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Column 518on 18 March. However, on 18 March the court welfare officer failed to appear. The judge asked where she was and was told that she was in Australia. The judge then adjourned that hearing.
The court subsequently asked for an explanation from the local court welfare service, which, as my hon. Friend knows, comes under the responsibility of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. The service wrote to the court on 13 May enclosing a copy of a letter from the court welfare officer to the court dated 29 January, in which she said that she would not be able to attend the hearing. There was no record that the original letter had been received by the court. Subsequent exhaustive searches have failed to produce any evidence that it was ever received.
Regrettably, some confusion arose in the course of my correspondence with my hon. Friend about the case, because court staff did not initially tell officials at the Lord Chancellor's Department's headquarters of the court's correspondence with the court welfare service following the second hearing. I apologise for that error. My hon. Friend asked to be told who it was made by. It was made by the deputy chief clerk in the absence of the chief clerk. However, I am satisfied that that was an unfortunate oversight by the court, and that there was no intention to mislead Mr. Craig. As I have said, there is no evidence that the court welfare officer's letter was received by the court before the hearing on 18 March. The court cannot be expected to have taken action on a letter that it did not receive. In those circumstances, the court cannot be held to be at fault and thus there can be no payment.
Mr. Patrick Thompson : On the subject of payment, does my hon. Friend accept--I am sure that he does--that the delays that we have debated tonight have cost my constituent, Mr. Craig, a considerable sum of money ? I specified the approximate sums in my speech. Therefore, in spite of the technicalities, my constituent has lost money, and he has a case in natural justice. Will my hon. Friend respond to that argument ?
Mr. Taylor : I am sure that Mr. Craig has lost money. I think that the whole tenor of my remarks has been to concede that. However, the Lord Chancellor's Department is bound by law. There are only certain circumstances in which payments can be made. There must be demonstrable administrative error that gives rise to the consequential loss. It is my Department's case that there is no demonstrable administrative error causing the loss.
I have also indicated to my hon. Friend, without seeking to be at all personally critical of the listing process, that the listing process is not administrative but judicial, and it is independent of Government and independent of the Lord Chancellor's Department. As I have said, there is no evidence that the court welfare officer's letter was received by the court before the hearing on 18 March. The court cannot be expected to have taken action on a letter which it did not receive. In those circumstances-- at the risk of saying it twice--the court cannot be held to be at fault and thus there can be no payment.
I sympathise with Mr. Craig in his misfortune and the financial loss that he has suffered. However, I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that it would not be proper for
Column 519me to authorise payment from public funds when that loss was not caused by administrative errors on the part of my staff.
Column 520Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at seven minutes past Eleven o'clock.
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