All 1 Lindsay Hoyle contributions to the Courts and Tribunals (Judiciary and Functions of Staff) Act 2018

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Wed 12th Dec 2018
Courts and Tribunals (Judiciary and Functions of Staff) Bill [Lords]
Commons Chamber

3rd reading: House of Commons & Report stage: House of Commons

Courts and Tribunals (Judiciary and Functions of Staff) Bill [Lords] Debate

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Department: Ministry of Justice

Courts and Tribunals (Judiciary and Functions of Staff) Bill [Lords]

Lindsay Hoyle Excerpts
3rd reading: House of Commons & Report stage: House of Commons
Wednesday 12th December 2018

(5 years, 6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Courts and Tribunals (Judiciary and Functions of Staff) Act 2018 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Consideration of Bill Amendments as at 12 December 2018 - (12 Dec 2018)
Simon Hoare Portrait Simon Hoare
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Everything I do is short, Mr Deputy Speaker.

We are all, thank God, living longer. At some point, might there be merit in reviewing the retirement age both for our judges and our magistrates? With people taking early retirement and so on, the receptacle of wisdom should not be lost to the courts, particularly taking the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (James Cleverly) on the difficulty of finding people to fill these posts.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker
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Order. We need to move on now. I was very generous before, but magistrates have absolutely nothing to do with the Bill, as the Minister well knows.

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer
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I am happy to come on to the three reasons why amendments 2 to 4 cannot be accepted. First, the amendments are not necessary. The functions are already being carried out, and carried out well, by those with lesser qualifications than those sought by the hon. Member for Bolton South East. The qualification requirements for legal advisers in the magistrates court and family court are currently set out in regulations made by the Lord Chancellor, as they have been since 1979, and amendments 2 and 3 would raise the qualifications bar significantly higher than the current regulations and would rule out a large proportion of Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service staff from giving legal advice in future.

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Robert Neill Portrait Robert Neill
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My hon. and learned Friend will know, and perhaps she will confirm, that the way this works in practice is that either the Lord Chief Justice or the Senior President of Tribunals makes the authorisation. Alternatively, in the case of the civil jurisdiction, for example, this will invariably at least go to the senior presiding judge or the presiding judges of the circuit. We are talking about people who, in their administrative role, never mind their judicial capacity, will have visited and met these—

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker
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Order. Minister, come on. And you have had three speeches already, Bob, you don’t need to stretch the imagination of the Chamber.

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer
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My hon. Friend, the Chair of the Select Committee, was making an important point. The rule committees are—

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker
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Order. Some might think it is very important—[Interruption.] Order. Would the Minister like to sit down for a moment? In fairness, I am beginning to get a little frustrated with the people who were not here for all the speeches; we had no speakers in, and now everyone wants to come in with interventions. I have only got one Member now down to speak on Third Reading, so if people really want to make a contribution, they know what to do.

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer
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I hope that more will put in to speak on this important subject. I wish to pick up on what my hon. Friend was saying, because he cited a number of speeches from the other place, where senior members of the judiciary were highlighting the appropriateness of the Government’s position. Lord Neuberger, former President of the Supreme Court, warned that these amendments would place

“a potential straitjacket on the ability to appoint the appropriate people to make appropriate decisions.”

He went on to reflect that there “will be many decisions” for which the experience set out in the amendments

“would be appropriate, but there will be others where less experience would be adequate for the decision-making.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 10 July 2018; Vol. 792, c. 882.]

Thirdly, I come to an important point that has not yet been mentioned in the House. The amendments would limit flexibility should new routes to legal qualifications emerge. For example, one key change that we have made in the draft regulations that we published alongside the Bill is to include fellows of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives, or those who have passed the necessary examinations to be a CILEx fellow, among those who can give legal advice. That is a progressive step, but if we were to accept amendments 2 and 3, it would be much harder to respond to such changes in the future, as we would have to amend primary, rather than secondary, legislation.

Furthermore, a legal qualification might not be the most relevant qualification for a particular judicial function. For example, it is more helpful for a registrar in the tax tribunal to be a tax professional by background, rather than a legal professional.

The hon. Member for Bolton South East raised a number of points on independence, and I wish to start by saying that I think the judiciary, whether sitting in court or in committee, has, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) said when he was in his place, the highest level of independence and integrity.

The hon. Lady queried, both here and in Committee, the independence of authorised staff, implying that those with a legal qualification were more likely to be independent. Under the Bill, all court and tribunal staff who are authorised to exercise judicial functions will now be independent of the Lord Chancellor when doing so, and subject only to the direction of the Lord Chief Justice or their nominee, or the Senior President of Tribunals or their delegate.

The Bill also provides, for the first time, protections from legal proceedings and costs in legal proceedings and indemnities for all authorised staff when carrying out judicial functions, which will further safeguard their independence in decision making.

Finally, amendment 5 deals with the right of reconsideration of decisions taken by authorised staff in the courts. I wish to start by acknowledging that the hon. Lady and the Opposition have listened carefully to the points made in Committee; I note there is now no amendment dealing with decisions taken by staff in the tribunals, and I welcome that.

It is right that in some circumstances a party to proceedings may wish to have the decision reconsidered, but we remain opposed to the amendment for three reasons. First, the Bill already ensures that a right of reconsideration will be available when appropriate. We believe that the independent procedure rule committees—comprised, as I and others have said, of jurisdictional experts and experienced practitioners—are best placed to decide whether such a right of further reconsideration is needed and, if so, the form that that right should take.

Indeed, the procedure rule committees in the civil and tribunals jurisdictions have already included in their respective rules a specific right to judicial reconsideration for decisions made by authorised persons in appropriate cases. For example, the magistrates courts and the family court have their own existing mechanisms for reviewing various decisions, which amendment 5 would cut across.

Secondly, the right identified by the hon. Lady is too broad, even by her own admission. In speaking to amendments in Committee, she said that

“we accept and acknowledge that one should not be able to ask for reconsideration simply because one disagrees with the decision of the authorised person; one must have a cogent reason. There must be proper grounds for requesting a reconsideration.”[Official Report, Courts and Tribunals (Judiciary and Functions of Staff) [Lords] Public Bill Committee, 4 December 2018; c. 17.]

I was delighted to hear those words, because the Government have also been arguing, both here and in the other place, that a blanket right of reconsideration simply would not work in practice. Yet amendment 5 would give a party in a case an automatic right to request that any decision made by an authorised person exercising the functions of a court be reconsidered by a judge, irrespective of the merits.

Thirdly, the approach we put forward is fair and balanced. The Government listened to concerns about ensuring there were adequate safeguards in the Bill. For that reason, we moved amendments on the right of reconsideration that were accepted on Report in the other place. They effectively require the rule committee, when making rules, to allow authorised staff to exercise judicial functions to consider whether each of those functions should be subject to a right to judicial reconsideration. Where a rule committee decides against the creation of a right of reconsideration, it must inform the Lord Chancellor of its decision and the reasons for it.

The hon. Lady also referred to the Briggs report, and I would like to touch on that very briefly. The recommendations made by Lord Justice Briggs are taken from the report “Civil Courts Structure Review”, the focus of which was the courts of the civil jurisdiction. While an unqualified right of reconsideration might have been appropriate to recommend for the civil courts, given their unique way of working it would be ineffective simply to transpose this recommendation on entirely different jurisdictions.

The civil procedure rule committee has built a right of reconsideration into its rules, but this will not necessarily be appropriate for other jurisdictions. It is for each jurisdiction, with the expertise it has within the rule committee, to decide what is right.

That approach has found favour in the other place. Lord Thomas, former Lord Chief Justice and former chair of the criminal procedure rule committee, said:

“I support what the Government seek to do and urge a substantial degree of caution in respect of the proposals brought forward by the noble Baroness”—

that is, Baroness Chakrabarti. He added that the Government’s approach provides the right balance:

“It gives discretion to a body that knows and has a lot of experience, but it contains that degree of explanatory accountability that will make sure that it does not do anything—even if we were to worry that it might—that goes outside a proper and just delegation”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 16 October 2018; Vol. 793, c. 425-26.]

The Bill strikes the right balance between ensuring appropriate safeguards and transparency of decision making, and leaving the jurisdictional rule committees the discretion to determine the most appropriate mechanism for reviewing decisions by authorised people.

Finally, I would like to respond to the very important points made by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Louise Haigh). I was very pleased to meet her and Sammy Woodhouse a week or so ago. She raised issues that are outside the scope of the Bill, but none the less what Sammy went through was harrowing and the hon. Lady made some important points. As she knows, I committed to look very carefully at the issues she raised and I assure her that we are doing that.

As the hon. Lady mentioned, we have already taken some steps. We have, as she alluded to, asked the president of the family court to look at the practice directions and he has committed to doing that with the rule committee. My officials have spoken to the Association of Directors of Children’s Services about whether it is appropriate to send further guidance to councils on the circumstances in which they should apply to court not to give notice of hearings to parties, such as happened in the Sammy Woodhouse case. The Department will continue to look closely at those issues.

For all those reasons, this is an important Bill that will ensure that we can bring flexibility to our judges, deploy them in the most flexible way, use their resources where they are needed and not when they are not needed, and ensure that those who operate our court system do so effectively and fairly for the people they serve.

The Ministry of Justice is putting users of the court at the heart of our reforms and of our programme on court reform. The measures will not only save on cost—that is not the primary reason for them, although it is important—but ensure that cases go through the system fairly and well. For those reasons, I urge the hon. Lady to withdraw the amendment.

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Division 279

Ayes: 246

Labour: 229
Liberal Democrat: 8
Plaid Cymru: 4
Independent: 4
Green Party: 1

Noes: 308

Conservative: 299
Democratic Unionist Party: 9

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Sir Lindsay Hoyle)
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I have now to announce the result of the deferred Division on the question relating to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. The Ayes were 513 and the Noes were 13, so the Question was agreed to.

Amendment proposed: 5, in the schedule, page 11, line 32, leave out subsection 67C and insert—

“67C Right to judicial reconsideration of decision made by an authorised person

A party to any decision made by an authorised person in the execution of the person’s duty as an authorised person exercising a relevant judicial function, by virtue of section 67B(1), may apply in writing, within 14 days of the service of the order, to have the decision reconsidered by a judge of the relevant court within 14 days from the date of application.”—(Yasmin Qureshi.)

This amendment would grant people subject to a decision made under delegated powers a statutory right to judicial reconsideration.

Question put, That the amendment be made.