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Baroness Scotland of Asthal moved Amendments Nos. 48 and 49:

    Page 8, line 25, leave out "14 or 15" and insert "10, 14, 15 or (Training, development and appraisal of lay justices)"

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal moved Amendment No. 50:

    After Clause 16, insert the following new clause—

The Lord Chancellor must take all reasonable and practicable steps—
(a) for ensuring that lay justices acting in a local justice area are kept informed of matters affecting them in the performance of their duties, and
(b) for ascertaining their views on such matters."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 17 [Appointment etc.]:

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 51:

    Page 8, line 37, leave out from "1871 (c. 48)" to end of line 38.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 52 and 175.

Clauses 17 and 19 largely re-enact the provisions in the Justices of the Peace Act 1997 with regard to district judges (magistrates' courts) and deputy district judges (magistrates' courts). Subsection (2) of each clause provides that these judges may not take the oath of allegiance and the judicial oath before a lay justice. We have now clarified that this is already the position under the Promissory Oaths Act 1871, so that it is unnecessary for these clauses to say the same thing again.

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Under Clause 19(2) a deputy district judge (magistrates' courts) may take the oaths before a district judge (magistrates' courts). This was the effect of the Bill providing that district judges (magistrates' courts) are to be judges of the Crown Court. On reflection, we think it preferable that both deputy district judges (magistrates' courts) and district judges (magistrates' courts)—and lay justices—should take the oaths before a judge of a higher rank; that is to say, a circuit judge or above. The amendment therefore removes paragraph (b) of Clause 19(2).

Finally, noble Lords will be heartened to know that we have taken the opportunity to update the wording of the 1871 Act, in the consequential amendments in Schedule 6. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 19 [Deputy District Judges (Magistrates' Courts)]:

Baroness Scotland of Asthal moved Amendment No. 52:

    Page 9, line 16, leave out from "1871 (c. 48)" to end of line 19.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 22 [Justices' clerks and assistant clerks]:

Baroness Anelay of St Johns moved Amendment No. 53:

    Page 10, line 17, at end insert ", and

(c) appointed after consultation by the Lord Chancellor with the chairman or chairmen and deputy chairmen of the justices assigned to the local justice area or areas to which the Lord Chancellor intends to assign the justices' clerk."

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I shall speak also to my Amendment No. 55 and to government Amendment No. 54.

We return here to the theme of the importance of the relationship that is built up between the magistrates and their justices' clerk. It is a relationship built on mutual trust and is vital to the effective delivery of justice locally. We debated this matter at length in Committee.

Clause 22 gives total responsibility for the appointment of justices' clerks to the Lord Chancellor. In my amendments, both in Committee and today, we have not sought to remove or reduce that power. However, we do believe that, before making any appointment, the Lord Chancellor should consult the chairman and deputy chairman of the local justice area to which he intends to assign the justices' clerk. In my amendment, I also made allowance for the fact that the Lord Chancellor may assign the clerk to more than one local justice area. I hope that the amendment is modest and workable.

By virtue of Section 42(6) of the Justices of the Peace Act 1997, the local Bench of magistrates must currently be consulted concerning the appointment or removal of a justices' clerk for the area. The Government are removing that statutory consultation procedure and may place it in secondary legislation. We are rather left in doubt.

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I return to the matter only because of our debate in Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, stated that his understanding was that the Government would ensure that proper consultation took place. He went on to say that there would be maximum consultation and that he just wanted to avoid anything going into the Bill. He did not specify what the Government would consider to be proper or maximum consultation. I tabled the amendment to secure clarification from the Government.

I shall be very brief on Amendment No. 55 simply because it is met—in spirit, at least—by the second half of government Amendment No. 54. That amendment, which is in the name of the Lord Chancellor, introduces new subsections (2A) and (2B), the latter of which addresses the kind of issues that I sought to address in Amendment No. 55. I welcome with open arms the first part of government Amendment No. 54. I could make too much of that but I shall not in case I scare it away from the Floor of the House.

The Government are to be congratulated on thinking further on this matter. It is always nice to see one's words return in the form of a government amendment. The original drafting was put together by non-lawyers and has been tidied up beautifully by the Government. I raised the matter in Committee and pressed it to a Division. Sadly, we lost the vote. The Government are to be congratulated on this occasion for listening to the 97 noble Lords who voted against the Government. I am glad that the Government thought that the views of those noble Lords should perhaps be paramount and tabled that amendment. I am delighted that it will be added to the Bill. I beg to move.

4 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I shall begin with Amendment No. 54. It will place on a statutory footing the assurances that I endeavoured to provide in Committee; namely, that justices' clerks will be assigned to local areas and that the local Bench chairman or deputy chairmen will be consulted before the Lord Chancellor changes a clerk's assignment and assigns him or her to another area.

My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor proposed the amendment. Its principal effect will be to put beyond doubt the fact that justices' clerks will be assigned to local areas, and confirm the duty on him of consultation.

We have listened carefully to the persuasive arguments put forward in your Lordships' House. My noble friend Lady Scotland met representatives from the Justices' Clerks' Society. The society's main concern was a perceived threat to the independence of its members. It has been argued that the Bill as drafted could give the Lord Chancellor free rein to move a justices' clerk around the country pretty much at will if he did not like the advice that that clerk was giving. Despite the assurances we have given that that will not happen in practice, I well understand the society's concerns.

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I also reaffirm that the Government have a regard for the close relationship that can exist between Benches of magistrates and their justices' clerks. Amendment No. 54 addresses those concerns by requiring the Lord Chancellor to assign clerks to specific areas and to consult the local Bench before changing a clerk's assignment. The Lord Chancellor would not, therefore, have the alleged free rein to move clerks at will. I can confirm with some confidence that the Justices' Clerks' Society is happy with the changes that we are proposing. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, nods her head in assent.

We were grateful for the important debate that we had last time and, as the noble Baroness said, to the 97 who have, despite losing the vote, prevailed on this occasion by persuading us of the strength of their feelings and the merit of their argument. In light of that and the amendment that we have tabled, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment. I will move Amendment No. 54 at the appropriate time.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I shall not detain the Government for long after this agreement across the Chamber. I am aware—and want to state this clearly and not simply by nodding my head—that the Justices' Clerks' Society welcomes the government amendment. I will not proceed with my amendment. I place on the record my thanks to the Justices' Clerks' Society for its briefings throughout the passage of the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 54:

    Page 10, line 22, at end insert—

"(2A) The Lord Chancellor—
(a) must assign each justices' clerk to one or more local justice areas, and
(b) subject to subsection (2B), may change an assignment so as to assign the justices' clerk to a different local justice area or to different local justice areas.
(2B) Before changing an assignment of a justices' clerk so that he is no longer assigned to a local justice area, the Lord Chancellor must consult—
(a) the chairman of the lay justices assigned to that area, or
(b) if it is not possible or not practicable to consult the chairman, the deputy chairman or such of the lay justices assigned to or acting in the area as appear to the Lord Chancellor appropriate."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 55 not moved.]

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