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Lord Renton: I am glad that the noble Baroness has shown herself to be open minded on this matter. As I used to say to my clients, it is better to confess before one is found out. I am only 94, but I have known people who have been finished at 50, others who were scintillating at 60; and others who were brilliantly scrutinising at 70. To get rid of people, even when they are on top of the world, just because they have reached the immature age of 70 seems to be utterly wrong. We must bear in mind that we are all different. I confess that a few of us are biological freaks, although I am still more or less in possession of my senses. I remember Lord Shinwell who at the age of 100 gave great service not only to our nation but also to his party. To have a supplemental list, as recommended by my noble friends, would be a great advantage.

Lord Graham of Edmonton: The Committee may remember that Lord Shinwell on his 100th birthday made a speech from exactly the same place as is now occupied by the noble Lord, Lord Renton.

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Viscount Tenby: I would like to repair an omission. I should have declared an interest as a supplemental old buffer. I thank the Minister for her indications of good will.

Lord Jones: I thank my noble friend the Minister for her principled response to the arguments put forward today.

Baroness Seccombe: I add my thanks to the Minister for the way in which she has approached the matter. All magistrates understand the reasons for a cut off at a due date and for that to be known from the beginning. However, it is nice to know that the matter may not end as we had feared. We look forward to returning to it on Report when we hope we can say, "What wonderful news". At this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 14 agreed to.

Clause 15 [Rights to preside and size of bench]:

Baroness Seccombe moved Amendment No. 44:

    Page 7, line 27, leave out "sitting or other"

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 44 I shall speak also to Amendment No. 45. Clause 15 sets out the circumstances in which a chairman or deputy chairman may have a right to preside in court or to chair a meeting of justices. That is merely a drafting point. The reference in the Bill to the words "sitting or other" is an archaic practice and we see no reason for its inclusion. My redrafted version of the subsection would state simply that,

    "If the chairman for a local justice area is present at a meeting of lay justices assigned to or acting in the area, he must preside".

That reflects the fact that any meeting will include any sitting of a Bench.

I would be grateful if the Minister could explain why the archaic practice of including the extra words "sitting or other" need to be retained, or she may feel able to accept the amendment. I beg to move.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for raising this point. I understand that it is the current statutory position. Therefore, the effects of the Bill on the status quo are not entirely clear to those in the magistrates' community.

To achieve the intention of the amendment it would need to be drafted differently. As drafted the amendment would fail in its aim because removing the words "sitting or other" from the clause will not have the effect of removing, as the noble Baroness said, court sittings from the class of occasions at which a Bench chairman may preside. She is right about that. According to Stone's Justices' Manual, the term "meeting of justices" includes a judicial sitting.

The noble Baroness is right to say that the phrasing has been carried through from a number of Bills. We are maintaining the status quo, which provides clarity because it is a term of art that has become familiar to all who use it. It is clear that we are trying to continue the position where the chairman of the Bench sits and

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presides. I accept that the means of expression has been in place for a number of years, but that is the point; it is an easily recognisable term with which all are familiar. I hope that on that basis the noble Baroness will accept that it is not necessary to amend it.

3.30 p.m.

Baroness Seccombe: I am grateful to the Minister for her explanation that it is a continuing practice. That is as far as we wish to take the matter. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 45 not moved.]

Clause 15 agreed to.

Baroness Seccombe moved Amendment No. 46:

    After Clause 15, insert the following new clause—

(1) The justices for each local justice area shall establish a bench training and development committee to monitor the training and appraisal of lay justices.
(2) The bench training and development committee may make recommendations to the Lord Chancellor to which he shall have regard in carrying out his duties under the provisions of section 11(6)."

The noble Baroness said: The amendment is supported by the Magistrates' Association. It seeks to impose a commitment to provide adequate training for lay magistrates and an ongoing commitment to ensuring that the highest possible standards are upheld. The amendment would enable rules to be made in respect of Bench training and development committees and for the magistrates' training initiative, which includes mentoring and appraisal schemes, to be placed on a statutory basis.

This will meet the Magistrates' Association's requirements and avoids giving the Lord Chancellor any extra powers, but it gives powers to the Magistrates' Association, which would be subject to a judicially reviewable process. The amendment seems to me common sense. I beg to move.

Lord Clinton-Davis: I support what has been said in principle. I have already declared an interest. But the point raised by the amendment is apposite. The training and appraisal of lay justices is an important part of what they can achieve. Without it they are much the poorer, and so is society. Establishing Bench training and development committees is extremely important because there has to be some way of insisting that the training and appraisal of lay magistrates reaches a proper proportion.

But training and appraisal should not be seen as something that can be finalised; it must be reconsidered repeatedly in the light of experience. Therefore I am not sure that the phrasing of the new clause is right. I would like to hear from the Minister that she agrees with its principle.

Viscount Tenby: I support the amendment and I hope that the Minister will look on it with sympathy. It cannot be said often enough that the training of

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magistrates is of critical importance; after all, they are all amateurs. In the 20 or more years during which I was a magistrate, the demands made in training went up by leaps and bounds. We live in a very technical and litigious world, and it is essential for magistrates to keep up with all that is new. I am sure I do not need to remind the Committee that lay magistrates do so under their own volition in the evenings and at weekends—in their spare time, in other words. In addition to their commitment to the Bench, they are committed to this additional workload. It should not be a matter of hit-and-miss; it should be enshrined by statute so that there is unanimity throughout the justice system.

Lord Chan: I express my support for the amendment. It may come as a surprise that my wife has been a lay justice for 15 years. Training is important in encouraging potential lay justices and helping new lay justices to perform their functions professionally and correctly. There is no doubt not only as to the good will of lay justices in giving up their time to this important function, as my noble friend Lord Tenby said. They also want to do the job well.

Changes in sentencing, particularly in the light of the Criminal Justice Bill, make the training and appraisal of lay justices even more important.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: We also support the amendment. Its purpose appears to be not so much training as the monitoring of training, which will no doubt be carried out by the Lord Chancellor's Department. It is important to write in the Bill the possibility that justices through training and development committees may have a say in the Lord Chancellor's disciplinary powers exercised under Clause 11(6). The new clause appears to be an excellent suggestion.

Lord Jones: I support the amendment. Training and appraisal are fundamental requirements for today's much scrutinised and much reported court procedures. It is shrewd to propose a statutory basis for them. My guess is that the historically recent introduction of training, appraisal and mentoring took some getting used to by existing magistrates. Some established magistrates were wary of the initiatives when they were proposed not so long ago.

What are the Government's proposals to promote and enhance the existing training and appraisal systems? Perhaps more should be done to persuade the existing 29,000 magistrates of the need for more training and appraisal. I should also declare that my wife is a lay justice.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: We are sympathetic to the amendment, although not to the precise terms in which it is framed. The Magistrates' Association has put its views to us on this and related matters.

The amendment as drafted does not fully reflect the policies we have developed, partly in response to concerns raised with us by the Magistrates'

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Association. I am grateful for this opportunity to set out our thinking and to outline our proposals for government amendments.

We seek to address several related concerns. The concern about the lack of statutory backing for Bench training and development committees was hinted at by the noble Viscount, Lord Tenby, and other noble Lords. Given the importance of these activities, there is also concern over whether the Bench training and development committees will be able to achieve all that they and we would like them to.

Those activities include, as many Members of the Committee know, managing the Bench appraisal and mentor scheme, identifying training needs, referring those magistrates deemed not to have demonstrated the required level of competence to advisory committees, and responsibility in relation to magistrates qualified to preside in court. At present, only that last activity appears in primary legislation.

There is concern—a matter highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford—about the grounds on which magistrates may be removed from office. The current Act gives the Lord Chancellor a broad power to remove magistrates by instrument and the grounds are not specified. The Bill sets out certain grounds for removal that sit better with today's human rights considerations. However, the concern is that setting out specific grounds for removal can render arguable grounds which are not expressly mentioned; for instance, the ground of persistent failure to attain the necessary competence. That is touched on by the second part of the amendment. Currently, there is a set procedure whereby magistrates can be removed from office on that ground. It involves referral by Bench training and developmental committees.

Additionally, there is a related concern that the Bill should contain express provision for general magistrates' courts training. A number of noble Lords have highlighted that issue. I do not think that the amendment bears upon that.

We have accepted all those concerns and plan to bring forward amendments at Report to cover them. Their exact form is still under consideration, but we are contemplating a power for the Lord Chancellor to require lay magistrates to undertake training and to make arrangements for that training, and probably other developmental activities, such as appraisal schemes. The details need to be explored further. However, we expect that the provision will include or go alongside a power to make rules regarding the establishment of magistrates' committees for the purpose of carrying out, among other things, functions relating to training and development. That would cover the Bench training development committees. Having outlined our intention in that way, I hope that the noble Baroness will be content.

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