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Juvenile Courts (Metropolis) Bill Hl

Volume 41: debated on Friday 6 August 1920

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House again in Committee (according to Order).

[The EARL OF DONOUGHMORE in the Chair.]

Clause 1:

Constitution of juvenile courts in the metropolitan police court district.

1.—(1) An Order in Council made under subsection (5) of section one hundred and eleven of the Children Act, 1908, for the establishment of one or more juvenile courts for the metropolitan police court district may, notwithstanding anything in the Metropolitan Police Act, 1840, provide for any such court being constituted of a police magistrate (who shall be the president of the court) nominated by the Secretary of State, and two justices of the peace for the county of London, of whom one shall be a woman, and both of whom shall be chosen from amongst a panel of such justices nominated for the purpose by the Secretary of State:

Provided that nothing in the Order shall prevent a police magistrate sitting alone in any case where he considers that it would be impracticable for the court to be constituted in manner aforesaid, or that it would be inexpedient in the interests of justice to adjourn the business of the court.

(2) The Order shall provide for the justices who are to sit at the several sittings of the court being chosen by the panel, or, if necessary, by the police magistrate, and in case of the absence of the police magistrate through illness, leave or other cause, for the appointment of a deputy to act in his stead, being either another police magistrate or a justice of the peace approved by the Secretary of State.

(3) The Order may for the purpose of facilitating the establishment of juvenile courts provide for the discontinuance of any of the existing police courts or for the use of an existing police court solely for the purposes of a juvenile court.

On resuming the Committee proceedings on this Bill, I think it may be desirable that I should say a few words on the subject of the proposals which we now make, and of the course which we have taken since the Bill was last in Committee. It will be remembered that upon that occasion very considerable divergence of opinion was revealed among your Lordships. Two sets of opinion were manifested. Some noble Lords appeared to be expressing the views of the Metropolitan Police Magistrates; others spoke more from the point of view of those men and women whose chief interest in the subject resides in their zeal for the administration of the law relating to child delinquents. I do not think that the objections taken by these two sets of critics were upon the same lines, or that they moved towards the same object. It would, I think, be idle to suggest that the Police Magistrates view with favour the proposals of the Bill. They were, I think, prepared to accept them, or some modification of them, as an unfortunate necessity. The object of the other critics to whom I have referred appeared to me to be, on the whole, in favour of the proposals of the Bill, although no doubt they criticised certain details.

Both bodies of opinion, however, appeared to centre on one particular feature of the Bill as it then existed—namely, on the proposal that the functions of the magistrates in relation to children, so far as they are performed by Metropolitan Police Magistrates, should be performed by one such magistrate selected from among the general body. It appeared, as far as I could collect the opinion, to be thought that it would be impossible for one such magistrate to get through the work. It was said that if he dealt with these children's cases only he might possibly tend to lose his touch with the general administration of the criminal law, and even to become faddy and fanciful, while, from the point of view of the magistrates themselves. there was evidently—and one must face it—a reluctance on behalf of the general body to abandon the work in which many of them have had much experience and take a deep interest. There were other criticisms of the Bill which appear to me to be based upon misapprehension. It was never intended, as appeared to be supposed, that children should be dealt with at one Central Court, and no observation of mine at any stage of the Parliamentary proceedings on this Bill afforded any justification for this suspicion. My proposal was that the one selected magistrate should perambulate through the Metropolis, sitting from day to day in different Courts where local convenience required his presence. This proposal also, like every other, found critics among those who thought that he would be overburdened by such a task, and that he might be lacking in the requisite local knowledge.

For my own part, there are three vital principles which I regard as essential to any legislation to be brought forward by the Government in this matter. Firstly, it has always seemed to me to be essential that the women who are to be associated with this work should sit and act on equal terms with their colleagues the men, just as they do in Children's Courts, and indeed in Petty Sessional Courts generally throughout the provinces. And, so far as I am concerned, I will never agree to any proposal which does not meet this first condition. Secondly, it appears to me, having regard to the plain intention of Parliament—this House and another place —expressed in the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act, and the valuable contribution that it is now in the power of women specially to make to the administration of criminal justice as it relates to children, that women should be associated with Metropolitan Police Magistrates in the administration of the children's Acts. I say to the Metropolitan Police Magistrates quite plainly that in so far as their opposition to this measure proceeds from the circumstance that they do not accept this principle, it is an opposition which cannot be conceded. The third point is this. The treatment of children who offend against the law, or come in any other way within the purview of the Petty Sessional Court, should be dissociated from the ordinary administration of the criminal law, and, in particular, that such children's cases should be heard and determined in buildings that are not used for ordinary police purposes.

With those three principles in mind, I have, since the Bill was last in Committee, in conjunction with the Home Secretary, had personal communications with those lay men and women who are interested in the matter, and at the same time a further opportunity has been given by the Secretary of State to the Metropolitan Police Magistrates for them to express their views on the matter. So far as the Magistrates are concerned, I am sorry to say that we have not succeeded in obtaining any substantial measure of agreement with either the proposals of the Bill as originally made or any modification of them to which I myself, or the Home Secretary, on behalf of the Government, will consent. The Amendments that I am about to propose in my view go as far in the direction of meeting the wishes of the Metropolitan Police Magistrates as is possible in the circumstances, and I hope and believe that this zealous and efficient body of men will in future, when the Bill becomes law, give it a cordial welcome, and conduct their work in the future, as they have done in the past, with a single eye to the good of the State and of the children who come before them.

As regards lay opinion, the proposals which we are about to make are of such a nature as, I may boldly claim, will be satisfactory to them, and it is right that I should state to your Lordships that I received, in common with the Home Secretary, 'a deputation introduced by my noble friend Lord Lytton—whose knowledge and experience of these matters is known to all your Lordships—which represented, I think, almost every important body of opinion that is entitled to speak on behalf of the women and on behalf of the children, and they concurred entirely in the proposals which the Bill, as amended, makes to your Lordships. We adhere to the three principles which I have already enumerated. On the other hand, we are abandoning—and I think that this abandonment will be agreeable to the Police Magistrates and to the societies and bodies interested in the welfare of children —the proposal that there should be only one Police Magistrate selected for this purpose. We adhere to the principle of selection. That is an indispensable principle, and one which is exercised by every Judge in a high position, by myself, by the Lord Chief Justice, and by the President of every separate and independent Court. We adhere, therefore, to the principle of selection.

But the first Amendment which is down in my name will render it possible for a number of Police Magistrates to be selected by the Secretary of State for the purpose of carrying on the work. This does not differ very materially from the present arrangement. The work of the Children's Courts is, in fact, at the present time carried out by a limited number of magistrates—I think nine magistrates constitute the panel—and it will henceforth be open to the Secretary of State to select such a number of magistrates as experience demonstrates to be necessary, under the changed conditions, for the purpose. It is not possible, nor would it be desirable, to prescribe on the face of the Bill the exact number, which must, I feel, be such as the change in the circumstances of the times may render necessary. I think the House. will agree that it is plainly a matter on which the Secretary of State must have a discretion. The same Amendment requires in terms that the Children's Courts are to be held in buildings which are not used as Metropolitan Police Courts. I am sure I need not labour that point. As I have already said, in my view it is essential, and I would not be a party to any proposals which did not embody it. In taking that view I have the satisfaction of knowing that I have the unanimous support of all instructed opinion on the subject.

My second Amendment requires the Secretary of State, in nominating Metropolitan Police Magistrates who are to carry on the work, to have regard to their previous experience and to their special qualifications for dealing with juvenile offenders. The remaining Amendments which stand in my name are not new; they were down on the Paper when the House was last in Committee on this Bill. Their object is merely to give further power to the Secretary of State to supplement the ordinary Police Magistrate when he is on his holiday or from any other reason is incapacitated from sitting, by the appointment of a barrister-at-law. It is a small but very useful reform which has been asked for by those who have this responsibility.

I will add a final word, because I think it is worth while giving your Lordships particulars of the deputation which was introduced by Lord Lytton and which addressed myself and the Home Secretary. The deputation consisted of representatives of the Howard Association, the Joint Parliamentary Advisory Committee, the Labour Party, the National Council of Women, the Penal Reform League, the Standing Joint Committee of Industrial Women's Organisations, the State Children's Association, the Wage-earning Children's Committee, and the Women's Local Government Society, and I am in a position to state to your Lordships that all these influential bodies, after a full and I hope a clear explanation to them of the proposals which I intended to make to your Lordships, and which I now make, expressed their complete acquiescence and concurrence in them, and insisted, with a degree of vehemence which I do not wish to exaggerate but which I entirely share, upon the three points as I have defined them which, in the view of the Government and of these important bodies, are indispensable.

Amendment moved:—

Page 1, line 7, leave out ("one or more")(The Lord Chancellor.)

My Lords, I cannot help saying in a very few words how cordially I welcome the changes which the Lord Chancellor proposes to make in the Bill as it has hitherto been before your Lordships. The noble and learned Lord has in no way exaggerated the weight of the representations that were made to him by the deputation which he described. The three points to which, as the noble and learned Lord has said, he attaches the greatest importance are just those which have been uniformly and strongly advanced by all those who have been interested in the establishment of Juvenile Courts; and I am certain that general gratitude will be felt by all those experienced and enthusiastic people at the course which the noble and learned Lord has taken.

It is quite true—and the difficulty, as the noble and learned Lord pointed out, has largely arisen from this fact—that the eminent body of men who are the Police Magistrates in London have not been able to arrive at a uniform opinion on this question. Some have entirely shared the views which the noble and learned Lord has expressed; some others, equally conscientious and high-minded I am sure, have held the view that they are perfectly competent and that there is no valid reason against the regular taking of children's cases at the Police Courts and in a similar manner to that in which the cases of adults are taken. I am very glad myself that that particular view has not prevailed; but the fact that it was held and that some Police Magistrates were therefore unwilling to countenance separate Courts away from the Police Courts—a point to which, like the noble and learned Lord, I attach the greatest possible importance— has made the solution of the matter more difficult. I therefore merely desire to congratulate the noble and learned Lord on the happy conclusion which he has reached and which I hope will obtain the unanimous assent of your Lordships.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

moved in subsection (1), to leave out "any" ["provide for any such Court"] and insert "such Courts being held elsewhere than in the buildings used as Metropolitan Police Courts and for every."

Amendment moved—

Page 1, line 9, leave out ("any") and insert ("such Courts being held elsewhere than in the buildings used as Metropolitan Police Courts and for every)."—(The Lord Chanceller.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

moved, after the proviso in subsection (1), to insert the following new subsection—

"(2) The Secretary of State in nominating the magistrates to be presidents of juvenile courts shall have regard to their previous experience and their special qualifications for dealing with cases of juvenile offenders"

Amendment moved—

Page 1, line 20, at end insert the said new sub-section.—(The Lord Chancellor.)

I cannot say that I agree with this Bill, which I consider to be unnecessary; but some of the Amendments that the noble and learned Lord has brought forward are certainly a considerable improvement. With regard to the constitution of the Court, he seems to have enlarged it from one justice for males and one justice for females into a Panel, not only for males and females, but also for the particular Stipendiary Magistrates who sit as president of the Court. This is a change of the system in London, where we have had the great blessing of having Stipendiary Magistrates dealing with these cases by themselves; but it is a change that is apparently desired by a good many people. I would, however, suggest that as this clause apparently causes every Court which is dealing with children to be composed of the Stipendiary Magistrate, a male justice and a female justice, there should not be in the proposed subsection such an invidious suggestion as that the Stipendiary Magistrates are to be picked out because of their experience and special qualifications. I would suggest to the noble and learned Lord that it would be quite open to him to do that without putting this clause in the Bill.

I do not regard these words as important. If the history of the matter interests the noble Lord at all I will tell him that the deputation desired that it should be made plain on the face of the Bill that the selection which would become necessary should be made upon the basis which is indicated in the words to which the noble Lord objects. The point seems to me to be one of very little importance. The Bill, as it is proposed to be amended, would contain these words—

"The Secretary of State in nominating the magistrates to be presidents of juvenile courts shall have regard to their previous experience and their special qualifications for dealing with cases of juvenile offenders."
No one would suppose, I agree, that the Secretary of State, in nominating these presidents, would have regard to any other consideration, and it might be said in reinforcement of the contention of the noble Lord that it would be absurd to direct the Lord Chief Justice, when he is selecting Judges to try revenue cases, to select for the panel those who have had special experience on such points.

At the same time, in arriving at an almost agreed conclusion on this matter it must be remembered that we have had several awkward corners to get round, and there was a very great desire that this consideration should be expressed on the face of the Bill. Although I do not think it adds anything to what the Home Secretary would do, and although it was not sought, either by the Home Secretary or by myself, it is a provision which cannot do the slightest harm to anybody. The noble Lord even would not desire that the Home Secretary should proceed upon any other principle, and therefore the only point between us is on a mere question of form—namely, as to whether or not it should appear, as the deputation desire—the deputation have given great thought to this question—on the face of the Bill. I do not think the noble Lord will think this is a point which is worth pursuing.

I hope also that the noble Lord will not think it necessary to press his Amendment. His view, I understand, is that some Police Magistrate who is not selected might consider himself slighted by being left out. But, on the other hand, I have no knowledge —I do not know whether my noble friend has—that all Police Magistrates are particularly anxious to sit in these Courts. I think it would be found that there are a certain number of them who might be quite content to be relieved of this particular duty and of the necessity of sitting in this special Court.

For that reason, the selection being, as the Lord Chancellor said, obviously guided by the principle mentioned in the Amendment, I cannot believe that the great body of Police Magistrates would raise any objection to it, or that individuals would consider themselves ill-treated by being left out.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Amendment moved—

Page 1, line 25, leave out from ("for") to ("another") on page 2, line 1, and insert ("his place being taken by")—(The Lord Chancellor.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

moved, in subsection (2), before "or a justice of the peace approved by the Secretary of State," to insert "or by a barrister-at-law in practice for at least seven years appointed."

Amendment moved—

Page 2, line 1, after ("magistrate"), insert the said words.—(The Lord Chancellor.)

May I suggest that possibly the noble and learned Lord may see his way to put in five years instead of seven, if he wishes equality, as it were, between the country and London. I understand the Stipendiary Magistrates can be appointed after five years in the country. This is a barrister-at-law taking the place of a Stipendiary Magistrate. It will give an opportunity for some of the women who are now studying for the Bar to take the chairmanship upon such occasions, and, with the intensive work that is being done now by young barristers, it will give them an opportunity of studying for such a position.

I think the noble Lord will see that a slight consideration of what is, in fact, taking place in the country would render such an Amendment as he proposes undesirable. It is quite true that the technical qualification is five years, not seven, but my information—though I should not desire to be pinned precisely to it, as I did not know that the noble Lord was to raise this point—is that, although there is theoretically a five years' qualification, in no single case has any barrister with only five years' experience ever been appointed. I think that the force of that experience will commend itself to anybody who has reflected much upon this question.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

moved at the end of subsection (2), to insert ("a barrister-at-law so appointed shall have all the powers of a Metropolitan Police Magistrate so sitting in such Juvenile Court as aforesaid.")

Amendment moved—

Page 2, line 2, at end insert the said words—(The Lord Chancellor.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

had on the paper an Amendment, after subsection (3), to insert the following proviso:—

"Provided that all charges against children and young persons for offences committed within a district assigned to a Metropolitan Police, Court shall be heard and determined at a juvenile court situate in such district."
The noble Lord said: I understand there is very great feeling throughout London as to the suggestion that the children and the witnesses—the witnesses, of course, and the fathers and mothers lose a day's work if they have to attend the Court—should not be moved from the district from which they come. I do not think that, if certain consolidation takes place, the words are exactly suitable, and therefore I do not desire to move them. I suggest that the noble and learned Lord might consider the point. Some very strong resolutions have been passed lately, such as one passed by the Metropolitan Boroughs Standing Joint Committee. They view with alarm this suggestion of a Central Court, not understanding what the proposals of the Bill are. It is most important, in the interests of the children and in the interests of witnesses and parents, that they should not have to go to Courts at a distance from their locality, and it would be much better if some words were inserted in the Bill on the subject.

I am very much alive to the importance of the point indicated by the noble Lord that these Courts should be brought to the homes of the people, and I am able, I think, to give him the most complete reassurance. I cannot, of course, say as to a week or a month that we shall attain our goal in every district, but it is our distinct and definite intention to establish a Court in each district. We are making arrangements now with the local authorities, who are giving invaluable assistance in this matter, that in every single district the same geographical conveniences should be afforded to those who are resident in that district as are available under the existing system.

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Remaining Clause agreed to.