Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Bassam of Brighton: On the face of it Amendment No. 85 is a reasonable amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, is seeking to find out what the annual report will contain. Your Lordships' House likes annual reports so it is probably fair that we say what it will contain.

The chief inspector will want to highlight best practice and look at inefficiencies. We share the aim of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, in that regard. However, the amendment is faulty in its drafting.

One of the primary roles of the inspectorate will be to investigate and highlight inefficiencies and ensure that best practice is disseminated. The Magistrates' Courts Service Inspectorate has been doing that since its inception. Indeed, it set up a website to disseminate such information. In addition, it is worth referring the noble Lord to the annual report for 2001–02, which highlights the many areas where magistrates' courts committees have instituted best practice as a product of the reporting process.

11 Feb 2003 : Column 616

Clause 55(1) already requires the chief inspector to report on the inspectorate's discharge of its functions. Those functions are set out in Clause 54(1), primarily to report on the court administration system and court services and on the way in which CAFCASS has performed its functions. I find it hard to imagine how that reporting function could properly be discharged if the chief inspector failed either to highlight best practice or catalogue inefficiencies, where appropriate.

On the drafting point, Clause 55(2) is permissive. The Lord Chancellor will not be obliged to give such directions but could do so if he thought it necessary. The current provisions of Section 62 of the Justices of the Peace Act 1997 do not provide for the Lord Chancellor to give directions of this nature and although he has never found it necessary to give formal directions to the current chief inspector, we felt it appropriate to give the Lord Chancellor a power similar to that of the Home Secretary in relation to the probation inspectorate. Therefore we modelled this subsection on Section 7(4) of the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000.

If the Lord Chancellor is able to agree what is necessary with the chief inspector, as he always has done, then no formal directions will be given and the amended subsection will be completely redundant. The Home Secretary has not issued any formal directions about the contents of the probation inspectorate's annual report. He found no reason to do so because the contents of the report were agreed by mutual consent. The provision to give directions is there if needed.

I am interested in the points raised and may want to take away this amendment to consider whether the wording needs any adjustment. But it is perhaps worth looking at some of the issues which have been covered by the Magistrates' Courts Service Inspectorate over the past few years. A thematic review was conducted on case administration in family proceedings courts; on custody arrangements in magistrates' courts; on the justice's chief executive's remuneration; on the recruitment of senior managers in the magistrates' court service; on magistrates' courts and fine enforcement; on information for management on core performance measures and a look at the relationships between magistrates' courts committees and local authorities. Fairly extensive reviews have been undertaken. No doubt, similar sorts of thematic reviews could be conducted across the Court Service more generally. I am even told that there was a review of the use of sign language and foreign language interpreters in magistrates' courts. We would expect that tradition and the excellence that has been brought to bear on the Magistrates' Court Service to be more widely extended and developed as the inspectorate develops its role.

Lord Hunt of Wirral: I have a confession to make to the Committee. To some extent, the Minister was probably unaware that he was skating on thin ice, in particular when he said that he would like to take away the amendment to see whether the wording needed any adjustment. It does not. They are the words of the

11 Feb 2003 : Column 617

noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. The directions have already been given. In describing the wording in Part 5, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, said:

    "It will ensure an improved and more consistent level of service to all court users by highlighting best practice and reporting on inefficiencies".—[Official Report, 9/12/02; col. 18.]

If the Minister values his position, and I am sure that he does—we all do—he might agree that the words of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor do not need any adjustment. In the mean time, I shall reflect on the matter. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 55 agreed to.

Clause 56 agreed to.

Clause 57 [Head and Deputy Head of Civil Justice]:

On Question, Whether Clause 57 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Carlisle of Bucklow: I hesitate to raise a matter at this late stage in the Committee. I merely ask whether this provision is necessary. Must we now have two additional bodies—the head and the deputy head of civil justice? We have a Lord Chief Justice, a Master of the Rolls, a Vice-Chancellor and a President of the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division. What will be the role of the two new appointees? Is the Minister satisfied that they are required, and that their role is proper? Will their role be administrative only, or will it be judicial?

Clause 57(2) states that no person shall be appointed to that office,

    "unless he is—

    (a) the Master of the Rolls,

    (b) the Vice-Chancellor, or

    (c) an ordinary judge of the Court of Appeal".

Will the appointee be able to hold one of those positions also? If, for example, the current Master of the Rolls is appointed as head of civil justice will a new Master of the Rolls be appointed? Will the provision mean two additional judges in the Court of Appeal, or will the posts be filled by those already there? Those are merely probing questions. My main concern is that the civil justice system has got along well for many years without either of the proposed offices. Have they been fully evaluated? Is the Minister satisfied that they are needed?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I hope that the noble Lord will be comforted to know that the issues have been fully discussed in the judiciary. They stem from the Woolf reforms. I shall outline the ideas central to those reforms. Responsibility for the control of litigation had to pass from litigants and their advisers to the courts. That was to be achieved through a proactive system of case management for which the judiciary would be responsible. There should be a unified set of rules to replace those of the Supreme Court and the county court. There should be reform

11 Feb 2003 : Column 618

aimed at better co-ordination of the practices and deployment of the judiciary in the High Court and between the High Court and the county court.

For the proposals of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, to work in a single, co-ordinated, efficient and flexible system of civil justice, case management and judicial deployment, he recommended that there should be a senior judicial figure responsible for the whole corps of judges handling civil work, from district judges to High Court judges. That figure would have the same influence over civil judges as the Lord Chief Justice has over the criminal courts. The appointee must play an important role in encouraging the new team spirit and ensuring that judges at all levels work together to achieve a new culture of civil litigation that better meets the needs of court users. That is the role of the head of civil justice.

This is the first suitable legislative vehicle since it became clear that the post of the head of civil justice would be required on an ongoing basis. A deputy head of civil justice will be appointed only when necessary. It is considered that there is a need at present. The head of civil justice and the deputy head, where appointed, are to be ex officio members of the Civil Procedure Rule Committee. No other specific functions, duties or powers to be attached to the posts are to be provided in the statute.

I hope that that helps to explain why the new roles are considered helpful. They help the management of, and deployment of, the judiciary across the piece. We have responded to the issue throughout the Bill. We have tried to listen both to those responsible for administering justice in court and to court users in order to fashion provisions in a way that better delivers, or better helps them to deliver, the outcome that we seek. The provision is just another response to the requests that have been made. It is perfectly reasonable and proper for judges to seek to so arrange themselves.

Lord Carlisle of Bucklow: My second question was whether the head and the deputy head of civil justice will also have a judicial role, or whether they will be full-time administrators. Can the head of civil justice also hold the post of Master of the Rolls?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: They will be judicial roles. It is a burden that, in addition to sitting in a judicial capacity, judges have been instrumental and helpful in ensuring that our courts work properly. Noble Lords know the credit that should be given to judges for undertaking those duties. They are usually additional to their duties as full-time judges. We now have designated judges for various circuits. Presiding judges take on additional duties in that capacity. We often hear our judges being inappropriately denigrated. I take the opportunity to say how much we value the incredible amount of work that they do in that regard.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page