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Session 2007 - 08
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Public Bill Committee Debates

Draft Criminal Proceedings etc. (Reform) (Scotland) Act 2007 (Powers of District and JP Courts) Order 2007

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. Mike Weir
Blunt, Mr. Crispin (Reigate) (Con)
Cairns, David (Minister of State, Scotland Office)
Carmichael, Mr. Alistair (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)
Carswell, Mr. Douglas (Harwich) (Con)
Clarke, Mr. Tom (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab)
Donohoe, Mr. Brian H. (Central Ayrshire) (Lab)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh, South) (Lab)
Hamilton, Mr. David (Midlothian) (Lab)
Hollobone, Mr. Philip (Kettering) (Con)
Kirkbride, Miss Julie (Bromsgrove) (Con)
Lazarowicz, Mark (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op)
McKechin, Ann (Glasgow, North) (Lab)
Osborne, Sandra (Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock) (Lab)
Reid, Mr. Alan (Argyll and Bute) (LD)
Roy, Mr. Frank (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)
Strang, Dr. Gavin (Edinburgh, East) (Lab)
Wallace, Mr. Ben (Lancaster and Wyre) (Con)
David Weir, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Fourth Delegated Legislation Committee

Wednesday 21 November 2007

[Mr. Mike Weir in the Chair]

Draft Criminal Proceedings etc. (Reform) (Scotland) Act 2007 (Powers of District and JP Courts) Order 2007

2.30 pm
The Minister of State, Scotland Office (David Cairns): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Criminal Proceedings etc. (Reform) (Scotland) Act 2007 (Powers of District and JP Courts) Order 2007.
I begin by saying what a pleasure it is, as always, to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Weir, considering what I hope is relatively straightforward and uncontentious legislation.
The order is made under section 104 of the Scotland Act 1998, which, as hon. Members know, allows for necessary or expedient changes in consequence of an Act of the Scottish Parliament. The order is made in consequence of the Criminal Proceedings etc. (Reform) (Scotland) Act 2007—an Act of the Scottish Parliament that received Royal Assent on 22 February 2007. The accompanying explanatory memorandum states wrongly that Royal Assent was given on 27 February. I apologise for that.
The Act contains provisions to establish justice of the peace courts that will gradually replace district courts in Scotland. Under the Act, many of the cases that JPs currently deal with will not be handled in courts, allowing JPs to hear more serious cases that are usually heard in sheriff courts. To make that happen, the Act includes provisions to improve the training and recruitment of JPs, and to introduce a system of appraisal for JPs. The Act also gives Scottish Executive Ministers the power to increase the custodial sentencing power of JPs from two months to six.
While the Act makes provision within devolved competence to facilitate the transition from district courts to JP courts, provision also needs to be made under reserved law, which is why we are gathered here this afternoon. The order makes available powers to impose sanctions under the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988. Currently, section 10(2) of that Act prevents Scottish district courts from trying some offences involving endorsement of driving licences unless they are fixed penalty offences.
In addition, section 50(b) of the 1988 Act provides that district courts cannot impose disqualification from driving, except when there are 12 or more penalty points to be taken into account—the so-called totting-up of cases. Those restrictions were put in place as it was previously considered that JPs were not trained to a sufficient level to deal with such cases.
Finally, members of the Committee will have seen the explanatory memorandum, which details the background to the policy. In an unusual move, the Merits Committee praised the way in which the previous Scottish Executive developed the policy in response to public consultation.
I hope the Committee agrees that the order is a sensible use of powers under the 1998 Act and that the practical result will be welcome. I commend the order to the Committee.
2.33 pm
Mr. Ben Wallace (Lancaster and Wyre) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Weir. I was always taught that there was no such thing as a bad short speech, so I shall just say that this is an entirely appropriate and in-order order. Her Majesty’s official Opposition will not oppose it or press the matter to a Division.
2.34 pm
Mr. Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Weir.
I, too, support the order. The 2007 Act includes several provisions to improve the training and recruitment of JPs, to change their terms of appointment and to introduce a system of appraisal for JPs. In view of those changes, it makes sense that JPs in the new JP courts and in the surviving district courts should hear disqualification and obligatory endorsement cases that are currently heard in sheriff courts.
I have one query for the Minister: why is it necessary for the order to come to Westminster? That is the case under current legislation, but I ask the Government to consider amending the 1998 Act so that the Scottish Parliament may deal with such matters.
Road traffic legislation is correctly reserved to Westminster, and people should be able to drive throughout Britain under the same rules and common penalties. We do not want, for example, a repeat of the situation whereby a driver can accumulate 11 points in Great Britain and 11 in Northern Ireland and escape disqualification because he has not reached 12 points in one jurisdiction. However, the management of the courts system is devolved to the Scottish Parliament, so surely it would make sense for the Scottish Parliament to decide which court should deal with various offences and punishments.
It is right that the alleged offence and the range of penalties are reserved matters in law, but surely it would make sense for the Scottish Parliament to have the power to decide which Scottish court should hear the case, since administration of the courts system is devolved. Allowing the Scottish Parliament to decide which courts heard which cases would surely streamline that administration.
I ask the Government to reflect on that and to consider amending the 1998 Act to allow the courts system in Scotland to be entirely devolved to the Scottish Parliament.
2.36 pm
Ann McKechin (Glasgow, North) (Lab): I, too, am pleased to confirm that I have no objections to the order. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister is relieved. However, it is worthwhile mentioning the fact that, although the legislation relates solely to the Scottish jurisdiction, it is being considered by a cross-section of Members of Parliament from both sides of the border. This is an example of devolution working in practice here in the House of Commons.
2.37 pm
David Cairns: I will answer those points quickly. I am grateful for the welcome that hon. Members have offered the order. The hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre reminded me of one of my favourite sayings: never in the history of oratory has anybody ever said, “That was a really good speech; I wish it had been longer.” I thank him for his brevity.
It is not that the Scottish Parliament cannot decide which court a case should go to; it can alter the power of the courts in relation to this piece of reserved law. The point is that the Scottish Parliament is trying to free the sheriff courts from some of the stuff that has to go there—it has the power to make more use of JP courts. However, JP courts need to be given these additional powers and only we can do that.
Finally, on the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North, statutory instruments are the most common way in which we legislate in this Parliament, and it is right that every Member has an equal right to vote on legislation considered by the UK Parliament. I would not have it any other way, because I believe in a united Parliament for the United Kingdom. I hope that those who want to interrupt that tradition reflect on the folly of their ways.
The Chairman: I shall resist the temptation to make a speech. [Hon. Members: “Come on!”] Don’t tempt me, there is time left.
Question put and agreed to.
Committee rose at twenty-one minutes to Three o’clock.

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