Review of the delegation of legal advice and judicial functions to authorised staff

Courts and Tribunals (Judiciary and Functions of Staff) Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 10:30 am ar 4 Rhagfyr 2018.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

“(1) Within the period of three years from the coming into force of this Act, the Lord Chancellor must arrange for a review to be undertaken on the impact of the implementation of the provisions contained within section 3 and the Schedule to this Act.

(2) A report setting out the findings of the review must be laid before both Houses of Parliament.”—

This amendment would require the impact of the delegation of judicial functions to be reviewed within three years of it coming into force.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Yasmin Qureshi Yasmin Qureshi Shadow Minister (Justice)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The new clause asks for a review of the impact of the legislation to be carried out within three years of the start of the Act, and that this be laid before both House of Parliament. The reason for that is, as mentioned earlier and in all debates in respect of the Bill, the Opposition have serious concerns about how the Bill will work out and about its impact on our justice system—in particular on litigants who go into court not legally represented, as often happens.

With the Act, there will be a more rapid use and deployment of judges from one sector to another, and we would like the Government to consider how that is working and its impact on our traditional court system. We believe that the functions the authorised people will be given and the issue of reconsideration will have a clear impact on what happens in both our criminal and civil courts.

I do not want to repeat myself, but I made many points earlier about how more and more cases are being disposed of to the internet or the online system, and about the massive call centres, to which people sometimes cannot even get through. That is unlike the situation in the traditional court system; people are normally able to attend the court and can be given informal voluntary assistance, information, advice, guidance and support. All that is being taken away, because of the use of online technology and not enough courts being there.

The cuts in legal aid, civil and criminal, mean that many people now go completely unrepresented, with no legal advice. They know nothing about the court procedures or the law. I am sure that many Members of Parliament have constituents visit our surgeries who are facing something that we would think was very simple, but is to them a big thing in their life that gets them worried and stressed. It is important that when they go to court, they are dealt with by people with the right expertise and knowledge, so that they can get justice and not be faced with people who perhaps do not have the requisite legal knowledge to assist them, or to make the decision appropriately.

If a decision is taken and somebody wants it to be reconsidered, we want to know what happens in relation to that judgment. How does it affect people? Are there many people asking for reconsideration? The authorised person will do certain tasks that impact on people’s lives tremendously. Although the Bill is short, it makes wide-ranging changes, and it will impact on ordinary people across the country. It is therefore important that the impact of the Bill on our court system and litigants be evaluated. We have said that that should happen after three years, because that is a sensible period of time after which to evaluate how these things work in practice. Once that finding is made by the Ministry of Justice, it should be brought before both Houses of Parliament for debate. This is a sensible new clause to ensure that people’s lives, liberties and rights are safeguarded.

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice 10:45, 4 Rhagfyr 2018

As the hon. Lady mentioned, the new clause is about reviewing the impact of the authorised staff provisions within three years of the Bill coming into force.

Reviewing laws is always important. We in the Ministry of Justice do not shy away from that. The question is what the appropriate form of that review is. As the impact assessment for these measures says, we have committed to working with the rules committees and the senior judiciary to monitor the impact of any future assignment of judicial functions and responsibilities to authorised staff. This is particularly important where the Bill enables provisions to be extended to a new jurisdiction; for example, the power of authorised staff to carry out judicial functions will be new to the Crown court. We therefore expect the criminal procedure rule committee to conduct a review of the provisions as it feels appropriate, and to draw on its impartiality and expertise in doing so.

In other jurisdictions, the exercise of judicial functions by staff is already kept under review by the relevant rule committees, by the senior judiciary and by Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service, where appropriate. For example, the civil procedure rule committee has undertaken a review of a pilot scheme in which a range of functions were delegated to legal advisers in the County Court Money Claims Centre. As a result of that, the committee decided to modify and extend powers. It has also agreed to a further pilot to allow legal advisers in the county court to make unopposed final charging orders. This will run to April 2020 and, again, will be reviewed before a decision is taken to extend it.

Those reviews and this approach to implementation are illustrative of how we expect these measures to be rolled out in the future: incrementally, with the necessary monitoring, and subject to review and evaluation before any further steps are taken. The rule committees are independent of the Government and their membership includes judges, legal professionals and representatives of voluntary organisations. They are best placed not only to make the rules for authorised staff exercising judicial functions, but to conduct the reviews of these measures in the future. I hope that I have provided the hon. Member for Bolton South East with the assurances that she seeks, and that she will withdraw the new clause.

Photo of Yasmin Qureshi Yasmin Qureshi Shadow Minister (Justice)

I thank the Minister for her response, but the Opposition will not withdraw our new clause. I ask that the Question be put.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

The Committee divided:

Ayes 8, Noes 9.

Rhif adran 6 Courts and Tribunals (Judiciary and Functions of Staff) Bill [Lords] — Review of the delegation of legal advice and judicial functions to authorised staff

Ie: 8 MPs

Na: 9 MPs

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Question accordingly negatived.

Bill, as amended, to be reported.

Committee rose.