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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: We have undertaken a series of training schemes where magistrates were invited to participate. Noble Lords will know that whenever there is a new piece of legislationfor instance, the Human Rights Act or so ona wholesale programme of training is offered to magistrates across the country. It will be made much easier under the unified system. The Committee will know that the Judicial Studies Board will in future have a stronger role in overseeing magistrates' training, which will help to achieve greater consistency across the jurisdiction. Noble Lords are aware that the Judicial Studies Board currently undertakes all the training for district judges, circuit judges and the higher judiciary. It will enable us to have consistency throughout the system, which we are confident will benefit everyone.
Baroness Seccombe: I thank noble Lords for taking part in the debate. It has been interesting to note that nearly everyone who has spoken has either been a justice of the peace or has a spouse who is one. It is heartening that all those people involved are anxious that this matter should be put on a statutory basis.
I am delighted that the Minister has accepted the thrust of the amendment. Perhaps I may say that when I was appointed in 1968 I turned up at court and started sitting that very day. There was never any thought of training for many a year. I came to value training very much. Magistrates were always keen to take part in any training and there were few recalcitrant ones. Magistrates welcome it.
We shall look at the drafting of our amendment. We understand that the Minister has said that she will bring forward amendments on Report, but we will look at ours to see whether we can bring forward an amendment on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 47A, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 48, 50B and 55. The central theme to this group, and to those following on closely behind, is the position of the justices' clerk under the new structure outlined in the Bill.
The relationship between the magistrates and their clerk is vital to the satisfactory operation of a magistrates' court. It is based on a mutual trust that builds up over a period of time. In addition, it ensures independence of advice because the justices' clerk cannot be removed against the wishes of the magistrates concerned except by the Lord Chancellor. That is an important constitutional issue.
These amendments ask the Government to clarify the role of the justices' clerk under the new centralised system of employment. My amendments would put on the face of the Bill the guarantees that we believe are necessary. Clause 22(1) states:
In Clause 10(2) magistrates are assigned to local justice areas. The Justices' Clerks' Society in its helpful briefing points out that logic dictates that its clerks should also be so assigned. It was in response to the points made by the Justices' Clerks' Society that at the end of last week I withdrew one or two of my amendments which did not meet with its favour. I listened carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, said last week about being keen on amendments that people are keen on outside the House. I can tell him that I have tried properly to reflect the views of the Justices' Clerks' Society in these matters.
I have one rogue amendment that I shall turn to shortly. I tabled Amendment No. 48 as a rough and ready amendment simply to make it clear that we believe that the justices' clerk should be appointed to one or more local justice areas. I refined that amendment after hearing from the Justices' Clerks' Society. As a result of its views I tabled Amendments Nos. 47A and 50B. Amendment No. 47A is a paving amendment for Amendment No. 50B, which places a duty on the Lord Chancellor to assign each justices' clerk to one or more local justice area.
I have been reasonable. I have left the Lord Chancellor the required flexibility to be able to move the justices' clerk where necessary to a new area. But of course we would hope and expect that the clerk would be left in place long enough to be able to develop that valuable working relationship with magistrates that has been the hallmark of the success of our magistrates' courts.
Amendment No. 55 simply says that a justices' clerk should be left in place for a minimum of two years. We are trying to tease out how long the Government anticipate that magistrates should have the assistance of a particular clerk. We are interested in the stability of the system.
Lord Clinton-Davis: I hope that the noble Baroness will clarify Amendment No. 55. As drafted, it is not possible for anybody to accept it. The noble Baroness has endorsed that view. It is incumbent on her to express her view. For example, a justices' clerk may not agree with some of the magistrates on personal or other grounds and may want to move to another area. Should not he or she be entitled to do that? I do not think that there should be an arbitrary requirement for a justices' clerk to be present throughout.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: As ever, the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, has read my mind. He has intervened and put words into my mouth that I was about to utter. He has therefore saved me and the Committee a little time. The reason why I tabled Amendment No. 55 was to see whether there should be an arbitrary period of, say, two years. The Justices' Clerks Society says "no" for the reasons mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis. I agree with the noble Lord and endorse what he said.
However, I would argue that I have met the deficiencies in Amendment No. 55 by Amendment No. 50B in which I leave the Lord Chancellor the flexibility of being able to reassign a justices' clerk if there are personal or professional reasons why it would be inappropriate for the clerk to stay in one position for too long.
The underlying theme is that if one does not have some security of tenure as a justices' clerk in a magistrates' court, one will rob that court of the vital link of building up trust with the judicial adviser. I remind the Committee that the clerks in higher courts are in a very different position. They do not give legal advice to those sitting on the Bench. The clerk to a circuit judge and a High Court judge has a very different role.
The Justices' Clerks Society points out that in Clause 23 the Government have made the justices' clerk a grade of employee rather than a statutory post-holder. The society is concerned that there should not be a short arbitrary period, but says that it is vital to have a geographical link and that there must be consultation about removal. I hope that my amendment meets the society's point that there could already be a problem with the public's perception of the Bill. The clerk may appear to become a civil servant advising magistrates on the law. The society stresses that every step should be taken to reassure the public of the independence of such advice. Geographical links would obviously assist in that process.
I understand that the Government may consider placing the issues of geographical links and consultation procedure about appointments in secondary rather than primary legislation. The danger is that that would downgrade the importance of those links. On an interpretation of the law, it would be presumed that those areas had been changed for a reason and that they were less important than they are. Those issues remain as important as ever. Amendment No. 50B properly and clearly reflects a commitment that should be on the face of the Bill. I beg to move.
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