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Viscount Tenby: I should like to associate myself very strongly with the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe. At Second Reading, I am afraid that I was guilty of rather ponderous levity in my speech on the subject, but what I said masked real concern. The original proposal bears all the hallmarks of a Whitehall tidying-up exercise. I should like to know whether a costing exercise was undertaken to find out the expense of having a supplemental list.
I do not think for one minute that anyone would dispute the fact that magistrates ought to finish their operational duties at the age of 70. Unlike other members of the judiciary, we are realistic in that respect. However, one cannot regard 70 as the end of meaningful life as we know it. This is the last place where we could hold such a view.
We must not throw the baby out with the bath water. We should think of the important contribution that retired magistrates could make in terms of education. The noble Baroness talked about the mock trial system, and we must also consider education in schools, education with the other agencies, training exercises and the like. Then we come to the question of being a counter-signatory to some quite important documents, such as a shotgun certificate. I happen to think that a magistrate's signature on a shotgun certificate is rather important, instead of having a willy-nilly trawl through the rest of the community in the hope that someone can be found who has the time, inclination or expertisethat is the pointto do it. Above all else, that expertise comes free, so I beg the Minister to look kindly on the amendment.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: I also support the amendment. I challenged the Government when they said in the noble Baroness's letter, to which reference has been made, that the list now serves little substantive purpose.
I want to refer to the experience of Mr Alex Demetriades, who has written to me. For 25 years, he was a member of the Manchester City Bench and ended up as chairman. Since that time, he has been on the supplemental list. Beyond signing documents, in those 10 years he helped with Victim Support and Witness Support schemes, assisted in mock trials and in open days as part of the "Magistrates in the Community" project.
Those schemes all have the support of the Lord Chancellor's Department. The specialised experience of magistrates really adds something to them. Far from being of little substantive purpose, the list has a real object to achieve.
Lord Jones: I too support the amendment. In practice generally today, to be a magistrate on the supplemental list is regarded as something of an honour, and it costs the Government nothing. It will have been an honour very thoroughly deserved. The 70 year-old magistrate will have been, in all probability, some 15, 20 or 25 years or more on the Bench as a serving magistrate. In itself, that will have been a record of public service, and public service volunteered to the community. It will have involved many sittings throughout each year, often after no small inconvenience.
The service will have been given to the fellow members of the Bench, to the Court Service and, in the widest sense, to the village, the township and the county. All in the best British tradition, it will have been understated, unpublicised, unpaid and unsung. However, it will have been very valuable. Surely we can let people remain on the supplemental list. Perhaps the Minister, in his wisdom and generosity, would accept such an amendment so cogently moved.
Certainly, the service given will have been very decent, conscientious, exemplary and, I rather think, lengthy, and all of that in an increasingly important sphere of British society and its daily life. The administration of justice at grass-roots level is of growing importance to our communities, wherever they may be. That service also comes at a time of rapid and bewildering social and economic change, in which magistrates must always make sound and subsequently much-scrutinised judgments.
Lord Graham of Edmonton: There is a general feeling that the intention of the provision needs to be looked at again. I certainly share the commendations, especially that of my noble friend Lord Jones, that have been given about the standing and stature of magistrates who have served a very long time. Perhaps the Minister will say somethingI am sure that it will be honest, not kindabout the value of the magistracy in our law.
It is intriguing that at one stage there must have been general acceptance that there needed to be some form of semi-retirement at the age of 70, because the supplemental list came along. If the relevant age is not 70, what is it? Are we saying that there should not be any supplemental list at all? If there is to be a supplemental list, at what age does one become eligible for or compulsorily retire to it?
The matter is not unique to the magistracy. We all know about voluntary organisations. As the Committee well knows, I am strongly involved in the Co-operative movement, in which there have been constant arguments and battles about the term "ageism", and as to what age one should retire from being a director of a local co-op society. Some societies have an age limit and some do not; I am not arguing as to which are the better. Without a supplemental list, questions about age limits are being asked in our society. I know that the Minister listens with care to such matters. I hope that he will recognise the strength of the argument, and that the debate raises an important point for those such as myself who argue that perhaps consideration should be given to some other age. If it is not, that is like the situation in the American Senate. Someone can be a senator whatever age they are when they are returned, which is by election.
If one wants to give the Lord Chancellor and his staff the right to decide arbitrarily that someone is past it because they have reached the age of 70 or 80, others will argue that some who are under 70 are already past it. Ageism and retirement is a big issue. My noble friend Lord Jones is absolutely right. The arbitrary age at which one retires, from either employment or office-holding in many organisations, is a genuine issue. Given the powers of magistrates and their courts, it is more important for them than for others. They make big decisions, and one needs to be satisfied that they are compos mentis, as I think is the term.
Lord Clinton-Davis: I declare an interest in that last February my wife retired from the magistracy. With due respect to all that I have heard, I do not believe that agreement to any measure today will prevent retired magistrates assisting in mock trials or assisting in training. However, an important past consideration should be recognised. I am unsure whether the amendment is in the correct form. It will be up to my noble friend to take it away and return on Report or later with a suitable amendment.
Nothing that I have heard today should detract from the way in which people up to the age of 70 have discharged their responsibilities without pay. The lay magistracy is an important cornerstone of our society. I know that my noble friend recognises that from her highly distinguished career at the Bar. My wife has told me of the way in which the bulk of magistrates approach their duties. In my view that emphasises again and again the importance of the magistracy.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): I hope that I shall be able to please a number of noble Lords this afternoon. I am very surprised that the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, has reached an age at which she could receive such a letter from the Lord Chancellor.
After such an onslaught I feel like saying, "I'll come quietly". I join with all noble Lords who have sung the praises of magistrates who have served so loyally for so long until the age of 70. I do not believe that the magistracy can be unsung again. It cannot be said that it is unsung as that song has been heard clearly around the Committee.
My noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis is right to say that there is no need to be on a supplemental list to do any of those matters to which he alluded such as mock trials or helping with training, and so on. However, I certainly take on board what all noble Lords have said.
The amendment is not in the precise form required. We shall have to consider the consequences of such a provision on other parts of the Bill. Although I am more than willing to say in principle that we accept the import of the amendment, we shall have to consider the other sections of the Bill and ensure that such a provision is in its proper form.
I do not want to set a discordant note, but noble Lords will be aware that the supplemental list was introduced in 1941 because, regrettably, during the previous 15 years some people who were either elderly or infirm had refused to retire. It was brought in for that reason, and although I accept that then the age was 75, the way in which the supplemental list has been viewed has changed over the years. It may now be perceived as a role of honour, but it was not always thus.
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