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Lord Goodhart: My Lords, the other amendment in this group is in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Anelay and Lady Seccombe. Although they did not speak to it, I understand, as the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, said in a previous debate, that their view is the same as ours.

I will of course consider carefully what the Minister has said. We will have to consider, as no doubt the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, will consider, whether an amendment in one or other of these forms should be brought back on Third Reading. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 81 and 82 not moved.]

Lord Goodhart moved Amendment No. 83:

"( ) The magistrates' court may (either before or after the end of the period of 10 working days) extend the time for appealing under this paragraph."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the amendment is more important than it may look at first sight. It is concerned with the strict time limits on the steps to be taken by a defaulter under Schedule 2 for an appeal against an order by a fines officer. Paragraph 15 imposes a 10-day limit on an appeal by a defaulter against a further steps notice.

My amendment is defective, in that other 10-day limits should have been included. For example, an appeal made under paragraph 8 from a decision by the fines officer under paragraph 7 is subject to the 10-day

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limit, as is an appeal under paragraph 11 from a decision made under that paragraph. However, the amendment is sufficient to raise the issue.

The time limits are strict, and well established legal authority exists that states that if there is a time limit in a Bill and the Bill says nothing about a power to extend that time, the time cannot be extended however unfortunate the circumstances. Of course, it is right that an appeal should be brought within 10 working days if there is no good reason for failing to do so. However, undoubtedly there are problems in that regard.

First, the period of 10 working days is measured from the date of the decision, not from the receipt of notice of the decision. The actual time for the appeal may be as little as seven working days. Although first-class post is in theory delivered within one day—and I assume that regulations will require that the notice is to be delivered by first-class post—it is well known that first-class post, especially if it is posted at the end of the working day, as much office post is, does not necessarily arrive on the morning of the next working day.

Furthermore, there is the possibility, which in many cases will be fact, that a defaulter will have left his or her home for work before the delivery of the post and will not get the notice until the evening. If one assumes that the post is not delivered until the second morning, and is not opened until that evening, that reduces the time available to seven days. At the very least, the Government should be prepared to reconsider that point. Will they consider whether the limit should be 10 working days from the receipt of the notice rather than from the date of the decision?

Secondly, and even more importantly, there may easily be entirely legitimate reasons for the notice of the decision not being brought to the attention of the defaulter in time for an appeal. A defaulter may be working away from home or on holiday—even defaulters are entitled to take holidays. There may be a family illness, which requires the defaulter to be in a different part of the country. There are perfectly good reasons why a 10-day time limit may be broken.

When tight time limits are imposed and no power is given to extend those time limits for any reason whatever, an injustice is bound to occur. The Minister said in her letter that that could be sorted out by the pilot scheme. However, such a scheme has to operate within the boundaries of Schedule 2 as it now stands, and it cannot be part of a pilot scheme to give leave to extend the time. I would go further and say that absence of a power to extend the time is so plainly unreasonable that I see no need to await the results of the pilot. The Government should accept the amendment without waiting for the results of the pilot. I beg to move.

Lord Renton: My Lords, Schedule 2 is complicated and at times rather obscure. We surely have an obligation to ensure that justice will be done, in spite of its complexity. In particular, I think that paragraph

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15 of Schedule 2 needs to be clarified and expanded. I warmly support Amendment No. 83, which I think will ensure that justice will be done.

5.45 p.m.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I again find myself saying that I understand the noble Lord's concerns. However, as I set out in my letter, I think that we have the route to satisfy those concerns. I should perhaps emphasise that we would not be expecting an appeal to be completed in 10 days, only for the intention to appeal to be lodged so that a date can be set. However, I am grateful to the noble Lord for raising this issue, which he also raised in Committee. I should like to reassure him if I can.

As I indicated to the noble Lord, we intend to pilot the Schedule 2 fine enforcement measures prior to implementation in order to evaluate their effectiveness. The Bill provides that for the purpose of the pilot schemes any aspect of Schedule 2 may be modified. Consequently, we already have the power to pilot the appeals measures with a longer time period, allowing us to test whether the 10-day period is sufficient. If experience of the pilots shows that the 10-day period is insufficient, then my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor has the power under Clause 31(8) to amend this provision in Schedule 2. The final scheme will then be put before Parliament for approval under the affirmative resolution procedure.

We have used the date of the decision because the date of receipt of the decision can vary and is arguable. We think that that may be the clearest way of dealing with the matter. It may be that, following the pilots, an amendment using the Clause 31(8) procedure along the lines of Amendment No. 69 could prove the best way forward. However, we do not know whether that is the case now. Given that assurance and the fact that the provisions allow for a longer pilot period, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

If I may, I should like to make a further point on the ability to increase interest. Although I realise that the Government have won the day on that issue, I also hope that I have already demonstrated that we do not stop thinking just because we have won. I still think that we are right. However, I should like to reassure the noble Lord that the proposed increase would take effect only if the offender refused or failed to co-operate, and would be waived if the offender contacted the court and agreed to make new payment terms. I do not think that I made that absolutely clear in responding to the earlier amendment. I hope that it gives the noble Lord some comfort in his defeat.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, the noble Baroness may not be entirely surprised to hear that I am not satisfied with the answers that she has given. Experience in other circumstances where there are rigid statutory time limits has certainly convinced me that rigid time limits, particularly when they are quite short, as they are here, are a serious source of injustice. That might just as well be recognised now as when a pilot scheme has proved it. Of course it is different when there are

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very long time limits, as there are in the limitation of actions when one has a period of three, six or 12 years depending on the type of proceedings brought. In this case, the 10-day time period is very short.

I do not intend to take the matter further now because, first, as I indicated beforehand, my amendment is defective. Secondly, it does not specifically raise what I think really ought to be raised by a separate amendment; namely, the problem of the 10 working days being noted from the date of the decision rather than from the date when notice of the decision is received, which is of course a much more common form of starting the time running. In those circumstances I shall withdraw Amendment No. 83 but I give notice that it is likely that I shall bring back a revised form of that amendment on Third Reading.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, in referring to Clause 31(8) procedure I may have referred to Amendment No. 67. I think that I should have referred to Amendment No. 83. If I have referred to an amendment in error, I should like to correct that for the purposes of the record.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 84 not moved.]

Clause 32 [Designated officers and magistrates' courts]:

Baroness Scotland of Asthal moved Amendments Nos. 85 and 86:

    Page 15, line 23, leave out "(whenever passed)"

    Page 15, line 27, leave out "arrangements made by him under" and insert "a contract made by virtue of"

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 36 [Disqualification of lay justices who are members of local authorities]:

Lord Goodhart moved Amendment No. 87:

    Page 18, line 4, leave out subsection (5).

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment proposes to leave out subsection (5) of Clause 36. Clause 36 provides that a lay justice who is a member of a local authority may not sit as a judge in proceedings brought by or against or on appeal from a decision of that authority or a committee or officer of that authority. That is a statement of the obvious. Clearly, any lay justice in that position should not sit in that case.

Subsection (5) then states:

    "No act is invalidated merely because of the disqualification under this section of the person by whom it is done".

Any justice of the peace who is a councillor must surely realise that he or she, as an interested party in the proceedings by or against the local authority of which he or she is a member, or on appeal from a decision of that authority or a committee or a member of that authority, should not be sitting as a judge. A tribunal containing such a justice of the peace cannot, I believe, be regarded as impartial or independent for the

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purposes of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights as incorporated by the Human Rights Act.

It is true that in this case the Joint Committee on Human Rights accepted the explanation by the Lord Chancellor that the inclusion of the word "merely" left it open for the other party to the case to challenge a decision on Article 6 grounds. I have great respect for the Joint Committee but I believe that the Joint Committee allowed itself to be too easily persuaded. I cannot see how any case of this kind could avoid a successful challenge by a discontented other party.

As was pointed out in Committee by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson of Lymington, there is, of course, a principle that a decision of a court taken in excess of its authority is treated as valid unless and until it is challenged. The removal of subsection (5) would not, of course, affect that principle. A decision taken by a court which included a disqualified justice of the peace would stand until it was challenged. But the effect of subsection (5) is that a decision of a court is valid even if it is challenged. I believe that it conflicts with Article 6.

To avoid the effect of subsection (5) it would be necessary to show something more than the fact that one of the members of the tribunal was disqualified. In effect, it would be necessary to show actual bias. That is as far as one can stretch the meaning of the word "merely". "Merely" must mean that it is not enough to show simply that a person sat who was disqualified. It must be necessary to go the next step and show that that person was guilty of actual bias. But under Article 6 the mere presence of an interested party as a member of the court prevents the tribunal being independent and impartial without the need to show actual bias. Therefore, I believe that there is a conflict between subsection (5) and Article 6 of the European convention. I believe that to avoid that incompatibility subsection (5) should be deleted. I beg to move.

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