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Baroness Anelay of St Johns moved Amendment No. 29:

(1) A judicial consultative committee shall be established for each area for which there is a court administration council.
(2) The members of the committee shall be drawn from the judiciary for the area.
(3) The judicial consultative committee shall be consulted on any arrangements proposed by the local chief officer relating to the judiciary and judicial functions, including—
(a) listing of cases;
(b) use of courthouses;
(c) appointment of magistrates and judges;
(d) deployment of magistrates and judges;
(e) appointment and removal of senior court officers; and
(f) other matters which may be defined in rules.
(4) Where no agreement can be reached between the judicial consultative committee and the local chief officer, there shall be a right of appeal to the Lord Chancellor, and the Lord Chancellor's decision shall be final.
(5) Rules may make provision for the purposes of this section."

The noble Baroness said: The amendment is a response to the views expressed recently in a joint statement issued by the Magistrates Association and the Central Council of Magistrates' Courts Committees. We believe that it is a constructive proposal for the way forward whether or not the Government's present proposals for CACs remain the same or are modified.

The amendment proposes that statutory judicial consultative committees should be established which would stand apart from CACs and management boards—whatever they are to be called—with their specific focus and responsibilities. The proposed new clause will ensure that there are clear and unambiguous procedures for consultation on matters such as judicial deployment, allocation of workload, appointment and removal of justices' clerks and the use of court buildings.

The CACs, management boards and consultative committees would work closely together and, in the event that agreement could not be reached at local level, there would be an ultimate and transparent appeal process to the Lord Chancellor. Judicial consultative committees would help to ensure the independence of the judiciary and its legal advisers.

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They would ensure that the executive did not interfere with the judicial decision-making process. I beg to move.

Lord Renton: I support my noble friend's amendment. Like other Members of the Committee who have had some judicial responsibilities, I always felt that, although the administrative people did their best, because they were not lawyers they did not always know what were the priorities. That problem is easily dealt with by the amendment in a way which would not cause any controversy. It would ensure that, however zealous a local chief officer may be, he would have to bear in mind judicial opinion.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I wholeheartedly agree with the noble Lord's final comment; the judiciary should properly make such decisions.

The noble Baroness's amendment seeks to establish a judicial consultative committee for each area for which there is to be a court administration council, with a requirement that the local chief officer should consult the committee about any arrangements he may propose relating to the judiciary. It perhaps puts the burden the wrong way round: under this proposal, the committees would exist in addition to the court administration councils.

I am not sure whether the noble Baroness's intention is to exclude the lay magistracy from membership of such committees, but that would be the effect of the amendment. In terms of judicial decision-making, the amendment misunderstands the relative roles and responsibilities of the administration and the judiciary. The appointment of magistrates and judges, as all noble Lords will know, is the responsibility of the Lord Chancellor. It is not a judicial function and not the responsibility of those who manage the courts. Similarly, I agree with those who say that listing and the deployment of magistrates and judges are the responsibility of the judiciary, supported by staff working in the courts.

As I have said, we propose arrangements to consult local Benches about the assignment of their justices' clerks, but it would not be appropriate to consult a committee of judges, rather than the individual Benches concerned, about these issues.

On the use of courthouses, clearly this is an issue on which judges and magistrates should have a say. But it is equally an issue in which local councils will be involved. We are at risk of creating a system in which there are conflicting duties—to the council and to the judicial committee—which, with this statutory formulation, could be very difficult to manage.

There is no demand from the professional judiciary for this sort of mechanism, and I am as certain as I can be that the judiciary would not support it in its current form. The relationship between the Court Service and the judiciary works well, without the need for judicial consultative committees. The Court Service's framework document sets out clear directions to the chief executive and the staff to foster good relations with all members of the judiciary and to work closely

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with the judiciary to ensure that all parties are enabled to carry out their responsibilities in the management of the courts and the administration of justice. Although non-statutory, these arrangements are, as I have said, working well.

The partnership between the judiciary, lay and professional, will be crucial to the success of the new agency. We believe that their contribution to the administration of justice will be enhanced by their presence on court administration councils.

The existence of court administration councils will be in addition to, not instead of, good working relationships at court level. Benches and Bench chairmen must all feel that they have productive relationships with their clerks and administrators, just as resident judges must be able to work well with court staff.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Graham of Edmonton: I am intrigued by the Minister's comment that there has been no demand for the new mechanism. I wonder if those who have spoken in support would be able to convince me—they certainly have not convinced the Minister—that there is a need for this extra layer of bureaucracy. A conflict, or a likely conflict, ought to be resisted like the plague. Even if there is a nominal case to be made—and I have yet to hear it—I should be grateful if those who support having such a mechanism could convince me that there is a need for it. We are learning all the time from this and other Bills to be aware of creating procedures and mechanisms which sound all right but merely duplicate or replicate existing procedures.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I have heard of no such request. I, too, should be grateful to know whether noble Lords have had contrary indications.

We believe that the appropriate guarantees will be made, as they are for the Court Service now, in the agency's framework document, following discussions with magistrates and judges about how they want consultative arrangements to work. We would not seek to change that happy relationship unless we could put something better in its place. With the greatest respect, we do not think that this suggestion would do that.

Lord Renton: The noble Baroness referred to the Lord Chancellor having a responsibility to do some of the things which are envisaged in the amendment. All Lord Chancellors are splendid people who have a good staff to support them, but the Lord Chancellor is remote from the areas of England and Wales to which the amendment must relate. The Bill provides for a local chief officer. Surely we must make sure that the local chief officer does what the local judiciary considers to be right. That is what the amendment intends, which is why I hope that the Minister will save the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chancellor's

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Department from having to take decisions all over the country when they could far better be taken with the help of the judiciary locally.

Lord Clinton-Davis: Before my noble friend answers that point, surely the point which is cogently made by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, is dealt with in Clause 5. Am I not right about that?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I think my noble friend is right. However, I should remind the Committee of the current position. At present, the deployment of judges is a matter for the presiding judge, the resident judges and others in discussion with those judges involved and with the support of the administration. That is not a function suitable for a committee. The way in which the judges currently arrange deployment is entirely satisfactory not only to them but to the system. We would not seek to change that methodology in relation to deployment because it works well.

The Lord Chancellor is not the remote figure that the noble Lord, Lord Renton, suggests. The Bill makes no other references to a local chief officer. I am afraid that that is another flaw in the amendment.

There have been queries as to whether there is a demand for a consultative committee. The committee would include only the professional judiciary, and we believe that there is no demand from the judiciary for this sort of mechanism. I believe that the judiciary is content with the way in which it arranges its business together with the court administrators, and does not seek any change.

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