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Courts Act 2003 (Consequential Provisions) Order 2005

Volume 670: debated on Thursday 17 March 2005

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1.41 p.m.

rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 9 February be approved [10th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, a draft of the order was laid before Parliament on 9 February 2005 and approved by a Commons Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation on 8 March 2005. The order updates wording contained in existing legislation, to make it consistent with the Courts Act 2003. It does not advance any new policy.

The Courts Act received Royal Assent on 20 November 2003. The Act is designed to modernise the court system in England and Wales and improve access to justice for the public by enabling better use of resources nationally and locally. On 1 April 2005, most of the provisions of the Act not yet implemented will come into force. These include Sections 6, 7 and 8, which will render the terms "magistrates' courts committee", "justices' chief executive", "commission area" and "petty sessions areas", and variants on those, obsolete.

Not all those concepts have a direct replacement in the new regime, but to the extent that they do, it is necessary to amend other legislation that uses those expressions so that the day-to-day operations of the machinery of justice can continue without disruption. I am convinced that the House will not want me to attempt to explain the effect of each provision, but an example will show what the order does.

Section 6 of the Late Night Refreshment Houses Act 1969 provides that each licensing authority is to keep a register of licences for late night refreshment houses granted by it. Section 6(2) requires licensing authorities to give a copy or extract from the register to the,
"justices' chief executive for any petty sessions area",
falling wholly or partly within their area.

From 1 April 2005, references to justices' chief executives and petty session areas will be redundant. It is therefore necessary to change the references mentioned, respectively, to read "designated officer for any local justice area". Paragraph 38 of the schedule to the order does that. The effect will be that the procedure described in the Late Night Refreshment Houses Act 1969 can continue undisturbed.

That is a typical example of the minor and consequential changes which comprise this order. The order ensures that the obsolete references previously mentioned are removed by the time of the coming into force of the relevant sections of the Courts Act 2003 on 1 April 2005. The policies on these matters were fully discussed during the passage of the Courts Act 2003.

Although I am confident that searches to identify the obsolete references in legislation have been comprehensive, I cannot be certain that all references have been captured in the order. If any other reference is found in future, it will be considered and the necessary amendment made. The provisions of the order have no impact on the rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights. I can advise the House that to complete this necessary updating exercise, a further order dealing with secondary legislation, and subject to negative resolution procedure, has also been prepared. Copies of the secondary order are available from the Printed Paper Office. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 9 February be approved [10th Report from the Joint Committed].—(Lord Evans of Temple Guiting.)

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister on two counts. First, I am grateful for his assurance that there is no new policy in the order and that it is simply a question of semantics, changing the wording used in various Acts as a result of the Courts Act 2003. The whole House will be grateful for the fact that he thought it necessary to give us simply one example of the changes, rather than detailing all 113 paragraphs of the order. As I said, the order seems to be merely a question of semantics. As a result, we see the disappearance of the words "petty sessions" from a large number of places. As a publisher, 1 suspect that the noble Lord will find the replacement for many words—"chief executive", for example, will be replaced with "designated officer"—somewhat more ugly, but no doubt he was not party to the precise words chosen.

Returning to the disappearance of petty sessions, when I was called to the Bar, some 20 or so years ago, I thought that petty sessions had long since ceased to exist, but I was obviously wrong in that. Is this the last that we will see of petty sessions, or did they disappear many years ago, back in the late 1960s or early 1970s, and merely the words have survived in various Acts until this order under the Courts Act 2003?

My Lords, I have not checked through all the changes to see whether they are genuinely consequential, but they certainly appear so and I am happy to accept the Minister's word for it. Although the changes are consequential, the order upholds the principle that any amendment, even consequential, by secondary legislation of primary legislation should use the affirmative procedure. The Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform has been pressing for that for some years. That is plainly right, even if it means that we deal with something that is of no general significance. Therefore, I am glad to welcome the order.

My Lords, I am grateful for the speed with which we have dealt with the order. I absolutely take on board the point of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, about the affirmative procedure.

The noble Lord, Lord Henley, is absolutely right: I regret the passing of some of this wonderful language. In 10 or 15 years' time, many of Dickens's novels will have to have footnotes to explain to readers what those wonderful institutions were. I am told that the petty sessions area will disappear and be replaced by "local justice area", which illustrates my point.

On Question, Motion agreed to.