Clause 70 - Power to impose time limits on the determination of code proceedings

Part of Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:30 pm ar 17 Mawrth 2022.

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Photo of Julia Lopez Julia Lopez Parliamentary Secretary (Cabinet Office), Minister of State 2:30, 17 Mawrth 2022

It is clearly desirable that legal disputes relating to code rights be dealt with as quickly as possible; that will minimise delays to network deployment and expansion in a number of ways.

Fast dispute resolution will make sure that, where the public interest test is satisfied, operators can get the rights they need for network deployment and expansion as soon as possible. It also means that where that test is not satisfied, that is identified promptly, so that operators know they have to explore different options. Finally, fast dispute resolution is in the best interests of all parties. Protracted legal proceedings take time, cost money and harm ongoing stakeholder relationships.

However, while we recognise that fast dispute resolution has a lot of benefit, it is important that there be no undue interference with the judicial process and the ability of courts to deal with cases justly. Time limits should not, for example, interfere with a court’s ability to provide the parties with sufficient opportunities to identify, locate or produce evidence. Any statutory provisions relating to the time within which disputes must be determined therefore require careful consideration and close scrutiny.

Legislation already makes limited provision for certain applications relating to new code rights to be heard within six months, but this provision sits outside the code; it is in the Electronic Communications and Wireless Telegraphy Regulations 2011. It was introduced in the course of our transposing European legislation, rather than as a specific element of the domestic code framework.

The new power in clause 70 will enable the Secretary of State to make regulations that are broader in scope, and can specify a period within which a full range of code-related disputes must be determined. As the clause makes clear, regulations made under it may amend or revoke provisions made under the 2011 regulations. That gives the Secretary of State flexibility to consider a full range of approaches, including having no time-limited period at all, if appropriate.

Other, wider measures that we are introducing in the Bill, and potentially in subsequent secondary legislation, will affect court resources. In many cases, the changes will ensure that caseloads are more evenly distributed, particularly between the first-tier and upper-tier tribunals. Rather than seeking to make changes relating to dispute time limits now, we are therefore putting in clause 70 a power permitting the Secretary of State to make regulations on this issue in future. That will enable the Government to revisit the measures as a whole, once the other measures in the Bill come into force, so that their overall impact can be assessed when considering whether changes are appropriate. We will, of course, work closely with the Ministry of Justice and the Northern Ireland and Scotland Governments before making any further proposals on this issue.

Amendment 5 provides a very limited power for the Secretary of State to amend a specified list of provisions in primary legislation. The provisions signpost to regulations about time limits for disputes on code rights. It is clearly desirable that legal disputes relating to code rights be dealt with very quickly. Any statutory provision relating to the time within which disputes must be determined requires careful consideration. The amendment ensures that, if changes are made to the existing regulations, corresponding amendments can be made to legislation that signposts those regulations.