Letter from the Lord Norton of Louth,
Chairman of the Committee, to the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Irvine
The House of Lords Constitution Committee, which
I chair, have been appointed by the House of Lords "to examine
the constitutional implications of all public bills coming before
the House; and to keep under review the operation of the constitution".
The administration of the courts is, in the Committee's
view, a matter of constitutional significance, and the Committee
has several concerns relating to aspects of the new scheme that
are not specified in the Bill but are left to the discretion of
the Government, and in particular to the office of the Lord Chancellor.
In general terms, we find it difficult to assess
the potential constitutional significance of the bill without
the framework document that will govern the new executive agency
responsible for administering the courts being available.
On specific matters, we would therefore be grateful
for further information on:
(a) the number of Court Administration Councils
that are envisaged;
(b) the procedural requirements for "guidance"
which would be given by the Lord Chancellor under clause 4 to
Court Administration Councils. As the bill stands, it is not clear
whether such guidance is to be binding on the Councils, whether
it is to be publicly available, and whether it may contain specific
as well as general directions;
(c) what is envisaged by the Lord Chancellor's
power to remove lay justices from their offices under clause 11(6)(b)
("declining or neglecting to take a proper part in the exercise
of his functions"); and
(d) the justification for the Lord Chancellor's
proposed power to alter (as well as allow and disallow) rules
made by the Criminal Procedure Rule Committee (and the equivalent
power in respect of the Family Procedure Rule Committee and the
Civil Procedure Rule Committee).
In addition, the Committee note the centralising
tendency of this bill, illustrated particularly by the complete
transfer of responsibility for administering magistrates' courts
from Magistrates' Courts Committees to the Lord Chancellor. While
the Committee do not consider that the centralising proposals
in this bill merit public comment at this stage, members did wish
to register their concern that this bill is an example of a more
widespread trend. The Committee intend to keep the constitutional
implications of incremental, centralising actions throughout the
Government's legislative programme under review.
I would be grateful for a reply by Monday, 13th January,
so that the Committee have the opportunity to discuss it before
the bill is debated in Committee on January 20th.
23 December 2002