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Mr. Allen: On that point, as the numbers of the magistracy decline, the House loads more and more new legislation on to magistrates to judge upon. Does the Bill in any sense address the shortfall in magistrates and the composition of the magistracy in terms of age and gender?

Yvette Cooper: The gender profile of the magistracy reflects relatively closely the gender profile of the population: 49 per cent. of magistrates are women. A lot of work has been under way for some time to increase the number of people from different minority ethnic communities in the magistracy. We are looking at possible recruitment expansion for the magistracy. Interestingly, the measures in the Criminal Justice Bill to extend magistrates' sentencing powers are a huge vote of confidence in the magistracy.

Most of the detail about how the new organisation will work is not in the Bill, nor should it be. It is not our function as legislators to design the detail of a new organisation. We have said from the start that the new organisation needs to be built by those who are most closely involved in all the different courts at the moment. That is why an immense number of consultations have taken place. A report on the discussion groups that have taken place throughout the country is available in the Libraries of both Houses for hon. Members who wish to look further into that.

As I have said, different stakeholders have different views on some of the detail. We will not satisfy everyone but I think that we have made important progress and are building a new organisation that has the confidence of the judiciary, the Magistrates Association, the

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Justices' Clerks Society and other organisations, stakeholders and trade unions that are closely involved in the running of the courts.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West): Schedule 2, which is about the abolition of magistrates courts committees, sets out that the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981 I will apply. Will the Parliamentary Secretary assure the House, and people who work in the Court Service, that although TUPE does not cover pensions—because the acquired rights directive does not—the pension rights of those staff will be preserved upon transfer?

Yvette Cooper: I certainly can assure my hon. Friend that we have had considerable discussions with the unions about the pension arrangements. I understand that the unions are currently happy with the arrangements and I am happy to have further discussions with them if further concerns are raised. Those discussions have covered the details of pensions arrangements, as well as the rest of the TUPE measures.

The Bill contains other measures to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the courts, particularly the criminal courts. Part 2 supports the closer integration of the jurisdiction of the magistrates courts and the Crown courts. It will remove unnecessary restrictions and geographical boundaries, allowing cases to be heard at the most convenient location and helping to speed up the delivery of justice. Magistrates will have national jurisdiction, allowing them to be reassigned quickly if they change address, to sit at a court near their place of work, or to provide for circumstances in which it is inappropriate for a local bench to hear a case.

Clause 19 underpins a much greater role for the Judicial Studies Board in the training, appraisal and development of magistrates. Part 7 of the Bill introduces a new statutory criminal procedure rule committee, following the recommendation of Sir Robin Auld that a single authoritative body to make rules for the Court of Appeal, the Crown court and the magistrates courts should be created.

At present, there is no single forum for discussing improvements in the criminal trial process, and rules tend to develop in a piecemeal fashion. The new committee will be given a modernising and streamlining agenda to try to achieve greater integration in and consistency across the criminal justice system, and this has been welcomed strongly by the Lord Chief Justice.

Fine enforcement accounts for a major section of the Bill. Bluntly, fine enforcement by the independent magistrates courts committees is too low, and there are unacceptable variations in the level of enforcement across the country.

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford): As a footnote to the issue of the administration of the new service, as two consultations on the reorganisation of magistrates courts are going on in Staffordshire—one about a unified administration and another about reducing six petty sessional divisions to three—may I ask whether there is any point in continuing with such consultations and plans, in the light of the law that is about to be introduced?

Yvette Cooper: I do not know the details of the consultations to which my hon. Friend refers, but there

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is probably a need to carry on with sensible changes, whether at local or regional level. We cannot freeze the entire work of the courts simply because of the process of unifying the administration. Clearly, where decisions are to be taken on where the unified administration is relevant, or when links with other courts are relevant, those matters need to be taken into account. There will be problems if those facilities operate in a vacuum. However, it would be a mistake for all of those consultations and debates to be held up as a result.

Effective fine enforcement is essential for upholding the authority of the courts, sustaining confidence in the fine as a sanction and ensuring that victims and prosecutors receive their compensation or costs. Currently, the percentage of fines and other payments collected by the courts stands at below 60 per cent. In some areas the payment rate is over 80 per cent.; in others it is under 40 per cent. That simply does not provide the necessary assurance to sentencers and the public that the fines imposed will be paid in practice. The Bill already sets out a series of measures to improve fine enforcement, and we are considering going further.

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking): Could the variation in the recovery of fines be anything to do with the ability and willingness of the persons fined in the areas concerned to pay?

Yvette Cooper: A series of factors may affect the level of enforcement in particular areas. Some research suggests that income levels in particular areas have an impact on payment rates; in areas with lower incomes, there are also lower payment rates. Some of those concerned genuinely cannot pay the fines that have been imposed; some simply will not pay—but variations in income are not sufficient to explain the variations in the level of enforcement.

Other factors also affect fine enforcement. In areas where payment points were closed, there was an impact on the level of fines collected—which was hardly surprising, really. In some areas, fine enforcement courts were not held for a period; that too had an impact on enforcement rates. Magistrates courts committees can carry out some administrative functions that have an impact on the level of fine enforcement.

Mr. Cash: It is understood that the Government propose to table amendments to deal with aspects of fine enforcement. Will the Parliamentary Secretary assure me that those amendments will be ready for the Committee, and not just introduced on Report—and, furthermore, that they will deal with some of the questions raised in the recommendations of the Select Committee on the Lord Chancellor's Department?

Yvette Cooper: It is our intention to table amendments in time for the Committee, and I want to outline some of the areas on which we are considering amendments. Our proposals were widely welcomed as improvements to the fine enforcement system; they were described in the Select Committee report as "manna from heaven," and I hope that they will bring about improvements.

The approach behind the Bill is as follows: once the court orders have been made, enforcement is primarily an administrative process. There should be every

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opportunity for the offender to co-operate and to pay the fine promptly, but much less opportunity for persistent offenders to play the system. Support must be available for those who need help to organise their payments or who are genuinely struggling to pay. People should not be able to evade the sentences of the courts. That means that we need alternatives and advice for those who genuinely cannot pay, stronger sanctions for those who will not pay, and a better system of administration to make that happen in practice.

The unified administration will allow poor performance in some areas to be addressed in a way that it cannot be at present. The Bill also provides for the courts to get better information on defendants' means, so they can sentence more appropriately in the first place. Clause 36 allows us to appoint fines officers, who will have discretion to vary payment terms and will be able to impose sanctions on defaulters who refuse to co-operate, without the need for further court hearings.

Mr. Hogg: The Parliamentary Secretary may be coming to this, but the Bill provides for discounts of up to 50 per cent. Has any study been made of whether the discounts are likely to reduce substantially the flow of revenue from fines or, alternatively, to drive fine levels up?

Yvette Cooper: We do not know the answer to that yet, which is exactly why we have to pilot the measures. Some have argued that the discounts will provide an incentive and will increase the level of revenue; others have argued that they will reduce the income, as the only people who will receive a discount will be those who would have paid anyway. We need to measure this in practice, which is why we have said that the discounts, the increases and the sanctions will be piloted first. We plan to begin the pilots rapidly, to assess the impact of the measures on fine enforcement and on the level of income flowing in to the courts.

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