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Viscount Tenby: Before the noble Lord sits down, I may be easily pleased, but I am very relieved by what he has just said. It gives some degree of comfort to those who were worried about the issue.

This is slightly wide of the amendment, but in talking about this critical area of justices' clerks, the people who seem to have been forgotten are the justices' chief executives who must have some fears

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about their own position in the new set-up. Clearly, it cannot appear on the face of a Bill, but can some comfort be given to me on the subject?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: The chief executives will see this important issue as an act of effective management. We have carefully consulted with them. They are very supportive of what we are putting in place. As the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, said, this issue is wide of the mark, but they are happy with what we seek to achieve. I think they see it as an essential part of good management and practice.

Viscount Tenby: I am very grateful to the Minister for responding. I understand that one way this issue could be cemented is for the chief executives to be transferred to the Lord Chancellor's Department. At the moment they are employed by the magistrates' courts committees. But it may be that this issue is wide of the mark and I thank the Minister for his answer.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: It goes without saying that all those issues will need to be thought through. More consultation or discussion will resolve any outstanding matters of concern. Our intention is to conduct those consultations properly.

We shall ensure that we have experienced local managers in place in the new courts agencies. Although the role of the chief executive will move on from the current position, obviously that role will be an important element in the new structure.

Lord Waddington: I confess that I am slightly confused. Paragraph 75 of the Explanatory Notes states:


    "The appointment of justices' clerks is no longer to be limited to petty sessions areas. As justices' clerks are to become civil servants, it is not considered appropriate for justices of the peace to be consulted on the appointment or removal of a justices' clerk".

Is the noble Lord saying that the clerks are to be consulted, or are they not? It is important to maintain the link between justices and the clerks with whom they work.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I believe that I made it plain in my earlier comments that we do not seek a statutory obligation, rather that discussion and consultation must take place. That goes without saying.

Lord Waddington: Surely that is the opposite of what is set out in the Explanatory Notes. It states in plain language that,


    "it is not considered appropriate for justices of the peace to be consulted".

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I shall be happy to take away the point that is causing confusion here. The Explanatory Notes make clear what is on the face of the Bill, but outside that we intend to ensure that proper consultation takes place. That is what I now seek to make clear to Members of the Committee.

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The notes are not wrong; they describe what is set out in the Bill. However, as I believe I made plain earlier, we intend to ensure that the maximum consultation and discussion of these matters takes place so that we can put smoothly into place the new service. It is clear that consultation will play a key part in that process and we have always intended for that to be the case. However, we do not require that to be written into the legislation.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: Can the Minister confirm that a justices' clerk, although appointed by the Lord Chancellor and not by magistrates' courts committees, and subject to the provisions currently being discussed, will nevertheless be a judicial officer who will at all times maintain judicial or quasi-judicial independence and thus will be able to advise the magistrates as he or she thinks best?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: Of course. It goes without saying that that is the role and function of a justices' clerk. The legislation will not change that relationship. Our debate concerns something else, but I wish to give the noble Lord the comfort that we have sought to explain with care that judicial independence is extremely important.

Baroness Seccombe: I am grateful to the Minister for trying to give comfort, but I do not think that much comfort will be derived from the fact that, at this stage, the matter does not appear to have been well thought through.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I hope that I have provided some comfort. Perhaps I may put a specific question to the noble Baroness. What is it that particularly concerns her? I shall be happy to try to address any precise points that I may have missed.

Lord Jones: Not that much further down the Marshalled List we shall come to another tranche of amendments which may provide an opportunity for my noble friend on the Front Bench to come back with his usual forensic skill and outline precisely what the situation is.

Baroness Seccombe: While I had the privilege of serving as a chairman of the Bench for three years, we appointed a new clerk to serve our area. We built up a special relationship with that clerk and I worked very closely with him. What concerns us at present is how we are to ensure that that special relationship between clerk and magistrates continues when we are unsure how the proposals and the consultation will work.

8.45 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: In the main, the noble Baroness can take comfort from this. We are talking about the quality of the local relationship. Like her, I have many friends who are magistrates; I would even admit to knowing a few clerks. The quality of the relationship will continue. She is right to probe us on this issue; I have made that plain.

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However, there will need to be a change in the organisation's culture and, as I said earlier, flexibility from time to time. Essentially, that is what we are trying to secure and preserve. Like the noble Baroness, we share the objective of ensuring that that closeness of relationship and rapport continues in the new and—we hope and expect—improved service.

Baroness Seccombe: I should hate the Minister to think that I just want to hark back to the past, because that is not true. I think that we understand each other and where we stand on the importance of the relationship between magistrates and their clerks. We shall consult the Justices' Clerks' Society, but I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Seccombe moved Amendment No. 38:


    Page 4, line 27, at end insert—


"(d) such other persons as appear to him to be appropriate"

The noble Baroness said: The Bill allows the Lord Chancellor to make an order to alter a local justice area in accordance with Clause 8(4), after he has consulted the justices of the peace assigned to the local justice area, the CACs and local authorities.

The amendment probes what form the consultation will take. Does the Lord Chancellor have to listen to the recommendations made by those groups? What will happen if those interested parties disagree with each other—or unanimously agree, but disagree with the Lord Chancellor? The amendment would add to the burden but also to the flexibility of the consultation process by requiring the Lord Chancellor to consult anyone else whom he may consider appropriate.

Does the Lord Chancellor think that other groups should be asked their opinion? For example, perhaps the Magistrates' Association should be consulted. What about Victim Support, citizens' advice bureaux, the Women's Royal Voluntary Service, or other, similar, groups? All of those groups have first-hand knowledge of the experience of court users, but may not be members of the CACs. I look forward to hearing the Minister's answers to those questions. I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: This is a simple and well-intentioned amendment. We intend to ensure that the Lord Chancellor consults widely and as seems appropriate. I shall not rule in or out particular organisations from the consultation process. The noble Baroness identified the Magistrates' Association and the citizens' advice bureaux. She might have added the local law centre, if there is one, the local authority or other organisations, such as women's centres, refuges for battered wives, and so on. At some point, it may be appropriate to consult all of those organisations.

That is why subsection (6) sets out in terms the people whom the Lord Chancellor must consult—in particular, the relevant court administration council. But if the Lord Chancellor believes it to be in the

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interest of the service to consult more widely, I am sure that he will want to do so. We want to draw wisdom from wherever we can. That is sensible.

So the spirit behind the amendment is fine; it is not necessary to write it into the Bill. For those reasons, I hope that she will feel confident that she can withdraw it, given that we are with her in spirit.

Baroness Seccombe: Having listened to the Minister's view of all the different bodies that may be consulted, I feel much comforted. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 8 agreed to.

Clause 9 agreed to.

Clause 10 [Appointment of lay justices etc.]:


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