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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: As the Committee will know, Clause 54 imposes a duty on the inspectors appointed under Clause 53. That duty is to inspect and report to the Lord Chancellor on the system and services that support the Crown Court, county courts and magistrates' courts. That includes not only the administration of the courts but also services such as court security, which we have been discussing. But the clause makes it clear that the inspectors will also continue to report on the performance of the functions of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, now commonly knows as CAFCASS.
I know that by virtue of the amendment the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, seeks to exclude the administration of and services provided for the High Court from any possibility of independent inspection. Clause 54 provides that the Lord Chancellor mayI emphasise that this is a "may", not a "shall"by statutory instrument modify the list of courts subject to inspection. The main courts currently omitted from the list are, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, said, the High Court and the Court of Appeal.
Clearly, resources will have to be made available before any further extension to the remit of the inspectorate. But that is not the same as excluding as a matter of principle independent scrutiny of the administrative systems for the High Court and Court of Appeal. Indeed, inspectors may well want to be able to track the passage of cases as they proceed through either the criminal or the civil system. That is why we have constructed the clause as we have. Independent inspection assists performance improvement by drawing attention to discrepancies in how courts are run and identifying and promulgating best practice, thereby helping to raise standards.
So the whole import of what we are trying to do by means of the Bill is to improve standards and achieve consistency and continuity of those standards. The question is always: how can we do that? The inspectorate may well have a role to play. The provision would guarantee that if the Lord Chancellor felt it necessary to extend that review and inspection to higher courts, that would be possible, so that we could track things and make the appropriate adjustments as needed.
Under the amendment, inspectors could examine the administrative system and services for the Court of Appeal if the Lord Chancellor so decides at some time in future. Why exclude the administrative system and services for the High Court? We do not consider that there is any justifiable reason why the way the High Court is administered should be exempted from independent inspection.
Of course, I understand the sort of tussles that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, may have had in the past. I infer from what he says that the Court Service has been a major improvement on the difficulties that were previously experienced. We certainly hope through the Bill to build on that beneficial experience and try to ensure that we achieve qualitative improvement across the piece. We are trying to ensure that that is transparent and that we have evidence-based policies for change. We will fully consider that matter.
Lord Donaldson of Lymington: I was certainly not criticising the Court Service as it serves the civil division of the Court of Appeal. It was superb, excellent. Whether the Lord Chancellor felt the same about it, I do not know; he may have had cause to have reservations. The noble Baroness talked about tracking cases. If she really means that, we are right into the judicial field, because tracking cases involves listing, and listing has always been a sacrosanct activity. It lies at the heart of the administration of justice and is judicial.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I do not disagree with the noble and learned Lord. The listing of cases is judicial. We do not seek to change that. The noble and learned Lord will know that the Court Service acts in conjunction with the judges: the judges direct how such matters are to be dealt with; and the Court Service duly and properly serves the judiciary in a way that helps us to administer justice properly. We do not intend any of that basis, with which the noble and learned Lord is so familiar, to change. We hope that that balance will be preserved.
However, there are real opportunities for us to ensure that the system is as good as it can be. We are not saying that we will use the power immediately, it merely enables the Lord Chancellor, if he deems it appropriate, so to do. I hope that the Committee will be satisfied with that assurance.
The Committee will recall that Sir Robin Auld's recommendation 120 was for an independent inspectorate of the agency, which would become responsible for the management of all courts. The Crown Court and the county courts, listed in Clause 54(2), are already under common management of the Court Service. Likewise, the High Court and Court of Appeal are already administered by the Court Service and will in due course be administered by the new agency.
Lord Goodhart: Before the Minister sits down, perhaps she will answer a question of mine. We have had a fairly general debate on Part 5 and the creation of the inspectorate, which in principle we strongly support. However, it contains a completely open-ended power to appoint any number of inspectors. No doubt the Treasury will keep that within reasonable limits, or unreasonably tight limits. Can the Minister give some indication of how many inspectors it is intended to appoint to carry out these duties?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I do not have the figures this evening. It is proposed that there should be a sufficient number of inspectors to carry out the duty. Question: what is sufficient? Those issues will be finely honed when we look at the ambit of the work with which the inspectors will be entrusted and the nature of the reports they will make to the Lord Chancellor.
Members of the Committee will know how important it is, particularly in relation to the CAFCASS element of this part of the inspectorate, to keep that under review. We will be looking carefully to make appropriate judgments and assessments as to how many will be needed. I hope we shall not be unduly restricted by the Treasury. However, it is a reality that we all know that resources have to be argued for. I know that all Members of the Committee will add their strength to ours to ensure that the Lord Chancellor's Department has sufficient resources to meet those important duties. Anything Members of the Committee can do to help I am sure will be gratefully received.
Lord Hunt of Wirral: The shadow of Her Majesty's Treasury hangs over this Chamber, particularly so during the course of this debate. I was a little saddened when the Minister confessed that she was reading from her own brief. I detected in it some sentences and phrases which I long recognise as what I would term "Treasury-speak".
The fact that such an independent and impressive Minister should have so quickly succumbed to using the same or similar language is a great disappointment to those of us who admire her progress within the Government. It will certainly not hold her back in anything save our affection and admiration. Indeed, it will enhance her speed through the corridors of power.
But seriously, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, that this is an important development. We want to see value for money. It is important to track and trace public money when it is spent on such an important service. But I agree also with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, that at the heart of this must lie the traditional independence of the judiciary. I should like to reflect not only on the comments made by the noble and learned Lord, but also on the response by the Minister.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: Before the noble Lord sits downI should not like the affection in which I am clearly held to be diminishedperhaps I may remind the Committee that one of the benefits of tracking, tracing and obtaining evidence is that it helps one to better argue one's case as to why the resources are well used. So evidence cuts both ways.
The noble Lord said: In essence Amendment No. 85 is a probing amendment. On these Benches we wholeheartedly support the need for an annual report and welcome the provision in the Bill which compels the chief inspector to make such a report to the Lord Chancellor. However, we welcome clarification of what the report will contain. In particular, we should like it to assess issues of best practice and inefficiencies. I look forward to the Minister's response. I beg to move.
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