Crime and Courts Bill: Report stage day two

05 December 2012

The Crime and Courts Bill continued report stage, a further chance for scrutiny, in the House of Lords yesterday (Tuesday 4 December).

The scrutiny began with a discussion on Amendment 79AA, focusing on judicial reviews, moved by Lord Beecham (Labour), who said: ‘In my view and that of the opposition, what is required is a systematic and regular, although periodic rather than annual, review of the whole system, not a series of separate, unconnected reports dealing with different parts of the system. The amendment clearly envisages not merely a report on the efficiency of the system but matters that are coming to the fore in the light of the government's policy.’

He continued: ‘It is not asking a great deal to invite the government periodically to keep matters under review and assess how their own legislation is working on a regular basis rather than simply in respect of those matters that have recently been enacted... To treat the whole system as one that requires review seems an efficient way of dealing with the concerns of the profession and the public about this aspect of our judicial system.’

Baroness Butler-Sloss (Crossbench), expressed her views on the amendment, saying: ‘I also support the amendment. I remain very concerned about the impact of changes to legal aid on the family courts. It is absolutely necessary to have a review from time to time to see how the courts are coping with the endless litigants in person who will find themselves trying to cope at a very traumatic time of their lives when their relationships have broken down and there is no legal help at all.’

Lord McNally (Liberal Democrat), the minister of state, Ministry of Justice, spoke on behalf of the government, saying: ‘...the government are not persuaded of the case for a periodic review. That is in part because the government continually review these areas... We are bringing forward a comprehensive set of reforms in this area. We will see how they bed in and we will be constantly interested in any comments or any feedback on them. As I indicated in committee, and in line with the commitments made in the published impact assessment, we will review the effectiveness of the single county court and single family court within five years of royal assent so that the new arrangements have time to become established and for the benefits to be realised.’

The amendment was withdrawn after going to a vote, which resulted in 177 for and 218 against.

The debate then moved on to judicial appointments. Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames (Liberal Democrat) moved Amendment 86A, saying: ‘our judges are widely respected nationally and internationally, for their fairness and impartiality, their integrity, honesty and incorruptibility, their intellectual rigour and their willingness to innovate in the development of our law. But we should not let our pride in the strengths of our judiciary beguile us into complacency about its weaknesses, because the reality is that for all its strengths, the judiciary is overwhelmingly too white, too male and too middle class to be representative of the society it serves. That leads to our judges being perceived as out of sympathy with contemporary Britain and overwhelmingly old-fashioned and out of touch, however far that may be from the truth in respect of individual judges.’

Lord Pannick (Crossbench) followed, saying: ‘The aim of achieving a more diverse judiciary does not mean reducing the standards for appointment. On the contrary, merit remains the criterion. The task... is to identify ways of bringing to the fore those highly skilled women and members of ethnic minorities who are in the legal profession.’

Baroness Neuberger (Crossbench) expressed her views, saying: ‘It is hugely important that the message is sent out widely that this is a statutory duty that applies not only to the Judicial Appointments Commission but much more widely. I particularly believe that we should also extend this to the Supreme Court.’

The amendment was later withdrawn after Lord McNally responded on behalf of the government, saying: ‘Tonight, I want to take this debate back to the Lord Chancellor and let him ponder on it. It may be that I will have to resist when we return to the issue on third reading, but I do not want to resist tonight because the quality of the debate and the persuasiveness of the argument deserve another look at this matter.’

The next day of report stage takes place on 10 December.

About the Crime and Courts Bill

The bill was introduced in the House of Lords at its first reading stage (formal introduction) on 10 May. It aims to establish the National Crime Agency and proposes abolishing the Serious Organised Crime Agency and the National Policing Improvement Agency.

It also examines the structure, administration, proceedings and powers of courts and tribunals and addresses issues like border control and drugs and driving.

Find out more about the Crime and Courts Bill

What is report stage?

Report stage gives all members of the Lords further opportunity to examine and make changes, known as amendments, to a bill.

Report stage usually starts 14 days after committee stage. It can be spread over several days (but usually fewer days than at committee stage).

Before report stage starts, all member's amendments are recorded and published. The day before a report stage debate the amendments are placed in order - a marshalled list.

During report stage detailed line by line examination of the bill continues. Any member of the Lords can take part and votes can take place.

After report stage the bill is reprinted to include all the agreed amendments. The bill then moves to third reading for the final chance for the Lords to debate and amend the bill.

Further information

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