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Review Of Judiciary

Volume 592: debated on Thursday 30 July 1998

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(" . The First Minister shall conduct on an annual basis a review of—

  • (a) the workload of the Court of Session, the High Court of Justiciary, the Sheriff Court and the District Court, and
  • (b) whether the resources made available to those courts are adequate to meet the interests of justice.").
  • The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 270 is very much a probing amendment. It is important to ensure that there is a sufficiency of judges for the workload with which they must deal in the criminal and civil courts. Undoubtedly that workload will increase with the passing of the Scotland Bill and the Human Rights Bill. Furthermore, the powers under the Scotland Bill to deal with devolution issues give the judges a new constitutional position. I understand that the Crown Office has set up a unit to consider the impact of the Human Rights Bill with a view to ensuring that the extent to which legislation increases the workload is monitored. There is a need for a sufficiency of full-time judges. I look forward to hearing the response of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate.

    I should like to intervene briefly to say that, while I understand why my noble friend has tabled this amendment, I believe it would be inappropriate to place such a statutory duty on the first minister alone. In the first instance it is the job of the courts to keep under review its own workload and the availability of resources. I have absolutely no doubt that the Lord President of the Court of Session of the day would, if he felt it necessary to seek additional resources, draw that to the attention of the Scottish executive and the United Kingdom Government.

    I concur with what has just been said by the noble and learned Lord. Both he and the Lord Advocate are aware that from time to time it is the duty of the Lord President—I have performed this duty—to draw attention to resource issues not just for the Court of Session but for courts generally. That is probably the best way around it. For my part, I would not welcome the introduction of a clause along the lines proposed by the noble Lord.

    I agree with both noble and learned Lords. At present Section 1 of the Sheriff Courts (Scotland) Act 1971 imposes a duty

    "to secure the efficient organisation and administration of the Sheriff Courts".
    That carries the clear implication that Scottish Ministers must seek to provide the necessary resources to achieve that desirable aim. But there are no statutory equivalent responsibilities with regard to the Supreme Courts where the historic role of the Lord President of the Court of Session comes into play. The holder of that high office, whom I am pleased to see in the Committee today, has the task of organising the business of the courts. With that explanation, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.

    I am very grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate for his explanation. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    4.45 p.m.

    After Clause 54, insert the following new clause—