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Maintenance Orders (Committal Warrants)

Volume 888: debated on Monday 10 March 1975

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asked the Attorney-General if he will advise magistrates' courts to make it their practice that when persons in respect of whom committal warrants have been issued for nonpayment of maintenance apply under Section 18(4) of the Maintenance Order Act for a hearing to ask for the committal to be quashed on grounds of inability to pay maintenance due to unemployment, such persons should be granted a hearing.

No, Sir. The question whether an application under Section 18(4) of the Maintenance Orders Act 1958 should be referred to the court is a matter within the judicial discretion of the magistrate hearing the application, whose duty it is to consider all the relevant circumstances.

Although the court has the power to decide whether to allow a hearing in such cases, as prison is regarded as the last resort in maintenance cases, is it not an abuse of the court's undoubted power to refuse to allow a hearing in such cases? Will the Solicitor-General comment on the refusal of Winchester Court to give a hearing to my constituent, Paul Watts, in such a case?

This is a statutory discretion vested in magistrates, and how it is exercised in certain cases must depend upon the facts and the occasion I am aware of the case to which the hon. Gentleman has referred. I understand that he has had a personal interview with my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor and my hon. Friend the Minister of State, but they have no authority to give directives to magistrates on how they shall exercise a statutory discretion.