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Mr. Heath: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst) : With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 56, in page 3, line 35 [Clause 4], leave out from 'specifying' to first 'the' in line 38 and insert—

'(a) in respect of areas except London, areas which are the same as, or fall entirely within, the police areas listed in Schedule 1 to the Police Act 1996 (c. 16) (division of England and Wales, except London, into police areas), and
(b) in respect of London, at least five separate areas falling entirely within'.

No 2, in page 3, line 35 [Clause 4], leave out from 'which' to first 'the' in line 38 and insert—

'(a) in respect of areas except London, are the same as, or fall entirely within, the police areas listed in Schedule 1 to the Police Act 1996 (c. 16) (division of England and Wales, except London, into police areas), and
(b) in respect of London, fall entirely within'.

No. 51, in page 3, line 35 [Clause 4], after 'as', insert

'(or in any event no larger than)'.

No. 3, in page 4, line 6 [Clause 5], after 'concerned', insert—

'( ) in particular, to scrutinise, review and make recommendations about the way in which the Lord Chancellor is discharging his duty under section 21 in relation to the courts with which the board is concerned;'.

No. 57, in page 61, line 7 [Schedule 1], after 'board', insert

', except the courts board for London,'.

No. 58, in page 61, line 18 [Schedule 1], at end insert—

'2A The courts board for London must have—
(a) at least three members who are judges,
(b) at least six members who are lay justices, each of whom is assigned to a local justice area the whole or part of which is included in the board's area,
(c) at least six other members who are persons appearing to the Lord Chancellor to have appropriate knowledge or experience of the work of the courts in the area for which the board acts, and
(d) at least six more members who are persons appearing to the Lord Chancellor to be representative of people living in the area,
and may have other such members of a description mentioned in subparagraphs (a) to (d) as the Lord Chancellor considers appropriate.'.

No. 59, in page 62, line 10 [Schedule 1], at end insert—

'(c) the establishment of consultation arrangements with local authorities in the area for which the board acts.'.

Mr. Heath: New clause 3 was tabled by Liberal Democrat and Conservative spokesmen, and is a bit of an anomaly, as it deals with circuits. Originally, I had no intention of bringing up the matter, as generally circuits are not a thing of statute—they are an administrative convenience, albeit one whose foundation goes back to the mists of time. I did not think that we needed clear legislation on court circuits in the Bill. However, my view was entirely changed by my hon. Friend the

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Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Mrs. Brooke), who passed on to me some disturbing correspondence that she had received from the resident judge at Dorchester, his honour Judge John Beashel, who objected strongly to the way in which the Government have behaved in seeking to amend the western circuit by arbitrarily removing Winchester Crown court from Hampshire and adding it to the south-east circuit. He feels strongly about that, but more importantly, there is unity in the judicial profession on the subject. Indeed, Judge Beashel said in his letter to my hon. Friend:

Judge Beashel includes in his correspondence, of which I have copies, a letter to The Times from the chancellor of the dioceses of Winchester and Portsmouth, Mr. Clark QC, and another letter published in a newspaper that could not have been signed by a more distinguished group of lawyers, including Lord Bridge of Harwich, Lord Ackner, Lord Nolan and others.

Mr. Mark Oaten (Winchester) rose—

Mr. Heath: I shall give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Oaten), who has no doubt received representations on the matter.

Mr. Oaten: May I supplement my hon. Friend's list by adding that that is the view of many judges in Winchester. Indeed, so concerned are they that they have even attended my surgeries to make representations. The general view is: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Mr. Heath: I fully agree with my hon. Friend's observation. Having had to countenance the view of the Lord Chancellor as a stripper with a train to catch, the thought of circuit judges queuing up at my hon. Friend's constituency surgery, presumably appropriately robed, to make their representations, is one that will remain with me for some time.

To corroborate my hon. Friend's point, however, Judge Brodrick, the resident judge at Winchester—I am sure that he has approached my hon. Friend—and the president of the Council of Her Majesty's Circuit Judges was good enough to produce a briefing paper on the implications of the change. The Government's only argument for changing the western circuit, which has been in existence since time immemorial, although perhaps not in legal terms, is one of bureaucratic tidiness. They want the legal circuits to correspond with the Government office regions.

6 pm

I cannot for the life of me see any logic to that. Even in the broadest terms, I do not see how the administration of justice is improved by it, but I do see the cogent arguments adduced by the judges against the proposals. Taking away Winchester produces a great imbalance between the south-eastern and the western circuit in terms of courthouses and the number of judges, especially judges experienced in particular

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specialties, and will affect the travel patterns of people who require access to the law courts, especially in Dorset and areas near Winchester but not near the other courts of the western circuit. I see such strong arguments against that that I cannot believe that the Lord Chancellor is serious in his proposals.

I understand that the final decision has not yet been taken, but will be made shortly. If such arbitrary decisions are to be made, we need a mechanism to interact with the Lord Chancellor. The courts boards for a whole circuit area seem the most appropriate means of establishing that mechanism.

It is interesting that the circumstances of Winchester do not seem to apply in Wales and Chester, where the Government are content to allow the anomaly to continue because they say that the legal administrative arrangements are too difficult to disentangle. Exactly the same arguments seem to me as a lay person to apply in Winchester, and my view is supported by members of the judiciary, who have to make the system work. I hope the Minister will give us a simple explanation of such an apparently arbitrary and highhanded decision by the Lord Chancellor, of why there was not prior consultation with those affected, and of what he believes to be the advantages of the proposed arrangement that outweigh the patent disadvantages that have been identified.

There are six other amendments in the group. I shall say very little about amendment No. 56, as my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) hopes to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker. The arguments are principally to do with London, and as a London Member, my hon. Friend has a particular interest.

The amendment revisits the argument that we had in Committee about the size of the courts boards areas. It appears to be the Government's view that the courts boards areas will be coterminous with the present police authority areas for the greater part of the country, and in the case of London will be coterminous with the Metropolitan police area, including the area of the City of London police. I argued in Committee and I argue again today through amendment No. 2 that that is a false reconciliation of the relevant areas.

I am glad that the courts boards areas are not to be bigger than the police authority areas, as was feared in the initial stages of the Bill, but many joint board areas go well beyond the county area for police authorities. I think of my own in Avon and Somerset, as well as the Thames Valley police area and the Greater Manchester area covering a substantial metropolitan area, and similarly in the west midlands. It seems anomalous that simply because there is a single police authority area, there should be a single courts board area for those, whereas for the smaller county constabularies, there should be a discrete courts board area for each—for example, a separate area for Gwent, and another for Bedfordshire.

It makes sense for courts boards areas not to extend over more than one police authority, and thus more than one probation service or other judicial organisation area. I accept that. However, we have reached a point where the areas are too big to properly represent local citizens. It would be far better were we to resile a little from such amalgamations and consider

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constituent parts of police authority areas. The best example is London, where the situation is rather silly, but the problem exists elsewhere in the country as well.

On amendment No. 3, we are supported by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins) and his hon. Friends. It would allow for scrutiny of the way in which the Lord Chancellor carries out his duty under clause 21 to consult the lay justices, as we must now call them. That is crucial to the successful implementation of the Bill. It is essential that the Lord Chancellor properly consult the lay magistracy to ensure that what he is proposing through the relevant mechanisms will work in local areas.

The basic level of scrutiny that we suggest in the amendment would provide some sort of check and balance to ensure that the Lord Chancellor keeps to the commitments that he made in the course of discussion of the Bill and in the Bill itself, and that the lay magistracy have a clear avenue through which to raise their concerns if, as I suspect we may find some time in the future, their views are not being taken sufficiently into account.

New clause 3 on circuits is largely a probing clause to help us better understand the Government's thinking. The proposals on the courts boards encapsulated in amendments Nos. 56, 2 and 57 to 59 are more substantive. The important role of scrutiny is dealt with in amendment No. 3.

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