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Lord Rogan: I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 83 to 90 not moved.]

Clause 8 agreed to.

7.15 p.m.

Clause 9 [Lay magistrates]:

[Amendments Nos. 91 and 92 not moved.]

Lord Rogan moved Amendment No. 93:

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 95 and 96. Clause 9 relates to the introduction of lay magistrates in Northern Ireland. At the outset, it is worth highlighting the fact that these persons will be appointed by the Lord Chancellor—and the Lord Chancellor alone. However, the First Minister and Deputy First Minister must have a role to play in the appointment, for example, of judges in the High Court.

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The three amendments aim to address the weak provisions on eligibility. As the Bill stands, the Lord Chancellor may, by virtue of subsection (4), relegate eligibility.

Amendment No. 93 seeks to remove subsection (5)(d), which suggests that an order may list prescribed offences whereby a person, if convicted, may be ineligible. "Prescribed" in that context, however, by subsection (6) means, "prescribed in the order". That permits an exclusory role for persons convicted of theft but the inclusion of those convicted of terrorist offences.

Amendments Nos. 95 and 96 would replace that provision with a strict prohibition of persons convicted of criminal offences and dictates that persons convicted whilst lay magistrates must be removed. Just as we do not wish to have criminals involved in judicial appointments, we similarly do not wish criminals to be appointed lay magistrates—such persons will have an important role dealing with youth justice and reprimanding offending juveniles. I beg to move.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: These important amendments deal with the issue of qualification for lay magistrates. Amendment No. 93 seeks to remove from the list of disqualification provision for lay magistrates—which can be waived by the Lord Chancellor—the subsection which states that candidates who have been convicted of a prescribed offence are disqualified.

The review recommended that the criminal justice functions of justices of the peace should be undertaken by a new office of lay magistrate. The Bill accordingly sets out the likely qualification requirements for that post.

Amendment No. 94 seeks to remove the Lord Chancellor's discretion in applying those qualifications. The Lord Chancellor has that discretion in making justice of the peace appointments in England and Wales. If the amendment were agreed to, the Lord Chancellor would not, for example, be able to appoint candidates who depart even in the smallest way from the eligibility criteria. That would exclude a candidate, for example, who lived just five miles beyond the prescribed distance. The Government believe that such flexibility is essential and we therefore hope that the amendment will be withdrawn.

Amendment No. 95 seeks to reinstate the prescribed offence disqualification provision, but it inserts it in a new subsection without the caveat that it may be waived by the Lord Chancellor.

Amendment No. 96 requires the Lord Chancellor to remove a lay magistrate if he is convicted of a criminal offence. The effect of the provisions would be to remove any discretion the Lord Chancellor had to set aside convictions for certain prescribed offences and to decide to appoint such an individual as a lay magistrate anyway.

I understand where the noble Lord is coming from in relation to the amendments. However, we do not think that the Bill is wrong. We think that the right

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balance has been struck. Lay magistrates play a relatively modest, if important, role in the justice system and it would be regrettable if there were no flexibility to set aside relatively minor criminal convictions if the case for appointing an individual were otherwise overwhelming.

The Leader of the Opposition in the other place noted that just because a person has a past, it does not mean that he cannot play a role in the future. We support that sentiment and disagree with the amendments, which seek to remove that possibility. Members of the Committee said earlier that redemption should not be ruled out. I respectfully agree with that sentiment.

Lord Glentoran: I was interested to hear what the Minister said. It is strange that we have a seriously thought-out prescription—paragraphs (a) to (d) of subsection 5 are seriously prescriptive—but that they can be made as nothing by the Lord Chancellor. The Bill is a serious mixture of over-prescription and under-prescription.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: We would say that this would be appropriate prescription where the need arose. The functions, which are currently discharged by the Lord Chancellor, would, after devolution, be exercised by the First Minister and Deputy First Minister, as provided for by Schedule 3, paragraphs 40 to 42. That discretion has been judiciously used in the past, and we anticipate that it would be judiciously used in the future.

Lord Mayhew of Twysden: Before we return to the matter, would the Minister consider a slight variation of the amendment with which we are dealing? The purpose of this section of the Bill is to secure public confidence in the justice system. I agree with the Minister's description of the role of lay magistrates as modest but important, and it is plain that there is an important need for subsections 5(a) to (d).

The problem about the reference to "a prescribed offence" in paragraph (d), in which "prescribed" means prescribed in the order, is that it is difficult to draw up a satisfactory list of offences and to prescribe them in an order about which one can be confident that it is sufficiently comprehensive but not too comprehensive.

Would it not be better if paragraph (d) were to read:

    "if he has been convicted of a criminal offence"?

We should then leave the words,

    "unless the Lord Chancellor otherwise determines in the case of a particular person",

to provide the necessary flexibility". There is an infinite variety of culpabilities in criminal offences, and I know that the Minister recognises that. One may have an offence on the prescribed list that is not particularly culpable and something which is outside the prescribed list which is culpable to a degree warranting exclusion from appointment.

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If the Minister sees merit in what I suggest, perhaps she will think about it and adopt the first part of the amendment, relying upon the flexibility conferred by the words,

    "unless the Lord Chancellor otherwise determines in the case of a particular person".

Perhaps the Minister will think there is some merit in that.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: We will certainly consider that. I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden, for that suggestion. I would say, in addition, that if someone has committed an offence that is not on the prescribed list,

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that does not mean that the commission of other offences would not prevent them from being appointed a lay magistrate.

Lord Rogan: I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 94 to 97 not moved.]

Clause 9 agreed to.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: This may be a convenient moment for the Committee to adjourn until Thursday at 4 p.m.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees: The Committee stands adjourned until Thursday 13th June at 4 p.m.

        The Committee adjourned at twenty-eight minutes past seven o'clock.

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