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Mr. Dismore: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs how many trials were (a) cancelled and (b) postponed as a result of industrial action by barristers; and if she will make a statement. 
No trial was abandoned as a result of the action. From 3 October to 28 October there were 61 instances where a trial was affected by Bar action.
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Contingency plans were implemented and cases were adjourned and rescheduled for another day. Over a four week period anywhere between 2,0003,000 trials are listed in the Crown court.
Grant Shapps: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs if she will review the operation of the coroners' system, with particular reference to a possible requirement on coroners to re-open cases following a court direction to do so. 
Ms Harman: I am currently concluding a review of the operation of the coroners' system, which includes consideration of the powers of coroners and inquest procedures. I will make a statement in due course about the reforms the Government plans to bring forward.
Mr. Peter Ainsworth: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs if she will list formal consultations being sponsored by her Department and its agencies; and what the (a) commencement date and (b) deadline for responses is in each case. 
|Title of consultation||Commencement date||Deadline for responses|
|Focusing Judicial Resources Appropriately (DCA)||19 October 2005||20 January 2006|
|Civil and family court fee increases (Her Majesty's Courts Service; HMCS)||23 September 2005||18 November 2005|
|Proposed changes to civil appeal rules (DCA)||9 September 2005||2 December 2005|
|The Delegation of Powers by Justices' Clerks to Non Legally Qualified Staff in Magistrates' Courts in England and Wales (HMCS)||8 September 2005||1 December 2005|
|Gravesend County Court (HMCS)||1 September 2005||30 November 2005|
|Proposed merger of Shropshire local justice areas (HMCS)||19 August 2005||25 November 2005|
|The proposed closure of Wetherby Courthouse (HMCS)||16 August 2005||15 November 2005|
Bridget Prentice: I refer the hon. Member to the figures contained on the annual report Analysis of Sickness Absence in the Civil Service" published by the Cabinet Office. Table A of the report gives details of both the average working days absence per year and the number of staff years on which that calculation is based. The most recent report for the calendar year 2003 was published on 1 November 2004, copies of which are available in the Library. This report and those for 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002 are available on the Cabinet Office website at:
In respect of the Department for Constitutional Affairs, the published figures include the Department itself and its Associated Offices, the Court Service and the Public Guardianship Office. They do not include sickness absence data in respect of the former Magistrates Courts Services, which were merged with the Court Service in April 2005 to form Her Majesty's Court Service.
David T.C. Davies: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (1) if she will take steps to ascertain the nature and level of the ISO certification of (a) DNA Diagnostic and (b) DNA Bioscience as providers of services to her Department; 
Bridget Prentice: I refer the hon. Member for Monmouth to my reply on 24 October 2005, Official Report, column 8W. I am still investigating the matters raised in the hon. Member's questions, and I will write when I am in a position to do so.
Mr. Heald: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs what assessment she has made of the impact of Clause 23 of the Electoral Administration Bill on the ability of independent candidates to run with the ballot paper description of independent combined with the name of a registered political party. 
Ms Harman: Clause 22 allows independent candidates to use the word 'Independent' or a description. Clause 23 specifies the type of description that can be used. The description must not be the same as the name or description of a registered political party, nor be so similar as to confuse with or lead an elector to associate the candidate with a registered political party.
Mr. Heald: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs what assessment she has made of the impact of Clause 47 of the Electoral Administration Bill on the ability of registered political parties to run a candidate with a ballot paper description of a locality and party name combined. 
Ms Harman: Under Clause 47 registered political parties are allowed to register up to five descriptions with the Electoral Commission. It would be up to the party to decide whether they wished to register a description of a locality and party name combined, and whether they wished to use this description on a ballot paper.
In criminal law, where matters fall outside the ordinary knowledge of the court, the court may allow the opinions of an expert witness to be admitted as evidence. The decision whether or not to allow the evidence of an expert witness to be admitted rests with the court, which must be satisfied that the material comes within a recognised field of expertise and that the witness is properly qualified in the subject calling for expertise. The appropriate competence may be the result of formal study or training, experience, or both. It is for the jury to decide what weight ought to be placed on any expert evidence that has been admitted.
One exception to these general rules is that, under the Criminal Procedure (Insanity and Unfitness to Plead) Act 1991, a defendant shall not be acquitted on the grounds of insanity, or found unfit to plead, except on the evidence of two or more registered medical practitioners, at least one of whom is approved by the Secretary of State as having special experience in the diagnosis or treatment of mental disorder.
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Mr. Heald: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs what the minimum age is for an hereditary peer to take up a seat in the House of Lords following a peers' by-election. 
Keith Vaz: To ask the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs how many complaints have been made by unsuccessful applicants for judicial appointments on the grounds of race discrimination since 1 July 2003. 
Ms Harman: Out of 35 complaints made during this period to the Commission for Judicial Appointments by unsuccessful applicants, five were on the grounds of race discrimination. Investigation of these complaints has yet to be completed
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