|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Renton: My Lords, I am interested in the remarks of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson. However, I do not believe that he can do anything to prevent the Bar from referring to High Court judges, Lords of Appeal and others in those high judicial positions as "my Lord".
Lord Donaldson of Lymington: My Lords, there is no reason why the Bar should do that. In this House, when I rise to my feet I say "my Lords", and I hope that none of the lady Members present is in any way offended. It is an accepted collective term. I criticise my erstwhile brethren for having got their underwear in a twist on this question, so much so that, as one legal periodical reports, one member of the court volunteered to be a male judge for a day to make matters easier. The answer is that the court as a whole should be addressed as "my Lords", and individual members as "my Lady" or "my Lord" as the case may be. That would not be a problem.
I have even greater difficulties with Clause 59, which allows the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor to run through the whole gamut of judicial offices to give effect to a policy of political correctness. I was delighted to see that he did not contemplate turning the office of Master of the Rolls into Mistress of the Rolls. I hope that he would not even consider making that an alternative, so that it could be Master or Mistress as the case might be. I remind him that, although his office is slightly older than my erstwhile office, the first Master of the Rolls saw the light of day in 1297. The title should not be altered today.
Finally, I very much regret that the Bill will be in Committee when I am briefly out of the country and trying to warm up. I shall not be able to take part in it, but I hope that one or two of my remarks will ring a bell with some of your Lordships. I shall certainly be back for the Report stage.
The Lord Bishop of Guildford: My Lords, the Bill is about justice, and the judgment to be made upon it will be whether it strengthens the confidence of our people in the delivery of justice in our country.
As noble Lords have said, there are serious inconsistencies. It cannot be right that a person living in Cambridgeshire is more than twice as likely to avoid paying a fine as someone from West Yorkshire. Surely, if the courts in Yorkshire can get the money in, it must be possible to get it in anywhere in our country.
The 1991 Act made us think about the philosophy and practice of justice with a view to reducing our prison populations. There are four prisons in the diocese of Guildford, two of which have recently been converted into women's prisons. Many lay people go into those prisons to work with families and children, in parenting courses and other educational activities. They come out feeling bewildered as to why so many people are in those institutions. We must tackle that matter.
The 1991 Act was part of a coherent strategy to reduce the prison population. It caught our imagination at the time, although there were serious problems about the way in which it applied fines. It is good to see this Bill addressing the vacuum that followed its demise.
For there to be justice, two things have to happen. First, sentences must be enforced. The public needs to be able to feel confident that, when a court imposes a fine, it will be collected. Justice collapses if the message gets round that people can joyride in a car, destroy it, appear in court and be sentenced to a fine but never pay a penny of it. The outcome is that some of the most disadvantaged communities in our country suffer a loss of justice; the poor and vulnerable communities suffer as a consequence of our failure to administer justice. The provisions of the Bill offer some remedy to those experiences.
I am interested by the Bill's proposal to pilot some ways in which to collect fines. Speaking from these Benches, I have to say that money can corrupt even systems for collection of fines. I shall be interested to hear how we will set up simple, transparent and fair systems after the experience of the Child Support Agency, which was excellent in principle, wonderfully founded in aim and absolutely fell apart in the forest of bureaucratic practice.
The overriding experience that fines will be collected will increase confidence in fines and reduce pressures in our prisons. There must be a multitude of ways in which that can be enforced, and no doubt we shall assist the Lord Chancellor in working on the detail of the Bill as it goes through its stages.
The second principle is to have consistency in practice. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, has pointed out that the God-fearing and law-abiding citizens of Surrey wait only seven days to appear in court while the wicked of Bedfordshire have to wait 86 days. That is not good news for the administration of justice. Although it is not easy, we must balance the desire for local diversity with a need for consistency in the administration of justice. Those who appear in our courts have an overriding right to justice to the highest levels applicable.
The proposals encourage us to think towards greater coherence and flexibility. Other parts of the world, such as New Zealand and Australia, have succeeded in many measures and kept their prison populations down to a minimum.
The shadow of Dickens' father being flung into Marshalsea prison for non-payment of debt and fines has haunted English justice for far too long. It is time to rehabilitate fines so that fewer people are sent to prison; that is what the 1991 Act tried to do. I welcome the Bill and hope that the House will give it the support that it deserves.
Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, this is a first-class Bill and I very much welcome its broad thrust. It is, dare I say, a Bill for modernisation; that word has a certain ring about it these days. However, I want to touch on a few aspects that bear on the effective management of the new system. Obviously, effective management is vital for the new system because it is stated to be one of the major parts of its rationale.
As the Lord Chief Justice pointed out in his role as shop steward for the judiciary, issues are raised about co-ordination in the system and the lack of resources and satisfactory financial arrangements in relation to, for example, accommodation. I trust that they will be referred to more authoritatively later.
The Bill represents a major change, although that may not appear on the face of it to be the case. One advantage is that it will avoid the amount of poaching that currently occurs between one or other of the 42 magistrates' courts committee areas. Someone in one of those areas, not having a framework system, may think that they would like to have a clerk from another area in their system. That is one of the downsides of the much-vaunted principle of decentralisation.
It would be counter-productive if both opposition parties, as they have hinted, sought the rather paradoxical result of duplicating the new structure and the new agency by arguing that local management committees should also have responsibilities which, if it means anything, means in relation to the employment of staff. That would surely increase confusion rather than provide the clarity which is the main thrust of the Bill. However, there is local accountability where it matters to the citizen. That distinction has not been brought out; quite the opposite. I shall be corrected if I am wrong but there is currently no real system of accountability for MCCs, certainly not in an explicit sense, as is proposedthis is the new proposalin relation to CACs.
The question of the collection of fines has been touched on by almost every noble Lord. That may have been highlighted as a problem by discussion in the press. The conclusion that one should reach is perhaps the opposite to that reached by many noble Lords. In effect, noble Lords have been sayingI do not know whether they were clear that this is what they were sayingthat the more we "contract out" the collection of fines, by some miraculous wave of a magic wand a greater proportion of fines will be
It is hard for most of us to follow the Bill on the question of contracting out. I point out where the Bill alludes to it. I am told that the coded language in Clause 2(4) allows for more contracting out. If I have got that right, staff will ask whether that repeals the provisions of the ActI believe, the 1971 Actthat explicitly provides that any proposal to contract out (I stress that we are talking about the justice system, which is, all people agree, innately a public good and a public service) must first be examined by the four senior judges and both Houses of Parliament. Are we repealing those provisions? Perhaps I can seek an assurance from my noble friend that that is not the case. I hope that I am wrong in this regard.
Finally, I turn to the protection of employees' rights in the transfer of employment. As I understand it, the 10,000 employees of magistrates' courts will in effect be merged with the 11,000 relevant employees of the Lord Chancellor's Department in the new structure or agencywhatever we call it. On the face of it, the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981 apply and, for the purpose of Schedule 1, the employing magistrates' court committee or local authority will be treated as a transferor and the Lord Chancellor will then be treated as the transferee. That is my understanding. I should be grateful if my noble friend will confirm whether that is correct.
Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I had not expected to have to speak in this debate because, in the summer, my contacts on the Central Council of Magistrates' Courts Committees were satisfied with the phrase that appeared in the White Paper in July and which has already been quoted. The phrase is:
I listened with great interest to the speech of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. I hope that he will forgive me, and be unsurprised, if I do not view the Bill through quite the same utopian spectacles.
The Lord Chancellor said, among other things, that the new structure facilitates rather than hinders progress; but I find it inconceivable that he should bring forward a Bill that would do anything else. I interpreted his comment as meaning not only that the Bill is goodone would expect the Government to produce something better; I should expect him to make that argumentbut that the existing structure hinders progress. If that is so, the comment seems at the very least to demean the immense work done by many voluntary magistrates across the country who do not have the opportunity to bring before Parliament a Bill to get things done. They have to work with restrictive budgets and difficult local authorities and proceed by agreement. They are in a much more difficult situation.
The Lord Chancellor says that the new executive agency will not be a "take-over" but build on strength and decentralised management. That is all very fine. However, what was the original concept of executive agencies? In his 1988 report, Sir Robin Ibbs suggested that the agencies' focus could be "downward and outwards". The report said that,
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said that the new proposals would widen the input from the local community. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, said that magistrates' courts committees are not accountable to anyone. However, for the 14 or 15 years in which I served on Essex County Council, the magistrates' courts had to report their budget to me. I had to take that budget to pieces and put it together again. If I had not done so, I would have had subsequently to take it before a county council of 98 members who owned and accounted for every penny of that budget. The county council's budget was made up of so many boxes of matches, so that the public ownership by the community was direct and immediate.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page