The Government may wish to consider some redrafting; I do not meddle in this area unless I genuinely feel that the Government should look at something. Perhaps "must" could apply except in the circumstances provided by the guidelines. One should never make suggestions on the hoofI should have spoken to my noble friend Lord Renton before I dared mention anything to do with draftingbut is the Minister prepared to consider that?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I am certainly happy to consider that. We have responded to people's fears and anxieties that there would not be a minimum by saying that there must be one. I should like to reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, that we wish guidance and direction to be in place to ensure that there is provision for what happens in such and such an event. I am confident that we would be able to replace a member of the judiciary relatively quickly. There may, for instance, be arrangements as to what happens on the council. If a judge is ill and cannot attend, could a deputy stand in, such as a brother or sister judge in the same locality? We must look at the detail to ensure that such a provision is in place.
The real reason that we wanted to include the word "must" in relation to the minimum number was to reassure those who ask how we can guarantee that there will be anybody on the council. They might think, if the councils are subject only to guidance, that a new Lord Chancellor could go off on a frolic of his or her own and say that no judges should be on the council. We wanted the minimum to be provided for, but I understand the anxieties of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. I hope that we will be able to do what is necessary in guidance.
Let me deal with the amendments in sequence, starting with Amendment No. 18, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith. One effect of the Bill will be to end the requirement for local authorities to fund 20 per cent of magistrates' court expenditure. As the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, knows, subsection (7) states:
Local authorities used to be responsible for 20 per cent of magistrates' court expenditure. They will continue to be a valuable stakeholder, but I do not believe it appropriate in the circumstances for them to be formally involved in the appointments process, especially as they are not involved in the appointment of MCC members. It will place a burden on them
In devising an appointments process, we will want stakeholders, in particular the judiciary and magistrates, to have confidence in the way appointments to the council are made. We will be consulting with stakeholders on the appointments process at a series of events to be held between January and April. For example, a representative of the local magistracy may be asked to sit on a panel that assesses applicants for the posts against clear criteria. Such an arrangement would be more appropriate than a general consultation.
As well as being inappropriate, the process that the noble Lord proposes seems unduly cumbersome. For the membership of the court administration councils we shall seek a transparent and open appointment process in which members are appointed for the skills that they can contribute to the efficient administration of all the courts.
Much of this discussion has been foreshadowed. Amendment No. 18 relates to who will be on the council and how they will be selected. I have outlined that the process will be transparent. Members could include professional judges, magistrates, people with knowledge of the local area, which might include a local councillor, for example, and people with appropriate knowledge of the work of the courts, which might include a volunteer from the witness support programme, for example. Appointments will be made on merit and will be fair. There will be open competition, with members selected who have the relevant knowledge. It is vital that the opportunity to become a member of the council is open to all sections of the community. In accordance with the Cabinet Office guidelines on public appointments, we are committed to achieving the equal representation of women and men, pro rata representation of members of ethnic minority groups and increased participation of disabled people. Various bodies in the public and non-profit sectors can provide advice and guidance in meeting these commitments.
How exactly will we do this? We can ensure that the opportunities are advertised nationally and locally. As well as the press, we can use other means, such as local open days, websites and advertisements on court notice boards or in public libraries, citizens advice bureaux and local community centres. We can also ensure that our commitment to encouraging minority groups to apply is clearly stated in any recruitment literature. We will continually monitor the selection process to ensure that this commitment is being fulfilled.
We want to ensure that the job specification for what members will be required to do is drawn as tightly as possible for the application process. The process will be competence and skills-based. We need to bear in mind that we are looking for people who can contribute towards the administration of local justicepeople who can think strategically, focus on the delivery of services to the local community, be objective and make a positive personal impact. We are
On Amendment No. 20, Clause 4 requires each council to have a minimum of one lay justice. I have already spoken about flexibility and responsiveness to local situations, which will be vital to the success of the councils. In particular, local membership will need to vary. I therefore invite the Committee to take into account all that I said earlier about the need for that. We think that as a result the councils will be properly representative, as we desire.
The court administration councils are not intended as a substitute for wide consultation with magistrates and judges. We intend that the guidance to councils will include advice on when they should involve Bench chairmen, local magistrates, the judiciary or other stakeholders in their deliberations. The local chief officer will be under an obligation to involve the magistracy, just as the Court Service is obliged now under the terms of the framework document. Benches of magistrates associated with individual magistrates' courts will also still have influence over the operation of those courts. For example, they will continue to be consulted administratively about decisions to assign and replace justices' clerks. Benches and Bench chairmen must all feel that they have productive relationships with their clerks and administrators.
We want magistrates to have a say in how they should be consulted. As I said, the answer may vary from area to area. It is right that the arrangements we put in place should allow that. We will explore whether it would be appropriate for the court administration councils to establish consultative arrangements with the magistrates in their areas through, for example, a consultative panel. We will also make it a requirement that magistrates on the councils should be serving in the local justice area for which the council is responsible. That seems to be a reasonable requirement, and we shall give it further consideration. I very much heard what the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and other Members of the Committee said about that.
Finally, we have not yet decided on the process for selecting individuals to sit on the council. We are clear, however, that the process must be fair and open and that the aim is to select the individuals with the most appropriate skills and experience. We want the process of appointing magistrates to the council to command the respect of the magistracy and of other stakeholders. I am not convinced that the procedure recommended by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, would achieve that objective. As I said, the appointments process is one of the issues on which we will be consulting in events from 30th January until April. The appointments process will be in line with the Code of Practice on Public Appointments. We will want to learn from the experience of the MCC members who are appointed by selection panels of local magistrates.