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Clause 16

Volume 889: debated on Monday 24 March 1975

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Justices' Commitees

I beg to move Amendment No. 16, in page 12, line 1, after "A" insert

'sheriff having jurisdiction in and a".
It is our view that a sheriff should be a member of the justices' committee, because this would provide a useful link between the two systems in the sheriff courts and the new district courts.

During the Second Reading debate my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) referred to the danger of sheriff courts and district courts suffering from a lack of co-ordination. I believe that this is a useful amendment and that it would provide closer liaison. I hope that at this late hour, seeing that this is the last amendment, the Government will be generous and accept it.

12.45 a.m.

I regret to inform the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel) that my generosity has never been stretched at a quarter to one o'clock in the morning, and this morning will be no exception.

The reasons why I suggest that we reject the amendment are the same as those I put forward in answer to an earlier Liberal amendment. This amendment would place an added burden on the sheriffs. The sheriffs, now having much larger sheriffdoms to cover, would be constantly on the go, visiting local justices' committees. The workload imposed on them would be unbearable. Finally, there has been no demand from the sheriffs for such a provision.

With those remarks, I ask the House to reject the amendment.

Amendment negatived.

Order for Third Reading read:

[ Queen's Consent, on behalf of the Crown, signified.]

12.46 a.m.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

The Bill, on which we have spent a lot of time and over which we have had some heated arguments, provides a workable system for the lower courts to replace burgh and justice of the peace courts, which are to disappear on 15th May.

There is an urgency about the question, but when we recollect how well these lay courts which are to disappear have served the country over a long time I am surprised indeed that it was necessary for the Opposition to become so vehement about a relatively small number of blemishes. Considering some of the things that have been done by professional justices, I think it was unworthy of Scottish Members so to blacken something that was part of the proud tradition of Scotland. It is important that this change should be made at the right time

The Bill received an unopposed Second Reading, and I trust that it will receive an unopposed Third Reading.

12.48 a.m.

The Secretary of State said that we have come to the end of a long road. It has been a long road since the preparation of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman said that we had now produced a workable system. I believe we have produced such a system, but the question is not simply whether, in serving the interests of the Scottish people, we have produced a workable system; it is whether we have produced the best system. On that point many Opposition Members and many people throughout Scotland have some comments to make.

In passing the Bill as it is, I believe that we have missed an opportunity to reform summary justice in Scotland. The Secretary of State did an injustice to all those who have taken part in the deliberations on the Bill in saying that attempts had been made to blacken the reputations of those who have served as lay justices. That is not the case. I wish that the Minister had listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro). There have been criticisms of lay justices, just as there have been of the professionals.

We have sought throughout the proceedings on the Bill to provide a better system of justice. I believe that this can be done through stipendiary magistrates. We have seen how the system can work in certain areas of Scotland. It enables us better to serve the interests of the community and those who have to come before these courts.

The Secretary of State has missed an opportunity, in the view of the broad spectrum of informed opinion in Scotland, which believes that it would have been better to go for a professional system of justice.

I accept that there is some urgency in terms of the introduction of the system. We have expressed our opposition to it, but, having done that, I take this opportunity of wishing the system well, with all its defects and blemishes.

I want to do what the Secretary of State did not do—that is, to acknowledge the work of all those who have been concerned with the preparation of the Bill over a long period. I also believe that some acknowledgment should be made on behalf of all those who have worked in the background.

To sum up, the Bill is a missed opportunity and it is a disappointment. But, having this disappointment, let us now get on, as the Secretary of State said, and try to make the system work.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed with amendments.