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Clause 99

Volume 951: debated on Friday 9 June 1978

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Qualifications Of County Court Judges And Deputy Judges

I beg to move Amendment No. 4, in page 61, leave out line 25.

The House may know that in Committee I moved an amendment in precisely these terms. I made it clear that the purpose of that amendment was to provide an opportunity to discuss a number of important points in connection with the use of deputies. The debate was particularly concerned with deputy county court judges, the use of the office of deputy county court judge as a route to a permanent judicial office. We had a useful debate in Committee and there were a number of matters that the Solicitor-General wanted to look at again. He has very kindly written to me about them and now we have a chance to discuss them once more.

In Committee I asked for information about the pattern of employment of deputy county court judges and the Solicitor-General has made it clear to me in correspondence that he would think it enough for me to summarise it in this way. Under the English system we use recorders in a pan-time capacity, and for purposes of comparison with Northern Ireland it may be said that these deputy county court judges will be used more or less in the same way as recorders are used here—not according to any regular pattern, but as and when the occasion requires. They will remain mainly practitioners but will do their stint of judicial work in the capacity of county court judges. If I am right in that understanding, we on the Opposition Benches are well content with the situation.

There is no rigid time fixed for the number of days which a recorder is bound to sit, but it is expected that he will sit for about 20 days a year. That is not a bad thing because it tends to establish that he is meant to be, not just a substitute, but mainly a practitioner who sits for 20 days a year. The system works with great flexibility and that is desirable. Nobody would seek a maximum or minimum of 20 days, but it is handy to have that guide. Is any similar guide intended in connection with county court judges?

On a matter of much greater importance, we are faced with the question of the extent to which deputy county court judges may be used to try what I will call "Diplock cases"—a shorthand phrase that is used by everybody who understands the position. The progression of events on this point is that when the Bill was introduced in another place the Lord Chancellor said that it was "not conceivable" that a county court judge would be used to try terrorist cases.

I believe that there are very sound reasons for that. Such cases impose a heavy burden on regular judges and in such cases, not only is the judge trying a particularly nasty kind of offence which excites more passions than the worst ordinary criminal offence, but it is not an exaggeration to say that the judges themselves are in a position of danger.

We on this side of the House never cease to remind ourselves of the judges who have been killed in the course of their judicial duties. Their was Mr. Staunton, Q.C., a resident magistrate who, after lingering for some time, died from his injuries. There was another resident magistrate Mr. McBirney, Q.C., and Judge Rory Conaghan. We do not face such difficulties in this country, but the judges across the water haw, this additional consideration which can never be far from their minds. On top of that, in Diplock cases the judge is the jury as well and this brings a measure of difficulty and danger through the special nature of hi task.

Therefore, it is not difficult to understand why the Lord Chancellor went so far as to say that it was not conceivable that deputies should be used to try such cases. Deputies usually will be practising solicitors, barristers and resident magistrates. I imagine that the judges who try Diplock cases may be subject to special security precautions, and one cannot extend those indefinitely. Therefore, if one brings in part timers to try such cases, there is this additional difficulty.

In Comittee I asked about this matter and said that I understood that it was universally agreed that deputies should not be used for trying such cases. The Solicitor-General said in reply to me:
"There is no intention, certainly at the moment, of allocating terrorist work to regular judges while the deputy judges take the other work. They will take the same sort of work, including terrorist work where that is appropriate, as the regular judges."—[Official Report, Standing Commmittee A, 9th May, 1978; c. 39.]
The Solicitor-General has since written to me, having reconsidered the matter as he said he would do in Committee. The position now is much more akin to that stated by the Lord Chancellor on Second Reading in another place. It should be put on the record that a deputy will never be used for this work unless the circumstances are quite exceptional and there are exceptional reasons for asking him to do it.

If that is what the right hon. and learned Gentleman is saying. I do not think that one could quarrel with it. But one should not shut the door entirely on the possibility. So long as it is absolutely clear that a deputy will never be used in these circumstances unless there are unanswerable reasons, everyone will be content.

12 noon.

Assuming that to be the assurance which the Solicitor-General can give us, it leads straight to the next difficulty to which I referred in Committee and which we are now able to approach more specifically, because it depends upon whether deputies will be used in this work. In Committee we were not so sure about that as we now are. If the assurance for which I have asked can be given, all that special work will fall on the regular judges and not on the deputies. Therefore, the regular judges will be that much less available to do their ordinary work. The work which they would otherwise have done will fall on the deputies.

If we are not careful, we may end up with the position where the regular judges are doing one kind of work and not doing the general work which they are entitled to expect to do when they accept appointment to the county court bench. It may be that the answer will lie in what happens to the number of cases to be tried, how long they take, or how much of the time of the regular judges they take up. If it transpired that the result of asking these judges to do all the Diplock cases was that on the present number of those judges they were doing mostly that work, with someone else doing the work which they were appointed to do, I think that it would be necessary to consider increasing the number in order to give them a greater spread of work and to take from them some of the burden of this very special work. That seems to me to be the only practical answer to that problem, if it arises, which I can think of at present.

I should like to hear the views of the Solicitor-General because it is important that we do not allow judges to get into a situation where all the burden is on them. All these points are relevant to the amendment, because if resident magistrates stay within this clause they will be used as deputies and, therefore, will be interested in all the points that have been mentioned.

I now turn more directly to the question of resident magistrates. The amendment, if carried, would leave them out. They would not be able to be deputy county court judges. But I say at once that it is not my intention to press the amendment. I do not seek to rule out their opportunity of being deputy county court judges. It is perfectly reasonable that they should have a route to the bench. If they did not have this route, it would mean that those who had been in practice as barristers or solicitors for seven years, and who by continuing for another three years would become eligible to be deputy county court judges and then county court judges, would—because they have taken an important appointment of resident magistrate—lose their route to the bench. That would be quite wrong. I say that so that there may be no misunderstanding in their minds, or anyone else's mind, why I am moving the amendment. It is to give an airing to two particular aspects of the consequences of leaving this provision in the Bill.

I should like to take the opportunity of repeating—it is worth repeating and I want resident magistrates to be in no doubt about it—that we Conservatives, like everyone else, realise that the work done by the resident magistrates is of enormous importance. They are in the front line with a very special and difficult job to do. I have spoken of the special nature and the difficulties and dangers faced by the county court judges. I do not think that anyone would disagree with what I have said about them. The resident magistrates have to deal with different classes of cases. I do not have the slightest doubt that this creates special difficulties.

We know of the dangers involved, and the importance of resident magistrates cannot be in doubt. In Committee I expressed this fear. Here we have a body of men doing an enormously important job and doing it well. It is a job of a special nature and they obtain special expertise in doing it. I want to be sure that we do not take them way from doing the job that they are best fitted to do by using them too often as deputies doing another and different job.

I should like the Solicitor-General to help us a little more by saying how he sees the resident magistrates being used if this provision stays in the Bill. Does he see them being used only on an occasional basis, rather like recorders are used here? It is anticipated that this will be but a small part of their job? On the one hand, it is a part of their job which will be of some assistance to the county court judges, by making it that much easier for them to deal with the burden of cases in their courts, and on the other hand it will be a means of broadening the experience of those magistrates, perhaps of even giving them a little relief away from their own courts.

I hope the Solicitor-General will be able to tell us that it is certainly not in the mind of his noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor that they should be used for more than that or that there should be any suggestion of their being used regularly in the county court. What can the Solicitor-General tell us about the kind of work he thinks that they will do?

I should like to say a word about the hearing of appeals from resident magistrates by the county court judges. Without any disrespect to them—I have made it perfectly clear that I have nothing but the greatest respect for them—I think that it would put them in an invidious position if they were called upon to sit as a judge of appeal to hear an appeal from one of their colleagues.

The Solicitor-General has considered this point and has written to me about it. In Committee, he quoted the example of a High Court judge who sits as an accasional member of a court of appeal hearing appeals from another High Court judge. With great respect to him, I do not think that that is a parallel. In that instance there are two other judges of appeal, and that of itself is a great distinction.

In any event, the kind of apeal that I am talking about—an appeal from a resident magistrate to a county court judge —may well be an appeal on the merits, whereas in the case of a court of appeal in this country the appeal judges are merely deciding whether as a matter of law the judge who tried the case in the first instance was right or wrong. One rarely has more than one High Court judge sitting with two Lords of Appeal.

In the system across the water, if these gentleman were required to hear appeals from resident magistrates, they would be sitting on their own and hearing appeals on the merits. It may be that they take a different view. If so, they will no doubt put it before the Lord Chancellor. However, it seems to me that it might put them in a very difficult position. There might well be unsatisfactory features or consequences of using them in that way. I should be more content if I heard that it was not considered likely that they would be used in that way.

Will these magistrates undertake probate work and similar work normally carried out by county court judges, including bankruptcy and other matters? There is a difficult dichotomy. If they are not to undertake the hearing of terrorist cases or probate and bankruptcy work, and if they are not to hear appeals, will there be very much left for them to do? Does this not reinforce my argument that they should be left to do, at least for the greater proportion of their time, work in which they are experts?

The last matter is the time factor affecting routes to the bench. We have got into something of a muddle in this respect. It is too late to change the position now, but there is sufficient of a muddle to make it necessary to clear our minds as to what is intended by these provisions.

A person who has practised at the Bar for not less than 10 years may become either a deputy or a county court judge straight away. A person who has practised as a solicitor may become a deputy county court judge after 10 years, but he cannot become a regular county court judge until the passing of another three years. I do not think solicitors would regard that as reflecting on their abilities, but it allows for the fact that, whereas barristers will have spent their lives in court, many solicitors carry out little court work. Therefore, it may be sensible for them to have three years' experience on the bench as deputies before stepping up.

I do not think anybody quarrels with that differentiation, but one reaches a paradox in examining the route to the bench—involving, for example, the passage of a resident magistrate to deputy county court judge. Whether the person concerned is a practising solicitor or a practising barrister, we know that he may become a resident magistrate after seven years and may become a regular county judge immediately. I am not saying he is likely to do so, but this is the muddle we have reached on the time factor.

I suppose it is unlikely that the Lord Chancellor would recommend the appointment of somebody to be a resident magistrate one day and a deputy county court judge the next—although that may not be as unlikely as one imagines, because the Lord Chancellor could take that course. He may take that course after a year or a year-and-a-half, and it would still shorten the route to the bench, without any obvious reasons being advanced.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor-General told me in his letter on this point that it was unlikely that that would happen, but he thought that it was a good thing to be able to take this step in exceptional cases. There would be some force in that argument if it applied to all the arguments in regard to the time factor, but we had in mind the curious situation that, however able a person may be to become a county court judge, if he had not the requisite 10 years' service, promotion could not happen. It would be strange if we were to give ourselves the opportunity to promote somebody whose services were needed exceptionally via one route, while not being able to take that step via the other route. That does not make sense. If the argument is a runner, it must apply to all routes to the bench.

Perhaps all these difficulties can be overcome by a practical common sense approach, and I have dealt with these matters in detail to give the Solicitor-General the opportunity to put on record sufficient assurance to allay any fears that this may work out to anybody's disadvantage. Illogical situations are apt to breed discontent, and perhaps suspicion and unhappiness. Therefore, before these provisions begin to operate, I hope that the Solicitor-General will be able to assure us that these anomalies are recognised and that in practice everybody may rest assured that no difficulties will be encountered.

12.15 p.m.

He is a courageous man who ventures into lawyers' territory. This debate is taking place between two very eminent lawyers, and I do not propose to become entangled in their legal yoke of bondage. However, the hon. and learned Member for Southport (Mr. Percival) raised a number of points that are of concern to the people of Northern Ireland, and I wish to deal with them.

I wish to endorse—and I know that I do so on behalf of my colleague the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Bradford)—all that was said by the hon. and learned Gentleman about the way in which judges and magistrates have carried out their duties in Northern Ireland in terrible circumstances. Every magistrate or judge in such circumstances is a target for terrorism at one time or other, depending on the type of case that comes before the courts. Some of these judges and magistrates have been shot down and brutally murdered, and others have been mutilated, for carrying out the duties of their office. I know that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor-General will agree with me when I stress that we all endorse the way in which these men carry out their duties, and we are glad that we have such people acting as judges and magistrates in Northern Ireland.

Arising from what was said in Committee, I wish to stress that these judges and magistrates come from both sections of the religious divide in Northern Ireland. It was said by one Member of the Committee that almost all these appointments were from the Protestant section of the community. That is nonsense. They come from both sections.

What is more, I know that the hon. Gentleman will agree that the casualties are equally spread. One of the two resident magistrates who gave his life was a Roman Catholic and the other who died was a Protestant.

I was about to mention that magistrates from both sections of the community have suffered as a result. At times there is much talk in the House, and in Committees, that is not based on fact. As a Member from Northefn Ireland, I believe that we need to place these matters fairly and squarely on the record.

I do not think that resident magistrates should be removed from the clause. They are equally entitled to become deputy judges. In the minds of some they have have more entitlement. They are carrying the burden and bearing the heat of the day. There are not many solicitors lining up in Northern Ireland to be made resident magistrates. Surely they are entitled to be made deputy judges.

I understand the representations that have been made by the various legal associations that becoming a resident magistrate may become a quick road to a higher appointment. That matter was raised by the Opposition spokesman, the hon. and learned Member for Southport However, it is hardly likely that any Lord Chancellor will appoint a resident magistrate as a deputy on one day and in a few days' time appoint him to higher office. If that did happen, there would be such a fuss from the heavy lobby of the legal profession that the poor Lord Chancellor would have an extremely rough ride. In any event, that is hardly likely to happen.

I am sorry that it has been implied by the hon. and learned Member for Southport—this is probably the most important matter—that Diplock courts will be with us for ever. It may be that the hon. and learned Gentleman did not intend to make that implication. However, we are discussing a reconstitution of the whole judicial system in Northern Ireland, and he referred to the Diplock courts. I want to get rid of the Diplock courts as quickly as possible. My attitude has been consistent. I voted against the setting up of such courts and I disagreed with the doing away of jury trials. I highly resented the attitude taken by the then Attorney-General when he said that Protestant jurymen refused to do their duty. I repudiated that comment and I continue to do so. Jury trials should not have been done away with on that condition.

However, I agree wholeheartedly with the hon. and learned Gentlemen that deputy judges should not preside at Diplock courts. I feel that there should be a full judge presiding over those courts.

I intended no such implication. Like everyone else, I long for the day when we can dispense with the Diplock courts. As always with lawyers, I was confining myself to the practical events of the moment.

I am glad of that assurance. I said that I did not think the hon. and learned Gentleman made the implication intentionally. The sooner we get rid of Diplock courts in Northern Ireland, the happier will be the situation. However, we have them and we have to work with what we have. As terrorist scheduled offences are all tried before Diplock courts, it is essential that a full judge should preside.

Is the Solicitor-General able to tell us the percentage of the time of the present judges that is taken up on Diplock court trials? How does that percentage of time compare with the other trial duties that they perform? No doubt a large part of their time is being taken up with the trial of scheduled offences. It would be helpful to know the percentage so that when we think about the duties of deputy judges we shall know how much time will be needed for the deputies. Like the hon. and learned Gentleman, I am interested to know what sort of work the deputies will be doing.

If it is a qualification for a layman intervening in a lawyer's debate that he should be a courageous man, the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) has no reason to be deterred. It is a qualification that he possesses in full measure. The hon. Gentleman needs to make no apology for not being a lawyer.

I echo that which was said by the hon. Member for Antrim, North and the hon. and learned Member for Southport (Mr. Percival) about seizing this opportunity to pay a tribute to the judiciary in the Province. It is true that the judiciary is drawn from both groups within the Province. It is true that in conditions of great stress and personal danger it has maintained the highest traditions of the judiciary and retained the confidence of the whole community. It is right that that should be said, and said without qualification.

I reply to the question put by the hon. and learned Member for Southport about the pattern by which it is intended to employ deputy county court judges. I am happy to endorse the way in which the hon. and learned Gentleman put the matter. They will be used in many ways as recorders are used in this country. It is hoped that they will be used according to a somewhat more structured pattern than in the past. There is no intention—at least at present—that they should be required to undertake to give a specific number of days each year. Now that the hon. and learned Gentleman has mentoned the possibility, I shall draw the attention of my right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Chancellor to his remarks. If I can carry the matter further, I shall write to the hon. and learned Gentleman. It is a matter that up to the moment has not been in the mind of my right hon. and noble Friend.

I seize the opportunity given to me by the hon. and learned Gentleman to correct something that I said in Committee. I apologise to the House for having misled the Committee. Those present in Committee will recollect that at the time I was offering a preliminary reply to the question posed by the hon. and learned Gentleman. I believe that I expressly invited the Committee to consider my reply E & O E. It is true that there are no restrictions in the Bill on the powers and jurisdiction of the deputy judges. My right hon and noble Friend the Lord Chancellor stated in another place that he did not foresee normally using deputy judges to try scheduled offences.

It is true that Diplock trials represent a considerable burden on the regular judiciary. Accordingly some thought has been given to the possibility of defining a class of case that would be suitable for trial by deputies. That has not proved possible. There have been difficulties in achieving a definition sufficiently precise to convey the necessary reassurance to the public that the quality of justice at the special trials—special in the sense that the judge performs the functions not only of a judge but of a jury—will be maintained.

Although my right hon. and noble Friend wished to offer the permanent judiciary some relief by a limited use of deputies at these trials, he has decided that normally only permanent judges should deal with these cases. The hon. and learned Gentleman invited me to give an assurance, and I think that I can state that that procedure will be adopted unless there are exceptional and unlikely circumstances. We can never be sure whether there will be exceptional circumstances. I think that we probably all agree that it is better to leave the present provision in the Bill.

I seize the opportunity to respond to the remarks of the hon. Member for Antrim, North on whether there was an assumption that the Diplock court method of trial would continue indefinitely. None of us can foresee the future. At the time I echoed—I am not sure which of us echoed the other—what was said by the hon. Gentleman. I regarded it as an unwelcome incursion into the normal function of the judiciary.

12.30 p.m.

It is right to say now that, so far as I have been able to ascertain from every section of the community in the Province, there is a general tribute to the way in which the judges have approached a task which was not very welcome to them. They have maintained a standard of fairness which has made it possible to continue this method of trial perhaps in circumstances where otherwise it might have come under substantial pressure.

I was asked what, broadly, was the percentage of time which the regular judiciary devoted to this kind of trial. I am told that the answer is about 25 per cent. It is true, as the hon. and learned Member for Southport said, that, with this kind of burden on the regular judiciary, we shall have to watch to ensure that, if that percentage were to increase substantially, we do not reach a situation where almost all the normal work is done by deputy judges. Of course, if that were to happen, I give the assurance that serious consideration would be given to the possibility of appointing further judges.

That is not the only circumstance in which my noble Friend might consider that possibility. There may be a number of reasons from time to time why it would be necessary to consider appointing additional judges. However, it is not envisaged that we should ever embrace a situation where the bulk of judicial work is done by deputy judges.

The hon. and learned Gentleman spoke of the possibility of a short cut to the bench for a resident magistrate. It is true that in Committee I undertook to invite my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor to consider whether an amendment should be made so that a resident magistrate would not be eligible for appointment as a deputy county court judge unless the aggregate of his service, both in the profession and as a resident magistrate, amounted to at least 10 years. I certainly would not dispute the logic of the point made by the hon. and learned Gentleman.

On reflection, my noble Friend thinks that it is better to leave the Bill as it is. First, we are not dealing with a situation which is likely to arise frequently in practice. Of course, it is possible for a barrister or solicitor to be appointed as a resident magistrate after only seven years service, but the normal pattern would be for him to have served in the profession for a much longer period before being apppointed.

My second argument follows from that. If someone with fewer than 10 years in practice were appointed, it would normally be because he was outstandingly fitted for this kind of appointment. It might be that he had entered the profession at a late stage after substantial experience in some other sphere.

I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will agree that someone who has been thought fit for appointment as a resident magistrate—the hon. and learned Gentleman recognised, and I certainly echo, the qualities required for appointment as a resident magistrate—should at least be considered as worthy of being in the running for appointment as a deputy judge. We are dealing with eligibility for appointment, not actual appointment. The question is, who is permitted to enter for the race, not who wins the cup.

As the hon. and learned Member for Southport said, when I wrote to him I used the argument that, since there might admittedly be exceptional cases, was it not wise that my noble Friend should have the opportunity of considering people who fell into that category? The hon. and learned Gentleman argued that, if that were the case, why should it not apply right across the board? Why should people in practice who are outstandingly qualified for appointment have to wait for 10 years? I cannot dispute the logic of that argument. All I can say is that we should bear this in mind at some future stage. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that broadly he agreed that resident magistrates should be available for consideration as deputy county court judges.

The hon. and learned Gentleman then asked whether consideration had been given to the fact that resident magisrates were already doing a very important job, that they had done it in such a way as to obtain the confidence of the whole community in the Province, and was it wise to take them away from work that they were doing. I assume that he was not suggesting that we should amend the Bill to deprive them of that opportunity.

This provision was put into the Bill broadly for two reasons. First, it was felt that they should be considered both for appointment as deputies and ultimately for permanent appointment to the county court bench without the necessity of hav- ing to resign and return to private practice. There is no doubt that some resident magistrates would aspire, among their ambitions, to possible appointment to the county court bench. One purpose of Clause 99 is to enable them to be considered for such appointment either directly or, as I am sure will be more usual, by way of the intermediate stage of serving as deputy county court judges.

I am happy to confirm that I was not suggesting that the Bill should be amended. I am concerned about assurances on the way that it is likely to work out.

I am grateful for that indication.

The other reason why this provision has been included in the Bill is that, as I am sure the hon. and learned Gentleman will recall, one of the principle themes of the Beeching Report was that, where judicial assistance may be required at a given level, possibly the best way of supplying it would be to provide support from the level immediately below and to move others in as deputies further down the line, as it were, as necessary. In that way, while a resident magistrate was acting as a deputy judge, the work which he would otherwise do could be done by a person acting as a resident magistrate under Section 10 of the Magistrates' Courts Act (Northern Ireland) 1964. That would have the added advantage of enabling my noble Friend to judge the performance of possible future candidates for permanent appointment as resident magistrates. In that way, the capacity of the magistrates' courts to keep up with the work load would not be damaged if some magistrates were appointed as deputy judges. But, as the hon. and learned Gentleman said, there is no intention that this should be done as a matter of course. The provisions will be used with moderation. Normally resident magistrates will be used to do the work of resident magistrates.

Finally, the hon. and learned Member for Southport expressed some anxiety about the possibility of a resident magistrate sitting as a deputy judge on appeal from another resident magistrate. I accept that the example which I gave in Committee of High Court judges in this country sometimes sitting in the Court of Appeal is not an exact analogy. I hope, however, that the hon. and learned Gentleman agrees that it would be wrong to appoint someone as a deputy judge and to say that he shall not have the normal powers of a deputy judge. On this matter I am grateful for the support of the hon. Member for Antrim, North. I think that my noble Friend has in mind what the hon. and learned Member for Southport said—that often it would be undesirable for the appellate functions of county courts to be regularly exercised by deputy judges. I understand that, so far as possible, that will be avoided.

We have had a helpful and constructive debate on this matter. I hope that we are all open minded enough to be prepared to learn as we go along. I shall not give any undertaking that there will never again be complaints about the judicial system in Northern Ireland. As in England, we shall no doubt make our mistakes. However, I hope that we shall be open minded enough to listen to those who indicate where the shoe has pinched, particularly hon. Members representing constituencies in the Province who will know from what they are told by their constituents where there are problems. We shall then be able from time to time to make such adjustments as will enable the judicial system to maintain the confidence of the public.

I, too, think that it is a good thing that we have had this little debate and that what has been said is on record. It is a good thing not only that one layman has taken part in the debate but also that one of our colleagues from across the water has taken part in it. What could be better than having those two desirable qualifications in one speech? It has achieved what I said at the outset was the object of tabling the amendment—to have in reasonable space a good idea of how it is intended that these matters should work.

The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) said that he did not agree with taking resident magistrates out of the clause. I hope that it was clear that even when I was moving the amendment I did not agree with taking resident magistrates out of the clause. In a moment I shall take a course which, if the House agrees with it, will ensure that they are not taken out.

The Solicitor-General said that I appeared to agree with the proposition that, broadly speaking, it should be open to resident magistrates to enter the race for selection as county court judges. I go further than that. May I return to something which came near the beginning of what I was saying and which therefore may have been overlooked in the words that followed. I want expressly to state that I think it reasonable that resident magistrates should have a route to the bench. They are all either practising solicitors or practising barristers. They cannot qualify for appointment as resident magistrates until they have practised for seven years in either of those capacities. It would be strange if, by accepting such an important office, they were no longer able to qualify as they would have done had they remained in practice in either of those fields for another three years. That would be illogical.

The more logical view is to say that they should not be blocked by taking this important appointment but that the period should still be what it would have been before, or somewhere in between. However, I do not press that point, as I hope I made clear when I proposed the amendment. The Solicitor-General was good enough to say that the logic of what I had in mind was unanswerable, but life is not all logic. What is much more important is how powers and provisions are used. I hope that those concerned about these points—rightly concerned, because as they affect them they want to know how they work—will be reassured by the debate. I feel that the assurances that have been given put at risk the doubts that otherwise might have been felt. I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.