Debates between Lucy Frazer and Yasmin Qureshi

There have been 18 exchanges between Lucy Frazer and Yasmin Qureshi

1 Tue 23rd April 2019 Oral Answers to Questions
Ministry of Justice
3 interactions (182 words)
2 Tue 12th March 2019 Oral Answers to Questions
Ministry of Justice
3 interactions (198 words)
3 Wed 23rd January 2019 Courts IT System
Ministry of Justice
4 interactions (799 words)
4 Wed 12th December 2018 Courts and Tribunals (Judiciary and Functions of Staff) Bill [Lords]
Ministry of Justice
2 interactions (1,550 words)
5 Tue 4th December 2018 Courts and Tribunals (Judiciary and Functions of Staff) Bill [ Lords ] (First sitting)
Ministry of Justice
27 interactions (6,043 words)
6 Wed 21st November 2018 Leaving the EU: Legal Services
Ministry of Justice
2 interactions (2,068 words)
7 Tue 13th November 2018 Oral Answers to Questions
Ministry of Justice
3 interactions (190 words)
8 Tue 9th October 2018 Oral Answers to Questions
Ministry of Justice
3 interactions (171 words)
9 Wed 5th September 2018 Voyeurism (Offences) (No. 2) Bill
Ministry of Justice
5 interactions (1,222 words)
10 Tue 4th September 2018 Legal Aid: Post-Implementation Review
Ministry of Justice
2 interactions (2,920 words)
11 Thu 12th July 2018 Voyeurism (Offences) (No. 2) Bill (Third sitting)
Ministry of Justice
2 interactions (635 words)
12 Tue 10th July 2018 Voyeurism (Offences) (No. 2) Bill (First sitting)
Ministry of Justice
2 interactions (382 words)
13 Mon 18th June 2018 Upskirting
Ministry of Justice
3 interactions (494 words)
14 Tue 5th June 2018 Oral Answers to Questions
Ministry of Justice
3 interactions (165 words)
15 Tue 24th April 2018 Oral Answers to Questions
Ministry of Justice
3 interactions (225 words)
16 Thu 29th March 2018 Leaving the EU: Justice System
Ministry of Justice
2 interactions (916 words)
17 Tue 27th March 2018 Court Closures and Reform
Ministry of Justice
2 interactions (1,924 words)
18 Tue 23rd January 2018 Oral Answers to Questions
Ministry of Justice
3 interactions (132 words)

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Lucy Frazer and Yasmin Qureshi
Tuesday 23rd April 2019

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ministry of Justice
Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer - Parliament Live - Hansard
23 Apr 2019, 3:09 p.m.

Of course, the Attorney General has done a review in relation to disclosure more broadly. I am very happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss any ideas that she would like to put forward on those matters.

Yasmin Qureshi Portrait Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
23 Apr 2019, 3:09 p.m.

Since 2016, payments to consultancies by Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service have shot up from £3 million to £20 million. The Government appear to think that expensive private consultants are the solution to all their problems, even in the face of spiralling costs. Does the Minister really believe that the way to increase access to justice is to hand over yet more public money to private consultants at a time when our courts are facing unprecedented cuts?

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer - Parliament Live - Hansard

We are in the process of a £1 billion court programme—one of the most ambitious across the world in relation to how we transform our justice system—and it is appropriate that we get the best and right advice to manage that process. Sometimes we find that it is cheaper to instruct experts than it is to develop that expertise internally, so we use consultants where appropriate.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Lucy Frazer and Yasmin Qureshi
Tuesday 12th March 2019

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate
Ministry of Justice
Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer - Parliament Live - Hansard

As I mentioned, when we undertake court closures—they are undertaken very carefully, and the Lord Chancellor does not undertake these decisions lightly—we look at court utilisation rates, and the courts that are closed are often those that are not performing in terms of capacity. On the case the hon. Lady refers to, I am happy to take it up with her and to look at any backlog or delay.

Yasmin Qureshi Portrait Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
12 Mar 2019, 12:17 p.m.

The Government have been forced to announce a one-year delay to their £1 billion court reform programme. Many people are concerned that this programme is simply a smokescreen for sacking staff and closing courts. Will the Government take this opportunity to have a public debate about the issue and to allow Parliament to debate and scrutinise these changes?

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer - Hansard

Our court reform programme is one of the most ambitious in the world. We recently held a seminar at which at least 20 other countries were represented. They talked about their reform programmes, and none of them was as ambitious as ours in streamlining, making more effective and modernising the court process. The delay in the programme is to ensure that we can efficiently and effectively manage the programme going forward.

Courts IT System

Debate between Lucy Frazer and Yasmin Qureshi
Wednesday 23rd January 2019

(1 year, 6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ministry of Justice
Yasmin Qureshi Portrait Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
23 Jan 2019, 12:43 p.m.

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Justice if he will make a statement on the failure of the central courts IT system.

Lucy Frazer Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Lucy Frazer) - Parliament Live - Hansard
23 Jan 2019, 12:44 p.m.

I am grateful for the opportunity to update the House on the IT issues facing the Ministry of Justice over recent days.

I start by apologising to those who have been affected by the intermittent disruption, which was caused by an infrastructure failure in our supplier’s data centre. Although services have continued to operate and court hearings have continued, we know how frustrating this is for everyone. The issue is that some of our staff in the Courts and Tribunals Service, the Legal Aid Agency, probation and Ministry of Justice headquarters have been unable to log on to their computers, but we have contingency plans in place to make sure that trials can go ahead as planned.

The Prison Service has not been affected and—to correct inaccurate reporting—criminals have not gone free as a result of the problem. We have been working closely with our suppliers, Atos and Microsoft, to get our systems working again, and yesterday we had restored services to 180 court sites, including the largest ones. Today, 90% of staff have working computer systems. Work continues to restore services and we expect the remainder of the court sites to be fully operational by the time they open tomorrow morning. We are very disappointed that our suppliers have not yet been able to resolve the network problems in full.

This afternoon, the permanent secretary, Sir Richard Heaton, will meet the chief executive of Atos and write personally to all members of the judiciary. I am very grateful to all our staff who have been working tirelessly and around the clock, alongside our suppliers, to resolve the issues.

Yasmin Qureshi Portrait Yasmin Qureshi - Parliament Live - Hansard
23 Jan 2019, 12:46 p.m.

I thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting the urgent question, and the Minister for her reply.

Members will be concerned by the failure of the multiple vital IT systems that our courts require, including systems supplied by Atos and Microsoft. Indeed, I saw those failures at first hand last week, when I visited one of the Crown courts. The chair of the Criminal Bar Association described our courts system as being “on its knees” following that failure, and blamed

“savage cuts to the MoJ budget”.

Reports in The Times suggested that there is a risk of defendants being released before trial. Will the Minister confirm whether any defendants have been released without trial? What costs has the failure incurred? Have Atos and Microsoft paid any penalties for failures on the contracts so far? Can the Minister guarantee that all costs arising from the failures will be recovered from the suppliers?

Of course, such failings do not happen in a vacuum. The Ministry of Justice has faced cuts of 40% in the decade to 2020. The Government are pursuing a £1.2 billion courts reform programme, which has seen hundreds of courts close, thousands of court staff cut and a rush to digitise many court processes. Are the plans to cut 5,000 further court staff by 2023 still being pursued?

Will the Minister explain why the Government ignored the Association of Her Majesty’s District Judges, which called for courts closures to be stopped until

“fully functioning IT systems are demonstrated to be up and running successfully”?

Finally, will the Minister now commit to a moratorium on further cuts, closures and digitisation of our courts until a Bill has been brought to the House so that we can fully scrutinise the Government’s plans?

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer - Parliament Live - Hansard
23 Jan 2019, 12:48 p.m.

I am grateful for the opportunity to answer the points that the hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) raised. She suggested that the problems are related to cuts—they are not. They relate to an issue in a contractual supplier’s system. She suggested that defendants were being released. I hope she heard in my initial reply that that was incorrect reporting. No prisoners have been released. The prison system is different from the MOJ’s and I repeat that no prisoners have been released as a result of the problem.

The hon. Lady asked about penalties. As I said, the permanent secretary is meeting the supplier’s chief executive this afternoon and of course we will look carefully at the contracts, which include penalty clauses.

The hon. Lady suggested that the issue is related to a rush to digitalisation. I would like to clarify that Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service operates on a legacy system, which needs to be updated because issues arise in it, and we are therefore investing significantly in our digitalisation programme to ensure that our courts system runs well in the future.

The hon. Lady talked about cuts. I started with that and I will end with it, as she did. We are not cutting our justice system and our Courts Service. Indeed, as she rightly identified, we are putting £1 billion into it.

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

(3rd reading: House of Commons)
(Report stage: House of Commons)
Debate between Lucy Frazer and Yasmin Qureshi
Wednesday 12th December 2018

(1 year, 7 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Bill Main Page
Ministry of Justice
Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer - Hansard
12 Dec 2018, 3:04 p.m.

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.

Yasmin Qureshi Portrait Yasmin Qureshi - Parliament Live - Hansard
12 Dec 2018, 3 p.m.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed: 2, in the schedule, page 6, line 36, at end insert—

“(aa) is a qualified solicitor, barrister or chartered legal executive with more than three years’ experience post-qualification, and”.—(Yasmin Qureshi.)

This amendment would stipulate that the minimum legal qualifications for authorised persons should be three years’ experience post-qualification.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

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

(Committee Debate: 1st sitting: House of Commons)
Debate between Lucy Frazer and Yasmin Qureshi
Tuesday 4th December 2018

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Bill Main Page
Ministry of Justice
Lucy Frazer Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Lucy Frazer) - Hansard
4 Dec 2018, 9:31 a.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Henry.

A key element of our reforms in relation to courts is ensuring that we have a justice system that works better for everyone, which includes making the best use of our judges’ experience, expertise and time. I should make it clear that the deployment of judges is a matter for the judiciary, and the Lord Chief Justice and the Senior President of Tribunals already have far-reaching powers to ensure that the right judges are deployed on the right cases, taking account of changes in case loads of different jurisdictions. However, there are five areas in which clause 1 would amend current legislation to increase that flexibility to deploy judges where they are needed.

The first change is about the temporary appointment of deputy judges to the High Court. The Lord Chief Justice already has a statutory power to appoint a person meeting the eligibility criteria as a judge of the High Court if their appointment is urgent, temporary and there are no other reasonable steps that could be taken to fill the gap. Those temporarily appointed judges are ordinarily existing, serving judges who have been appointed to a judicial office via the independent Judicial Appointments Commission process. Current legislation allows those appointments to facilitate business in the High Court or Crown court only. Clause 1(1) would widen that so that the person appointed could sit in any court or tribunal on which an ordinarily appointed deputy judge of the High Court could be deployed, such as the county court, the family court, the first-tier tribunal and the upper tribunal.

The second change in clause 1 relates to the upper tribunal. The Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 sets out which judges are judges of the upper tribunal and may therefore hear cases there. The definition comprises a number of different types of judge, such as circuit or district judges, but does not currently include recorders. As fee-paid judges, recorders have equivalent powers to circuit judges, and may sit in the Crown court or the High Court with appropriate authorisation. Allowing recorders to sit in the upper tribunal would allow the judiciary to make more use of recorders’ experience, expertise and skill, and would provide greater flexibility to meet business need.

The third change in clause 1 relates to chamber presidents in the first-tier tribunal and the upper tribunal. Currently, there is a restriction that prevents someone from presiding over more than one chamber of the first-tier tribunal or of the upper tribunal. Subsection (4) would allow a chamber president to be appointed to more than one chamber in the same tribunal. That would enable the Senior President of Tribunals to use the existing and future complement of chamber presidents to provide continuous leadership across all chambers without having to recruit and appoint a new chamber president immediately if there were a vacancy.

The fourth change in the clause relates to senior judges of employment tribunals. Currently, there are restrictions on where senior judges of employment tribunals may be deployed. The Bill will enable the presidents of employment tribunals for England, Wales and Scotland to sit in the Employment Appeal Tribunal, which will provide additional capacity for experienced judges to hear appeals. The Bill will also enable leadership judges— the presidents and vice-presidents of the employment tribunal Scotland, and regional employment judges of the employment tribunals—to hear cases in the first- tier tribunal and the upper tribunal, making more use of their experience and skill where needed.

The final part of the clause relates to flexible deployment with respect to arbitration. The Arbitration Act 1996 currently provides for certain judges of the High Court to sit as judge-arbitrators. That allows cases falling within the relevant jurisdiction of the High Court to be resolved via arbitration with the Lord Chief Justice’s permission. The clause extends the range of High Court judges who can sit as judge-arbitrators, and would also allow the Lord Chief Justice to delegate his functions in agreeing that judges can be appointed as judge-arbitrators. That will allow, for example, judges in the chancery division of the High Court, which has seen a growth in demand for arbitration in recent years, to resolve cases in that way. Those provisions, taken together, will contribute towards a modern and responsive justice system.

Yasmin Qureshi Portrait Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab) - Hansard
4 Dec 2018, 9:34 a.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Henry. While we accept the necessity for the clause, we have some concerns, which we hope the Government will take on board.

We accept that there are practical arguments for expanding the flexible deployment of judges, including temporary judges appointed outside the usual Judicial Appointment Commission selection process, to a wider pool of courts and tribunals. The appointment of temporary judges as a principle, however, should be approached with caution. It is important to view flexible deployment generally through the prism of the Government’s wider reforms and cuts, and plans for savings on judicial salaries.

We are concerned about that being used regularly as opposed to on an occasional basis. [Interruption.] Sorry, the Minister was looking very confused. We are concerned about the potential for a trend of too much reliance on temporary judges. The provisions should be used only to deal with urgent matters in the case of a shortage of judges, and the deployment of judges across different sectors should not become the de facto position.

Clearly, one of the things that the Government have not mentioned is what training provisions will be provided for judges moving out of their normal area of activity. If a Crown court judge is transferred to a tribunal, for example, what kind of training would they receive to deal with issues unique to the tribunal system—for example, on issues of disability, reasonable adaption for the purpose of disability legislation, and what could be considered discriminatory under equality legislation. Those are key issues unique to employment tribunals. We want to know and ensure that there are training provisions for that.

As a consequence of the clause, civil judges might come into the criminal courts and Crown courts. What training will be provided for them to deal with specific issues that are unique to the criminal court, such as admissions of previous convictions, which can sometimes be brought in against defendants, and go against the normal rules? What about issues of disclosure? If a failure to disclose material information is ruled inadmissible, it can cause the whole case to collapse. Those are some of the things that are unique to particular courts. I have used the example of the Crown court and the employment tribunals to demonstrate that there are things that are unique to those courts. While we will not oppose the clause, we ask the Government to provide some assurance that the Lord Chief Justice and the Lord Chancellor will make proper financial provision for those judges to update their skills and to receive professional training when they go into a different area of judicial function.

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer - Hansard
4 Dec 2018, 9:35 a.m.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for making some important points. She can rest assured that the temporary appointments are temporary, and they can be made only if they are urgent and temporary and if no other reasonable steps can be taken to fill the gaps. I can also assure her about training: where judges are asked to sit in a new jurisdiction, further induction will be provided in line with the directions of the senior judiciary. The Judicial College is in charge of training, and it will continue to train our judges. Judges will also attend continuation training for all jurisdictions in which they sit.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2

Alteration of judicial titles

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer - Hansard
4 Dec 2018, 9:36 a.m.

No amendments have been tabled to the clause and no issues at all were raised in the other place, or on Second Reading in this place.

In summary, the clause is part of our reform to modernise our courts to ensure that court users know who is hearing the case, and what sort of case the matter is about. The clause therefore provides for amendment of judicial titles to reflect a change in the name of the court in which those judges sit. It also ensures that the title of that office and similar offices can be changed through secondary legislation in the future.

Subsections (1) and (2) change the title of chief bankruptcy registrar to chief insolvency and companies court judge. That reflects the change in the name of the other judges of this court and of the court itself. In 2017, the name of the court dealing with bankruptcy matters was changed to the insolvency and companies court to better reflect its work. Earlier this year, the titles of the more senior judges in that court were changed to reflect the change in the name of the court. The Bill therefore changes the title of the office of the senior judge to bring it in line with other judges of the court.

Subsection (3) enables the judicial titles of other senior masters and district judges of the senior courts to be changed in future by secondary, not primary, legislation, should it be necessary to do so. Changes of title may be required, for example, because of organisational changes in the courts and tribunals. The clause will correct an anomaly that prevents some judicial titles from being amended by ministerial order. Such judicial measures, while relatively modest, will contribute towards a more modern justice system.

Yasmin Qureshi Portrait Yasmin Qureshi - Hansard

The clause seems to be a sensible one, so the Opposition have tabled no amendments to it.

Break in Debate

Yasmin Qureshi Portrait Yasmin Qureshi - Hansard
4 Dec 2018, 9:38 a.m.

We tabled the amendment because the existing drafting of the clause appears to allow the delegation of judicial functions to authorised persons without going through an affirmative process—that is, without using secondary legislation. As the Bill stands, that would be done automatically. Bearing in mind that we have expressed concern about the whole system of the authorised person being delegated judicial functions, we believe that that should be done, if it comes to that, by means of a statutory instrument so that Parliament has a chance to discuss it. We would be able to make observations and it would not go through on the nod.

The issue of delegating judicial functions to authorised persons is important to us. At the moment, the Bill does not talk about who such people will be, what their qualifications are, what they will do, or what subjects and issues they can deal with. As the Bill is drafted and from what Ministers have said, the procedure committee is expected to make all those decisions. We do not accept that that should be the case. There are real issues that need to be determined through parliamentary discussion. These measures should be introduced through statutory instruments and not just be decided by the procedure committee as envisaged in the Bill. The procedure committee should listen to our concerns. We want more parliamentary scrutiny of this part of the legislation, through a statutory instrument.

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer - Hansard
4 Dec 2018, 9:40 a.m.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bolton South East for raising the issue and giving me the opportunity to respond, so I can satisfy her that her concerns are unfounded, I hope.

The power in clause 3(2) seems to have caused considerable confusion here and in the other place, so it might be helpful for me to explain how it works. That power does not permit the delegation of judicial functions to authorised persons—that is a matter for the procedure rules made by the independent rule committees. The power in clause 3(2) could not make such changes because it is a narrow power that is very clearly restricted to consequential, transitional, transitory or saving provisions—a concept that is well understood with many precedents. Those terms are construed strictly by the courts.

The power in clause 3(2) is needed because the procedure rules cannot be used to make all the necessary amendments to other secondary legislation—we will use regulations made under the clause to do that. The power is needed principally to amend references in secondary legislation from “justices’ clerk”, a post abolished by the Bill, to “authorised officer”. So far, we have identified more than 200 references in more than 60 pieces of secondary legislation that would need amendment, and there may be more.

The Government do not intend to use this power to amend primary legislation. Lord Keen gave an undertaking to that effect on Report in the other place. Therefore, there is no express provision for such amendments in clause 3. To accept this amendment would set an unhelpful precedent and would mean that valuable parliamentary time would have to be set aside to debate minor and consequential changes to secondary legislation. In a busy parliamentary Session, that would delay implementation of the provisions in the Bill. I hope that the hon. Lady is reassured and feels able to withdraw the amendment.

Yasmin Qureshi Portrait Yasmin Qureshi - Hansard

Although I hear what the Minister says, we are not reassured and we will push the amendment to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Break in Debate

Yasmin Qureshi Portrait Yasmin Qureshi - Hansard
4 Dec 2018, 9:58 a.m.

My observations relate to when judges are dealing with an individual case. Of course, we know that they are independent, but when someone becomes part of an administrative body, a procedure committee or an arm of the state—I mean that in a loose way, not in terms of a formal relationship—sometimes the criteria that they look at are different from when they are dealing with an individual case presented before them.

I will give an example, albeit not one that relates to judges. The Crown Prosecution Service, an organisation for which I worked for a number of years—I still have friends who work in it, even though I left years ago—has had different people serve as Director of Public Prosecutions. However, prosecutors who have been there for a long time say that, bar perhaps two DPPs who were really concerned about ensuring that the department was fully financially resourced, and who actually fought hard for it to get resources, the other DPPs did not make that sort of effort. People do act for administrative purposes.

The reality is that senior people at the top of organisations, when they are doing administration and are running institutions, look at things such as money and financial administration, try to save as much money as possible, and try to push things along as quickly as possible, because that looks good in their statistics. Because of that, we would say that what we are asking for is not too weighty. We have tabled very reasonable amendments. The people who will make some of these enormous decisions should be legally qualified and—we will come on to this later—we should consider what kind of things they can actually do. I do not think there is anything wrong with giving a steer to procedure committees. They can deal with some of the other rules, but we should have some basic minimum standards.

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer - Hansard

I, too, propose to deal with amendments 3, 4 and 5 together, as they all relate to minimum qualifications for authorised staff. Amendments 3 and 4 require that any staff member who gives legal advice to lay justices or judges of the family court be legally qualified and have more than three years’ experience post qualification. Amendment 5 makes the same requirement of any staff carrying out judicial functions.

The staff who currently give legal advice in the magistrates court and the family courts are justices’ clerks and assistant clerks. Assistant clerks, who are also known as legal advisers, currently provide the overwhelming majority of legal advice on a day-to-day basis. To be an assistant clerk at the moment one must be a barrister in England and Wales or a solicitor of the senior courts of England and Wales, have passed the necessary exams for either of those professions, or have qualified as a legal adviser under historical rules that were in place prior to 1999.

Break in Debate

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer - Hansard
4 Dec 2018, 10:08 a.m.

My hon. Friend makes an extremely valuable point. Rule committees are made up of members of the judiciary and legal professionals, who take their roles incredibly seriously. Lord Thomas said on Second Reading in the other place that

“it is important to stress the degree of control inherent in the Bill by the use of the rule committee. I was a member of and chaired…the Criminal Procedure Rule Committee, which I can assure you is a highly representative body with many representatives of the legal profession.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 20 June 2018; Vol. 791, c. 2039.]

It is important to note his experience of sitting on and chairing a rule committee. I actually sat on an insolvency rule committee when I was at the Bar, and I do not think anyone mentioned costs. We were concerned with ensuring that the procedures we used in court day in, day out worked well, and that they worked well for our clients, too.

A loss of expertise would render the provisions in clause 3 and the schedule unworkable. I should add that a member of staff will not be able to give legal advice or exercise judicial functions until they have been authorised to do so by the Lord Chief Justice or their nominee, or by the Senior President of Tribunals or their delegate. Authorisations are therefore ultimately the responsibility of the judiciary, who will not authorise staff unless satisfied of their competence.

The Government’s position is consistent with the approach taken over many decades and is supported by both current and former members of the senior judiciary. Lord Neuberger, former President of the Supreme Court, said that the amendments place

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

He went further, reflecting that there

“will be many decisions”

for which the level of 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.]

I want to reassure hon. Members that we have listened to the concerns expressed here and in the other place about linking the qualifications of staff to the judicial functions that authorised staff may carry out. That is why we added further safeguards to the Bill in the other place by restricting the functions that staff will be able to exercise. In the light of that, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames said:

“we are not persuaded that it is necessary for the authorised person exercising the remaining powers—some of which are trivial, some minor and some of more substance—to be a qualified lawyer or one of particular experience.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 16 October 2018; Vol. 793, c. 414.]

Before I close, I would like to respond to a number of the points made by the hon. Member for Bolton South East in putting forward her amendments. She has mentioned for the second time in her submissions cost-cutting. What we are doing in the Bill is trying to achieve a position whereby judges are deployed in the most effective way to bring justice to the people whom they serve. We are trying to ensure that jobs are appropriate for those who carry them out, and that they have the appropriate qualifications. The hon. Lady suggested that only barristers, solicitors and judges—that is, people who are legally qualified—understand justice. That is self-evidently wrong. A large part of our criminal justice system is the justice dispensed by magistrates, who are volunteers and are extremely able. As I have said, many people are already carrying out the functions, and carrying them out well, in courts and tribunals across the country.

The hon. Lady mentioned court closures. Of course, this is not a debate about court closures; it is a debate about who carries out functions in the courts that operate. She also suggested that call centres are having a detrimental impact on justice. Our call centres are actually improving justice, because, as can be seen from the take-up rate, people are speaking to someone who can answer their concerns much more speedily. The satisfaction of people ringing up is improved as the pick-up time is improved, because it is now dedicated people picking up the phone, rather than people in courts, who have a large number of things to do.

I hope that the hon. Lady feels able to withdraw the amendment, based on the explanations that I have put forward.

Yasmin Qureshi Portrait Yasmin Qureshi - Hansard

I thank the Minister for her response, but our position remains the same, and we ask for a vote on the amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Break in Debate

Yasmin Qureshi Portrait Yasmin Qureshi - Hansard
4 Dec 2018, 10:23 a.m.

We could include the criterion of the impact on someone’s rights. When we look at a case, we can work out whether an adjournment or a particular issue regarding disclosure would have an impact. The legislation should have that as a criterion in determining whether there should be judicial reconsideration. Obviously, we assume that the procedure committee would set out a procedure whereby, when a person writes to the court to ask that something be reconsidered, it goes to a judge, who works out whether this was something that impacted on the person and should therefore be subject to reconsideration. The legislation does not do any of those things.

Although we accept that some administrative functions carried out by judges can be delegated to the “authorised people” defined in the Bill, when a judicial legal function is given to other people, there should be a right to ask for reconsideration of the decision if a litigant is unhappy with it. To avoid anything flimsy, we have helpfully put in the impact aspect, so that reconsiderations are not a matter of course but are limited to appropriate cases. We would leave it to the procedure committee to make rules as to what the procedure would be.

The amendments are perfectly reasonable. The Minister mentioned that some Lords in the other place said that the provisions were okay, but if we look at the Hansard, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, Lord Pannick and others said that they had concerns, not just about the issue of 14 days’ reconsideration, but also in relation to the authorised persons. The Government have put all these things about judicial functions, delegated persons and authorised people into one clause, but concern was expressed in the other place about the need to make the legislation better. Those are my words.

We have gone further than some of the noble Lords in the other place, but we tabled the amendments not for the fun of it, but because we genuinely and sincerely believe that they would ensure that processes were carried out properly, justice was done properly, and properly qualified people would deal with issues. If there are decisions that people are unhappy with, they should have the right to ask for reconsideration within 14 days, if that is appropriate—or 21 days; I would be happy with whatever additional days the Government wished to add.

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer - Hansard
4 Dec 2018, 10:26 a.m.

As the hon. Member for Bolton South East has said, amendments 6, 7, 8 and 9 deal with the right of reconsideration of decisions taken by authorised staff in courts and tribunals, and amendments 6 and 7 would enable a party in a case to request that any decision made by an authorised person exercising the functions of a court or tribunal be reconsidered by a judge. It might be appropriate for there to be reconsideration of decisions, but the Government believe that the independent procedure rule committees, composed of jurisdictional experts and experienced practitioners, are best placed to decide if such a right of reconsideration is needed and if so, the form it should take.

The approach taken in the proposed amendments would impose across all jurisdictions the same blanket right of reconsideration with an arbitrary deadline of 14 days. That would not work in practice, especially for those functions that are entirely straightforward case management and preparation duties. Each jurisdiction has its own ways of working, and it is imperative that any mechanism for reviewing decisions is designed with those jurisdictional intricacies in mind.

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

Furthermore, the amendments are unworkable. In the magistrates courts, legal advisers issue some 2.5 million local authority summonses every year. If a right of reconsideration, as laid out in the amendments, were imposed on the court, a defendant could apply to the court against the issue of the summons. That would inevitably delay the first hearing and would mean that the matter would need to be referred to a magistrate who would reconsider the decision to issue the summons alongside a legal adviser, and the outcome of that decision would need to be notified to the parties before the case could start. That would build significant delay and cost into the process.

There are already three ways for a defendant to challenge a case in which a summons has been issued in the magistrates courts. They can make an initial argument to the court hearing the case that the summons should not have been issued, contest the substantive application made by the local authority, or apply for a judicial review of the decision to issue the summons. Creating a mandatory right to judicial reconsideration is therefore unnecessary.

I have some sympathy with the intention behind the hon. Lady’s amendments, which is to ensure that the Bill contains adequate safeguards. For that reason, the Government moved amendments on the right of reconsideration that were accepted on Report in the other place. Those require the committees, when making any rules, to allow authorised staff to exercise judicial functions and consider whether the rules should include a right to judicial reconsideration of decisions made by authorised staff exercising those functions. That means the rule committees will have to consider whether each judicial function should be subject to a right to reconsideration. Additionally, the amended Bill requires that if 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 the decision.

The measures in the Bill should also be read alongside the existing statutory provisions, which require the committees to consult such persons as they consider appropriate before they make rules. If a rule committee then chose not to include a right of reconsideration in its rules, it would have to notify the Lord Chancellor. The Lord Chancellor could then ask the committee to reconsider its decision, or, if he agreed with it, he could lay the rules in Parliament. We expect that he would set out the committee’s rationale for not including a right of reconsideration in the explanatory memorandum to accompany the statutory instrument. The Bill as amended in the other place therefore ensures much greater transparency in the decision-making process.

Break in Debate

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer - Hansard
4 Dec 2018, 10:31 a.m.

I think that is right. It will be the rule committee that will set out the procedure and requirement for any reconsideration. If it considers what my hon. Friend has mentioned as an appropriate way forward, it could make those determinations.

The noble and learned Lord Thomas, the former Lord Chief Justice said:

“I support what the Government seek to do and urge a substantial degree of caution in respect of the proposal put 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. 425-426.]

Amendments 8 and 9 relate to the right of judicial reconsideration and the substantive rights of parties to cases in the courts and tribunals. As I mentioned earlier, the amendments we made to the Bill in the other place now mean that the rule committees will, when making any rules to allow authorised staff to exercise judicial functions, have to consider whether each of those functions should be subject to a right to reconsideration. They would require that, in doing so, the rule committees should also consider whether the function in question would be capable of having a material impact on the substantive rights of the parties.

The amendments appear to have been prompted by concerns about the compatibility of the provisions in clause 3 and the schedule with the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary and article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. In the circumstances, the Government believe the amendments are unnecessary. The independent procedure rule committees have for many years been making rules about practice and procedure which impact on court users. In carrying out this public function, they must ensure that the procedure rules are compatible with fundamental rights, including rights under the convention. I note that the overriding objective of the criminal procedure rules, for example, explicitly refers to these rights.

Other safeguards in the Bill will help to ensure compatibility with the right to a fair trial. Most importantly, the Bill provides that 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. We have, of course, strengthened these safeguards by limiting the types of functions that authorised staff will be able to exercise, through the Government amendments we made to the Bill on Report in the other place.

I hope I have reassured the Committee and the hon. Member for Bolton South East that there is no issue of compatibility between the measures in the Bill and article 6 rights, the rule of law or the independence of the judiciary. 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 persons. I urge the hon. Member for Bolton South East to withdraw her amendment.

Yasmin Qureshi Portrait Yasmin Qureshi - Hansard

I thank the Minister for her response, but our position remains the same and I therefore wish to press the amendment to a vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Break in Debate

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer - Hansard
4 Dec 2018, 10:38 a.m.

Clause 4 is technical in nature but it is important to give proper effect to the measures the Committee has considered. Subsection (1) confirms the short title of the Bill. Subsections (2) and (5) set out the commencement provisions, which will enable speedy and orderly implementation of the measures in it: clause 4 will come into force on the day on which the Bill is passed; clauses 1 and 2 will come into force two months after Royal Assent; and clause 3 and the schedule will come into force on a day to be appointed by the Secretary of State in regulations.

Subsection (4) allows the commencement regulations to make transitional, transitory or savings provision and to appoint different days for different purposes or areas, which will ensure that the rule committees are able to implement the proposals as they best see fit. Subsections (6) and (7) set out the territorial extent. Subject to certain exceptions, the provisions of the Bill extend and apply to England and Wales only. Where the provisions extend beyond England and Wales, this is in relation to tribunals, for which responsibility is currently reserved to Westminster. This is not the moment for debate about devolution matters, but I stress that we have undertaken extensive consultation with the devolved Administrations in preparing the Bill, and they agree with our analysis.

Subsection (8) is the privilege amendment inserted by the House of Lords, with which I have already dealt.

Clause 4, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

New Clause 1

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

“(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.”—(Yasmin Qureshi.)

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.

Yasmin Qureshi Portrait Yasmin Qureshi - Hansard
4 Dec 2018, 10:42 a.m.

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.

Break in Debate

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer - Hansard
4 Dec 2018, 10:47 a.m.

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.

Yasmin Qureshi Portrait Yasmin Qureshi - Hansard

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.

Leaving the EU: Legal Services

Debate between Lucy Frazer and Yasmin Qureshi
Wednesday 21st November 2018

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Westminster Hall
Read Full debate
Ministry of Justice
Yasmin Qureshi Portrait Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab) - Hansard
21 Nov 2018, 5:09 p.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I congratulate the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly) on securing the debate, and thank him for his comprehensive speech, which dealt with the issues and challenges we will face once the Brexit negotiations have been carried out. I commend him on the work that he has done as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on legal and constitutional affairs in the inquiry on the effects of Brexit on legal services.

This has been a thoughtful and considered debate. In particular, I thank the hon. Member for Henley (John Howell), who does a superb job as the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on alternative dispute resolution. He discussed the need for arbitration and how it, too, is important to UK legal services. I hope we have further debates, for example on family law protection or the European arrest warrant post Brexit. Serious concerns have been expressed in all parts of the Chamber.

As we have heard, Brexit will be the largest ever change to the UK’s legal framework, which presents many concerns and risks for the legal sector. Regardless of the outcome of the negotiations, we need to ensure that citizens and businesses in the UK continue to have certainty about access to justice in civil, commercial, consumer and family law matters. That requires clarity on the responsibilities of the courts in the United Kingdom and in the European Union, and certainty that judgments can be enforced with a minimum of delay and cost.

The UK legal services market, as the hon. Member for Huntingdon said, is worth anything between £25 billion and £30 billion in total, employs 370,000 people and in 2015 generated an estimated £3.3 billion of net export revenue. Central to that market is the ability of barristers, solicitors and other legal professionals to provide legal services in the European Union. Equally importantly, our exporters’ confidence in doing business abroad depends greatly on the ability of their lawyers to establish and provide services in the countries in which they seek to trade and invest. Numerous aspects of the work of barristers and solicitors will no longer be possible when we leave the European Union, unless existing cross-border rights are preserved.

The Government must therefore have regard to the nature of the legal work that comes to the UK as a result of the UK legal profession’s expertise, not least in European Union law. Will the Minister tell us what measures the Government are taking to maintain cross-border legal practice rights and opportunities for the UK legal sector, given efforts by European Union law firms to use Brexit to win clients from UK competitors?

The draft withdrawal agreement, like the White Paper before it, continues to emphasise regulatory flexibility in the context of services, which would not assist the legal sector. Legal services do not need further regulatory flexibility: the regime in the European Union is already considered to be among the most liberal in the world, and provides lawyers with the freedom to advise and represent their clients anywhere in the EU and in any dispute resolution forum.

The Government have also made mention of adopting the approach of a free trade agreement to services. That is disappointing. Will the Minister explain how a binding EU-wide regulatory framework for legal services could be agreed in the context of a free trade agreement? Is there a danger that the legal profession in the UK would be left to negotiate different bilateral agreements covering the provision of legal services with many of the EU member states? Will that leave a patchwork of rights and obligations, varying from country to country?

I am also concerned that lawyers from England and Wales might lose their right to advise on European law when in the EU. UK businesses, which will still need to operate under EU law, will be unable to have their trusted UK legal professionals by their side and will instead be forced to hire EU lawyers with whom they are not familiar, and vice versa—despite language and other barriers—to protect and defend their rights within the European Union. Indeed, lawyers from England and Wales will even lose the right to defend the UK Government, as well as UK businesses and UK citizens, before the Court of Justice of the European Union, despite a former president of the Court recognising the UK profession for providing some of the best advocates. That would be a huge loss to both the UK and the European Union. Will the Minister in her response confirm that the Government will ensure that any future relationship with the European Union includes a mechanism for UK lawyers to practise EU law via the mutual recognition of professional qualifications and law firm structures?

The deal lacks the detail that the professional services sector needs to know in other respects, in particular with regards to temporary mobility for business travel. Do the Minister and the Government appreciate that that is essential for the quick delivery of legal services? For example, a lawyer might need to see a client at short notice in one of the EU members states, or to represent that client in an arbitration or mediation meeting. Will she ensure that, post Brexit, UK lawyers are able to continue to serve their clients on a fly-in, fly-out basis? Does the Minister recognise that the UK risks not only the loss of the tax revenue from legal services, but an erosion of the enormous influence and soft power generated by our legal services sector in Europe and internationally?

Finally, I remind the Minister that the UK is the largest market for legal services in Europe, and globally is second only to the US. The Government must do all that they can to protect Britain’s legal services sector after Brexit if the country is to remain the world’s jurisdiction of choice. Equally, it is vital to ensure that international parties understand the ongoing benefits of using English law and legal services once the United Kingdom has left the European Union. An efficient and cost-effective resolution of disputes is critical to that goal and to the ongoing development of English law. After all, that is at the core of the international attractiveness of the United Kingdom.

I hope the Minister and the Ministry of Justice will consider properly some of the representations made by the Law Society and the Bar Council. We all want the best for legal services, and I hope the Minister will respond on such an urgent issue and perhaps tell us what concrete steps the Department and the Government have taken to deal with it, and with the concerns. I am sure the concerns are not new and that the Government are not unaware of them, so I look forward to hearing from her.

Lucy Frazer Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Lucy Frazer) - Hansard
21 Nov 2018, 5:17 p.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr Djanogly) on securing this debate. I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in it, as the future of UK legal services and their promotion after we leave the EU is important. I am particularly delighted to respond to a debate of my hon. Friend, who not only has extremely ably occupied my role as a former Justice Minister, but is knowledgeable on this issue as a non-practising solicitor, the co-chair of the APPG on legal and constitutional affairs and a member of the Exiting the European Union Committee. I am also grateful to him and to his APPG for their thorough and helpful report.

In that report, the APPG and my hon. Friend recognise the significance of our legal sector. As he rightly said, it is a great success story. The sector is worth at least—it varies—£24 billion a year. The UK’s trade surplus in legal services has nearly doubled over the past 10 years and now accounts for about 10% of global legal services fee revenue. Importantly, the sector provides jobs—it drives employment by employing well over 300,000 people. Those jobs are found throughout the UK, although we also have a huge hub of specialist lawyers, many of whom support our vital financial services sector.

English law, as many people have said today, is the most widely used in the world, with 27% of the world’s jurisdictions using it. International firms want to operate in this country, which is why more than 200 foreign law firms have offices in the UK. UK-based firms also operate around the world, and nearly 7,000 practising solicitors from the UK work abroad. My hon. Friend is right to identify that people come here for their legal disputes because of the integrity of our judges, the professionalism of our lawyers and our respect for the rule of law.

My hon. Friend highlighted that the report recognises that

“Brexit will be the largest ever change to the UK’s legal framework and it presents both opportunities and risks for the legal sector.”

It also recognises that the ability of solicitors, barristers and chartered legal executives to practice as lawyers in the EU is important to lawyers and, as my hon. Friend Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) mentioned, the people whom those lawyers serve.

As far as the transitional period is concerned, market access will remain the same. The draft withdrawal agreement provides that, during the implementation period, EU and UK professionals working in the UK or EU will continue to have their professional qualifications recognised. We set out in the future economic partnership White Paper our proposal for new arrangements for services and investment after we leave the single market. We must recognise that we will no longer be in the single market and that there will be implications for market access.

The outline political declaration made last week identifies:

“Ambitious, comprehensive and balanced arrangements on trade in services”.

Those go well beyond World Trade Organisation commitments. The political declaration also identifies the need for provisions on market access and the importance of non-discrimination, and records the need for arrangements on professional qualifications. Alongside that, the mobility framework will support businesses to provide services—that includes travelling freely without a visa for temporary business activity, for example.

The outline political declaration will be built on and finalised with the aim of producing a full political declaration, which we hope can happen before the end of the month. In a no-deal scenario, there will be no basis for reciprocity—registered European lawyer status, which allows European economic area lawyers to practice permanently in the UK under their home title, will be phased out after exit. New entrants will be able to seek recognition of their qualifications and be admitted to the UK profession in the same way as third-country lawyers. There will be a transitional framework until 31 December 2020 for EEA lawyers and business owners to transfer their qualifications or adapt their business model.

My hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon and the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) asked me what preparations my Department was making for no deal. As a competent Government, we are making preparations for no deal. We have issued two technical notices, we are preparing our no-deal statutory instruments and we received £17.3 million in the spring statement, which was allocated to our Department to make suitable arrangements. My hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst made important points about laws that we can take advantage of in the event of no deal. We will incorporate Rome I and Rome II into our laws and we will sign up to The Hague convention in our own right.

Beyond negotiations with the EU27, we are working with the sector to promote the benefits of market liberalisation. We want to ensure the continued pre-eminence of UK legal services and English law. The Government are committed to championing the legal services sector. We are building our international and domestic and relationships and leveraging them to promote the sector overseas. We are working to improve legal services market access. We will seek opportunities in future trade agreements to include ambitious provisions for services.

My hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) was right to identify the importance of international arbitration. Companies often choose the UK as the seat of international arbitration, which is an important part of the sector. The Ministry of Justice is working across the board to prepare for the UK’s exit from the EU, as well as continuing to promote legal services on the international stage.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Lucy Frazer and Yasmin Qureshi
Tuesday 13th November 2018

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ministry of Justice
Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer - Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 12:21 p.m.

There is a consultation in relation to remand hearings at the moment, but I am happy to confirm that we are not considering closing Grimsby court.

Yasmin Qureshi Portrait Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab) - Hansard

The Conservative decision to cut 2,500 court staff has caused delays for victims and deterioration in the functioning of our courts, but that is just the start; the Conservatives plan to cut many more thousands of court staff in the next few years. Will the Minister commit today to halting those court staff cuts until this House has debated properly the court reform programme, which, to many, looks like a smokescreen for more austerity and which is being driven through without proper debate in this House and with the public?

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer - Hansard
13 Nov 2018, 12:24 p.m.

In the justice system, we are reforming the courts. We are investing £1 billion in that process. That is not austerity. On staff, we are modernising and bringing in technology to make our systems work more effectively. That is in the interests of victims, witnesses and defendants. We are making our court processes much more effective. There are some reductions in staff as a result of that, but we are increasing access to justice.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Lucy Frazer and Yasmin Qureshi
Tuesday 9th October 2018

(1 year, 10 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate
Ministry of Justice
Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer - Parliament Live - Hansard
9 Oct 2018, 3:18 p.m.

My hon. Friend has campaigned hard on the closure of her court. I am always happy to meet with her. She made a lot of submissions to me during the consultation on the closure and put in a fair report. I am happy to meet her, and I know that she is very keen on alternative provision.

Yasmin Qureshi Portrait Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
9 Oct 2018, 3:18 p.m.

We hear a lot from the Government about this so-called court modernisation programme, but many people believe that it is simply a smoke-screen to cut the number of courts and reduce the provision of legal representation for those in court. Will the Minister agree to the Law Society’s call for an independent economic review of the long-term viability of the criminal legal aid system?

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer - Parliament Live - Hansard

We do make a lot of court reform because we are spending £1 billion to bring our court system up to date. In relation to legal aid, we have an ongoing review that will report at the end of the year, and we will be evaluating our court reform programme.

Voyeurism (Offences) (No. 2) Bill

(3rd reading: House of Commons)
(Report stage: House of Commons)
Debate between Lucy Frazer and Yasmin Qureshi
Wednesday 5th September 2018

(1 year, 11 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Bill Main Page
Ministry of Justice
Yasmin Qureshi Portrait Yasmin Qureshi - Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Sep 2018, 7:25 p.m.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that helpful lesson in arithmetic. I can do that arithmetic, but the point I was trying to make was that he kept repeating that figure, so it seemed to me that he was trying to suggest that the Bill might not cover as many people as it purported to do.

Another man posted:

“I’ve been upskirting chicks, mostly at clubs, for almost two years. The club I go to is a great spot, real crowded, strobe lights going, loud music, so no one notices me sitting near the edge of the dance floor and if a woman in a skirt ends up by me I stick the cam under and snap.”

Legislation is needed to deal with those types of cases.

Several Back Benchers tabled amendments. My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) spoke with great passion about her new clause and street harassment, and we support her on that. The Government must urgently look into bringing forward a comprehensive Bill to deal with many issues, including anonymity for victims of revenge porn; the cross-examination of victims of abuse by defendants, as occurs in civil courts; and the distribution and sharing of images. We need a fundamental review of all hate crime and sexual legislation to ensure that victims are protected and have access to justice, so it would be very welcome if the Law Commission or another body could look into this issue, with its recommendations implemented in law as soon as possible.

I commend the right hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) for her tremendous work as the Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, which itself does tremendous work. I hope that the Government will address the points in her cogent and pertinent amendments and take on board the matters that she raised and the issues of concern. Hopefully, as the Bill progresses through both Houses, the Government will consider those amendments.

Lastly, on the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Christchurch, I believe that in all cases judges should have discretion in deciding who should be put on a sexual register and when. That should not be a blanket proposal; it should be left to the individual judge in an individual case to decide whether somebody should be put on a sexual register, because being on the sexual offenders register has clear implications and repercussions for people.

Lucy Frazer Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Lucy Frazer) - Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Sep 2018, 7:28 p.m.

Upskirting can be humiliating and degrading, and it is appropriate that that is recognised by the criminal law. As the hon. Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) rightly mentioned, although there is not currently a specific offence on our statute books, fortunately the law does already provide some protection. Prosecutions can be and have been brought under the common law offence of outraging public decency and the offence of voyeurism.

There is a gap in the law that needs to be filled, and it relates to where the offence takes place. Currently, if the offence takes place in a public place, such as a street, a person can be caught under the outraging public decency legislation, and if the offence takes place in a private place, they can be caught under the Sexual Offences Act 2003. However, there is a gap if the offence takes places somewhere that is neither public nor private. Worryingly, such places could include a school or a workplace. The Government have therefore introduced this Bill to seek to address this issue. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen South (Ross Thomson) said, it follows Gina Martin’s effective campaign.

Members have tabled a number of amendments that seek to expand the Bill’s scope. I shall address each in turn—and I assure my right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning) that I will take the approach that he took when he was a Minister and consider each one in turn on its own merits, as a matter of policy and of principle.

First, I will deal with new clause 1 and amendment 7, tabled by the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy). They seek to ensure that when offenders of the crime of upskirting are motivated by misogyny or misandry this should be considered by the court as an aggravating factor when considering the seriousness of an upskirting offence for the purpose of sentencing. She also seeks to amend guidance to highlight this issue. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen South mentioned, it is very important to point out that the hon. Member’s amendments do not propose that misogyny becomes a hate crime, but is simply raised in the context of the upskirting offence. If the perpetrator of the offence was motivated by hostility against women, that should be taken into account on sentencing.

Break in Debate

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer - Hansard
5 Sep 2018, 7:50 p.m.

That is a very important point, and such legislation sends a message about how people should act in relation to women.

I was mentioning those who have played a significant part in this Bill’s progress. My hon. Friend served on the Committee, and I also thank the other members of the Committee; we had an interesting debate on the provisions before the recess.

I thank, too, the other parties’ spokespeople on justice: the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry), and the hon. Members for Belfast South (Emma Little Pengelly) and for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts). I worked closely with them as this Bill went through the House. I also extend my thanks to our hard-working Bill team, our private offices, our parliamentary private secretaries and the Whips, who can get overlooked at times. I also thank the Clerks and the other parliamentary staff for their sterling work and support on this issue.

It has been an honour to take the Bill from Second Reading through to today, particularly given the strong support from all parties across the House. I wish the Bill a safe and speedy passage through its remaining stages.

Yasmin Qureshi Portrait Yasmin Qureshi - Hansard
5 Sep 2018, 7:52 p.m.

I, too, want to place on record my thanks and appreciation to all Members who served on the Bill Committee. They were genuinely and passionately involved; it was not one of those cases where the Whips had forced them on to the Committee; Members were engaging in the debate and on this legislation. It is a small piece of legislation, but it is also important and does need to get on to the statute book as soon as possible. I am heartened to hear the news that the Minister was able to give that the Law Commission will be looking at this whole area of the law and at the recommendations. I hope that will be done as soon as possible and that we can implement its recommendations as soon as possible, too.

I also thank the House authorities, the Clerks and the Public Bill Office for all their work in putting the amendments together and their other tremendous work. I thank, too, my colleagues for being here today; a number of them do not need to be present, but they are still here because they are interested in this Bill.

Like the Minister, this is the first Bill I have taken from the beginning to the end in this House, and I, too, wish it a speedy journey and hope it will be on the statute book soon. It addresses a particularly vile and disgusting practice that needs to be brought to an end.

Legal Aid: Post-Implementation Review

Debate between Lucy Frazer and Yasmin Qureshi
Tuesday 4th September 2018

(1 year, 11 months ago)

Westminster Hall
Read Full debate
Ministry of Justice
Yasmin Qureshi Portrait Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab) - Hansard
4 Sep 2018, 7:09 p.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) on securing this important and timely debate, and on the excellent points she made in her speech. I commend the work she does as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on legal aid. Her record on this issue is outstanding, and her spirited defence of legal aid was stupendous.

Before I come to the crux of my speech, I acknowledge the hard work of my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter), who was the shadow Minister who led on the LASPO Bill in the Parliament of 2010-15. At that time, I was on the Justice Committee. I remember the hours of work that my hon. Friend put into the scrutiny of that Bill. The sadness of it is that many of the predictions he made, and those of the Justice Committee that examined LASPO at the time, have come to fruition. All the warnings and worries that we had then have turned out to be justified now. That is really sad. I do not think any of us wanted to be proved correct; we would have preferred to be proved wrong, but we have turned out to be correct.

The reforms have caused an enormous amount of sadness and misery for many ordinary people who are not familiar with the legal system. Often they are not the most literate people, who may not have the most excellent advocacy skills and are probably coming to the judicial system—criminal or civil—for the first time. Most are utterly bemused, and do not know what they are doing. I am sure many Members of Parliament have constituents who have come to them with such problems, and will know that most of them are completely confused, are not sure what to do, do not know their rights and do not have the finance to afford legal support. Because there is no legal aid, they cannot access a solicitor or a barrister or get legal advice.

My hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Hugh Gaffney) spoke about the problems of tenants and landlords. It is a shocking situation that many people now live in squalid accommodation but cannot do anything about it and do not know their rights. In any case, enforcing any of their rights costs too much. They live in squalid accommodation, and their options are to shut up or try to move elsewhere—and often the alternative accommodation they could move into is not great. That is another area where vulnerable people are affected.

My hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North spoke about immigration—another sector where there have been big cuts in legal aid—and particularly the impact on children and families. Immigrants are not flavour of the month in most parts of the world, but they are human beings with children and family ties, who have legal rights and need to be able to access legal advice. There has been a massive reduction in their ability to understand what their rights are in trying to keep their family unit together.

Those are just two areas. We also know about people who are employed but who are in not particularly good working conditions or have employers who are not the fairest, and they cannot access employment tribunals. Many people with health issues cannot get advice on the benefits they may be able to get or, if they have a disability, on what their rights are. Such vulnerable groups are badly affected. Prior to LASPO, a reasonable, decent amount of legal aid was available and accessible. A lot has now gone.

We have also talked about ordinary family law cases, not just family law issues in relation to immigration—where parents may be going through divorce or separation, or where children are involved. That is a lot of stress for families. Often, they cannot go and get legal advice because, frankly, they cannot pay for it, and that causes distress.

Even if we ignore the human costs of the changes in legal aid, our court systems have not benefited, either. I distinctly remember hearing from a number of judges sitting in the civil courts, who came to give evidence on LASPO to the Justice Committee. They said, “One effect of the legislation will be that you will have a lot of unrepresented litigants turning up in court, taking more time, clogging up the court, which in the end will cost us more.”

Let us face it: even an hour in a county court, a magistrates court or the High Court costs thousands and thousands of pounds, because there are all the costs of running the court and paying people. When there is an unrepresented claimant or person before the court—or a defendant, in the criminal courts—they can take up a lot of time. Any saving of a few hundred pounds that might have been made by preventing them from getting the preliminary advice that could have helped them ends up being wasted, because the courts will, and do, take longer to deal with those cases and those cases clog them up. I think that if hon. Members speak to judges, they will find that that problem is still occurring.

Of course, one of the things the Government plan, which we have not touched on but which will have an additional impact on unrepresented people, is the increasing introduction of virtual courts and online court systems, where they will not be speaking to anyone, nobody will be able to guide them and they will be even more confused. One of our great worries in the criminal justice system is that we may have people pleading guilty or making admissions to things they should not.

As a practitioner in the current system—in which we do not have so many virtual courts—I remember being in court when somebody would come in who was unrepresented. Many legal professionals in court, when they hear that somebody is not sure about their case, will often give them voluntary advice and guidance or signpost them as to where they should go. That will not happen in a virtual court. The availability of legal aid becomes even more important in this technical age, where there will be less interface with people and there will be fewer people able to guide litigants.

I am sad that the Government, even now that they are carrying out a review, are taking so long about it. We were told we would probably have the review by the end of the summer; now we are talking about the end of the year. My first question for the Minister is, when will the review be completed?

The second question that I hope the Minister will answer is, in the light of what we know is happening, will there be any real changes to legal aid to make it applicable and available to many more people? The Ministry of Justice must be aware of the issue that I and other hon. Members have raised about the effect on people’s lives. It is pointless to have rights if we cannot enforce them; they might as well be meaningless if we have no mechanism to enforce them. The lack of legal aid means that those rights often cannot be enforced for the people who are the most vulnerable.

Another problem that has occurred as a result of the legal aid cuts is that even those people who might qualify for legal aid often find that there are not enough lawyers out there who are willing to do legal aid work, because the rates have gone down. The Government’s attitude is, “These are all ‘fat cats’ or people who are living a lavish lifestyle.” That is not true. Most legal aid lawyers are not fat cats or people earning hundreds of thousands of pounds; they are just trying to make a reasonable living. Therefore, it is more difficult to find people who can do legal aid work, and many small high street firms have closed down because they cannot afford to continue to run a practice. Even when people are able to get legal aid, finding lawyers who will do legal aid work for them is problematic.

I ask the Minister to look at this issue again. Legal aid was introduced by a Labour Government in 1949 as one of the benefits that people need the most, and I hope the Minister and the Government will reconsider the whole issue of legal aid and make it much more widely available to people.

Lucy Frazer Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Lucy Frazer) - Hansard
4 Sep 2018, 7:20 p.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I thank the hon. Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) for bringing the debate. I acknowledge her work, as others have done, as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on legal aid. I am delighted to have the opportunity to respond, because legal aid is an important part of our legal system. It is fundamental that individuals have access to justice—the ability to determine their rights in a fair and impartial way—and, as the hon. Lady said at the beginning of her speech, legal aid is an important part of the process for those who cannot afford to pay for legal representation.

Before I address many of the important points made, I want to make three points, which concern the amount of money we have invested and continue to invest in legal aid, the recent steps we have made to expand the scope of legal aid, and the significant investment we are making in our justice system, which will assist all litigants more broadly. First, on spending, it is important to recognise that the Government spend £1.6 billion a year on legal aid, which is a fifth of the Ministry of Justice budget. That is in addition to other sources of funding to ensure justice and the fair determination of rights. For example, in the last three years we have spent almost £6.5 million in addition through the litigants-in-person support strategy to help people to navigate the legal process.

Secondly, in recent months the Government have increased the scope of legal aid in a number of areas, as the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) kindly highlighted. In January, we broadened the accepted evidence for domestic violence and removed all time limits. Since then, in the first quarter of this year, there has been a 21% increase in applications for legal aid for domestic violence and a record number of legal aid grants were made.

In February, as the hon. Gentleman mentioned, we broadened the scope for legal aid for prisoners, and in June we updated the legal guidance for inquests on cases involving deaths in custody. In doing so, we have ensured that the starting presumption is always that legal aid should be available for such cases. I have also recently committed to laying an amendment to LASPO before the end of the year to bring immigration matters for unaccompanied and separated children into scope of legal aid.

Thirdly, it is important to mention that the Government are making a significant investment to transform our courts and tribunal services—we are investing £1 billion to bring our justice system into the 21st century. That helps vulnerable people in a number of ways. It enables traumatised and vulnerable witnesses to give pre-recorded evidence. It enables those who find it difficult to travel to court the opportunity to take part by video link. It enables those who are time-pressed to make applications to court online, for example, for divorce or for probate. It enables those who wish to resolve money disputes up to £10,000 to make claims online and, should both parties agree, to settle without going to court. It also enables those making welfare claims to do so online, get updates about those claims online and deal with queries and issues before a hearing by liaising with the judge online. All those mechanisms and that investment make our justice system more accessible and more available to all. The Government are investing in our justice system in so many ways to protect the vulnerable and to facilitate justice outside the provision of legal aid.

I turn to the changes made by LASPO. The hon. Lady rightly highlighted that the Joint Committee on Human Rights, on which she serves, recently published a report, which I read with interest. She and the hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Hugh Gaffney) are right to identify that changes were made to legal aid by the coalition Government through LASPO in 2012, but it would be wrong not to mention the context in which those changes were made.

When the programme to reform legal aid commenced in 2010, the scale of the financial challenge facing the Government was unprecedented. As the then Chancellor said in November 2010, the Government faced

“the greatest budget deficit in our peacetime history”.—[Official Report, 29 November 2010; Vol. 519, c. 529.]

The Government’s financial deficit for the fiscal year 2010-11 was almost £144 billion, according to the Office for National Statistics. The savings required from public services to cut the deficit were substantial, in which circumstances the Government made difficult choices. They rightly focused their resources on the most vulnerable people in our society and set the following principles for LASPO: to discourage unnecessary and adversarial litigation at public expense; to make significant savings to the cost of the scheme; to deliver better overall value for money for the taxpayer; and to target legal aid at those who most need it.

The hon. Member for Westminster North was right to identify that we are in the process of a review. My officials have met more than 70 organisations to gather evidence from across the justice system. Over recent months, I have met representatives of Resolution, Women’s Aid, the Law Centres Network and the Low Commission to gain a greater understanding of the impact of the legal aid changes. I am also pleased to have recently led a number of roundtable discussions focused on topics such as domestic violence and improving the use of technology in the justice system. Those discussions, and this debate, will better inform our thoughts and views on the LASPO review.

I will respond to some of the points made by hon. Members from both sides of the House. In the short time that I am on my feet, I will not have time to address all the points that the hon. Member for Westminster North made, but I will take up her offer and address those that are outstanding in writing. I will try to go through as many as I can in the time remaining. Many hon. Members asked about the timing of the review. The Government remain committed to responding by the end of the year. The hon. Member for Westminster North suggested that there was a lack of transparency, which I hope is not the case. I have mentioned the large number of third parties with which we are engaging and having extremely transparent discussions. In July, we published an update on gov.uk about the progress of the review, which included the agendas of the consultation groups.

The hon. Lady started and finished with the impact of the changes on providers, which she said meant that providers were closing. She asked how we were going to deal with that. The Legal Aid Agency regularly reviews market capacity to assess capacity around the country. In a recent retender of face-to-face contracts, it received tenders from more than 1,700 organisations that wished to deliver face-to-face civil legal aid work. Those organisations submitted more than 4,300 individual bids, so it is confident that a good quantity of people are providing work at the moment.

The hon. Lady mentioned solicitors more broadly and the recent Law Society study. There is a further study in relation to the age of the profession, which I have looked at with interest. I am meeting the Law Society this month to discuss that and several other matters. In relation to barristers, we recently launched our consultation on the advocates’ graduated fee scheme, with a commitment to put a further £15 million into criminal advocacy.

The hon. Lady mentioned exceptional case funding and human rights. Quotes and figures were given about the start of the exceptional case funding scheme. Concerns have been expressed, but it is important to point out that the number of applications has risen significantly in recent years. In the first quarter of 2018, 745 applications were made through the ECF, which is a 40% increase on the previous year. Not for the first time, concerns were also expressed about the telephone gateway. As a result of those concerns, I recently had a meeting in Nottingham with the Legal Aid Agency and the provider of the telephone gateway service to understand how that service operates. I was interested to hear that they say that more than 90% of people find the service helpful, but I will continue to look at that.

Briefly, the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) mentioned the Scottish law review. I have read it, and it is interesting that some of the ideas in it are already being put in place by this Government—for example, video links and the online court. I have not been able to address all the points that have been made in the debate, although I would have liked to, because these are important matters. However, I am pleased that I have had the opportunity to touch on some of the issues that are so important to the House.

Voyeurism (Offences) (No. 2) Bill (Third sitting)

(Committee Debate: 3rd sitting: House of Commons)
Debate between Lucy Frazer and Yasmin Qureshi
Thursday 12th July 2018

(2 years ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Ministry of Justice
Yasmin Qureshi Portrait Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab) - Hansard
12 Jul 2018, 12:30 p.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Buck.

Labour’s Justice team has worked closely with Gina Martin and her lawyer, Ryan Whelan, since last year. They have done a remarkable job in attracting public and media support, gaining nearly 100,000 signatures for their petition, and then getting the issue on to the parliamentary, and now the Government’s, legislative agenda.

Under great pressure, the Government have been forced to expedite this legislation to outlaw this disgusting practice, using unusual parliamentary procedures usually reserved for when there is a broad consensus on uncontroversial legislation. In normal circumstances, the Opposition would support some of the amendments. However, given that the campaigners seek a broad consensus, it is not our position to support the amendments on this occasion, as we do not want to create an excuse for the Government to delay the legislation, including during its passage through the Lords.

I understand why my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow tabled her amendment, but she will be aware that the sentencing guidelines allow judges to consider misogyny when sentencing. However, it is obviously not a specific aggravating feature, as race is. We really need the Government to bring in, on a separate occasion, a domestic violence Bill or a victims of abuse Bill, during the deliberations of which these matters could be considered. My hon. Friend would have our full support on that occasion.

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer - Hansard
12 Jul 2018, 12:32 p.m.

The hon. Member for Walthamstow has campaigned hard on a number of issues, including this one. I am grateful to her for her interesting and thoughtful speech and for giving us the opportunity to discuss these issues.

Upskirting is a terrible crime and an horrific invasion of privacy for those affected, and it is right that offenders are appropriately punished. Creating a specific upskirting offence sends a clear message to potential perpetrators that such behaviour is serious and will not be tolerated. The offence carries a maximum sentence of two years’ imprisonment, which is a serious penalty. It is in line with the sentence for racially aggravated assault, assaulting a police constable while resisting arrest and other sexual offences, such as voyeurism and exposure. Additionally, the Bill will ensure that the most serious sexual offenders are subject to notification requirements, having been put on the sex offenders register. Those are common with sexual offences and assist the police with the management of sex offenders in the community.

Statutory aggravating factors do not usually apply to just one or two offences, as would be the effect of the amendment. Judges already take into account, on a factual basis in sentencing, the circumstances of the case. Creating an additional aggravating factor for this new offence would make it inconsistent with all other sexual offences. There is no rationale for the amendment to apply specifically to this offence alone.

Similarly, it would be wrong to suggest that patterns of offending would not be considered in sentencing. For example, if in addition to taking a photo the offender went on to share it with others, the additional harm caused would be taken into account in sentencing. If the offender took hundreds of images of women, rather than just one, the additional harm or potential harm caused would be linked directly to the seriousness of the offence and would be taken into account in sentencing. If the offender has been convicted of a similar or the same offence previously, or if a prior offence indicated intent or aggression on the basis of gender, it must be considered by the judge in determining the appropriate sentence.

In addition, the independent Sentencing Council already publishes guidelines, setting out the factors that magistrates and judges should consider in determining the seriousness of offending and the harm caused for the purposes of sentencing. An updated version of the guidelines is currently the subject of a public consultation.

Voyeurism (Offences) (No. 2) Bill (First sitting)

Debate between Lucy Frazer and Yasmin Qureshi
Tuesday 10th July 2018

(2 years ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Ministry of Justice
Lucy Frazer Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Lucy Frazer) - Hansard
10 Jul 2018, 9:56 a.m.

Q Gina, thank you very much for all the work you have done campaigning for this. You have done a tremendous campaign. I just want to pick up on something that Liz Saville Roberts asked you. She asked whether it was important to be thorough, rather than quick. The narrow area we have identified in the Bill follows the Scottish legislation, which has been in place for some time. The motivations we have identified in the Bill take a precedent that exists and that the Crown Prosecution Service prosecutes under in other sexual offences and other offences. There is thorough ground to put forward a law on this narrow area but, in other areas, if we wanted to expand the Bill, that would be unprecedented and would warrant further consideration.

Gina Martin: Yes, that is where I stand currently.

Yasmin Qureshi Portrait Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab) - Hansard
10 Jul 2018, 9:55 a.m.

Q Thank you, Ms Martin, for all the work and campaigning you have done. I know that you tweeted that you started this last year and you are pleased to see it coming to the Bill Committee today. I want to ask a couple of questions.

As you know, the upskirting offence in the Bill would allow victims to be anonymous because it is categorised as a sexual offence. There has been considerable debate and a suggestion, particularly from Professor Clare McGlynn and Women’s Aid, that the Bill’s scope needs to be extended, so that victims of all image-based sexual offences have the right to anonymity in court. For example, it does not cover revenge porn. What are your views on that?

Gina Martin: My view is that it is incredibly important to bring forward this protection quickly and focus on the issue that we have here. I have been a victim of sexual assault and harassment throughout my life. I would like to see every situation covered. I would also like to see the things that you mentioned, but I do not believe that this is the place to do it.

This is a Bill about upskirting. It is unprecedented for a Bill to go through so quickly with so much support. We have an opportunity to put down one piece of the puzzle. I would like to see us do that with this specific issue. I would personally help afterwards to focus on the rest.

Upskirting

Debate between Lucy Frazer and Yasmin Qureshi
Monday 18th June 2018

(2 years, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ministry of Justice
Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer - Parliament Live - Hansard

My right hon. Friend makes some important points and I know that the Women and Equalities Committee, which she chairs, does an immense amount of work ensuring that women can take their place in society and are protected. A number of issues could be raised. There is clearly a gap in the law when it comes to one of them, but it can be put on the statute book quickly and easily. We are ensuring that that is done as soon as possible.

Yasmin Qureshi Portrait Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard

I begin by congratulating the campaigners, especially Gina Martin, who has shone a spotlight on this important issue, as has the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse). I welcome the Government’s decision finally to bring forward the legislation, but I must put it on the record that the delays in getting to this point were totally unnecessary and have caused needless suffering. The Government should not have waited to act until almost a year after Labour’s shadow Justice Secretary first wrote demanding this new legislation. They should not have been relying on a private Member’s Bill that was likely to be scuppered by the disgusting behaviour of their own MPs. But better late than never.

Although we welcome the Government’s decision to introduce this legislation, I would like the Minister to clarify a number of issues. Given the broad parliamentary consensus on this matter, can it not be addressed within a day or a week—before the summer, at least? That is when women will most go to festivals, where this disgraceful practice is far too common. What will the Minister do to ensure that her own MPs vote in favour, given the disgraceful opposition from the Tory Back Benches last Friday?

Will the law cover the act of distribution as well as the taking of the image? Will the legislation guarantee that the victims of upskirting will be granted automatic anonymity in any criminal cases? Finally, given that we must do all we can to prevent the suffering and harassment of women online, will the Government now reconsider last week’s disappointing decision to refuse to extend anonymity to the victims of so-called revenge porn?

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer - Parliament Live - Hansard
18 Jun 2018, 4:30 p.m.

The Government have a priority: to ensure that this legislation gets on to the statute book as soon as possible. On the Government side of the House, we are not bothered about the vehicle for that; the public are not concerned about that. The priority is to ensure that the legislation goes on to the statute book. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) recognised, the Government have made a commitment to introducing a Bill as swiftly as possible and we will be doing so on Thursday.

The Government have taken a number of measures to ensure that women are protected. On domestic violence, we have ensured that coercive control is recognised as a matter of domestic violence and we have increased the penalties for stalking. Members on the Government Benches do want to protect women.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Lucy Frazer and Yasmin Qureshi
Tuesday 5th June 2018

(2 years, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ministry of Justice
Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer - Hansard
5 Jun 2018, 11:56 a.m.

My hon. Friend has raised her potential court closure with me on a number of occasions. I have also read her response to the recent consultation, in which she raises a number of points, including the one she has just identified. We will look at using other buildings in the community.

Yasmin Qureshi Portrait Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
5 Jun 2018, 11:57 a.m.

The recent National Audit Office report on the courts programme says:

“Expected costs have increased and planned benefits have decreased.”

Given that the National Audit Office says the courts programme will now cost £1.2 billion—£200 million more than the Government previously stated—will it lead to even deeper cuts elsewhere in the Ministry of Justice’s budget?

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer - Hansard

The hon. Lady highlights the ambition of the programme, which the NAO report identifies. It is a very ambitious programme, and it is right to be ambitious about our justice system. The NAO report acknowledges the early progress that has been made and makes recommendations about how we can strengthen the process. We will be taking all those recommendations on board.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Lucy Frazer and Yasmin Qureshi
Tuesday 24th April 2018

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ministry of Justice
Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer - Hansard
24 Apr 2018, 12:08 p.m.

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point about no-fault divorces, as he has previously. When there is conflict within a family, it is important to reduce that conflict in the interests of not only the parents but the children. I can confirm that we are looking actively at the issue.

Yasmin Qureshi Portrait Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard

Our family courts are in crisis. The Ministry of Justice’s own figures show that since the removal of legal aid from the family courts, two thirds of litigants represent themselves and have no access to lawyers. They have to deal with the incredibly complex issues that arise in the family courts. Will the Minister confirm whether, as part of the review of the family justice system, the Lord Chancellor will re-establish early legal aid in such cases, which we have promised?

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer - Parliament Live - Hansard
24 Apr 2018, 12:14 p.m.

The hon. Lady makes an important point. Family justice is important, because issues for children start by having a stable home and a strong family. She will know that, as part of the LASPO reviews, we will be looking at the issues she raises. I should also say that we have an online pilot at the moment relating to divorce, and it has been incredibly successful. It used to be the case that 40% of paper applications for a divorce were sent back owing to incorrect filings. That number is now down to 0.8%.

Leaving the EU: Justice System

Debate between Lucy Frazer and Yasmin Qureshi
Thursday 29th March 2018

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Ministry of Justice
Yasmin Qureshi Portrait Yasmin Qureshi - Hansard
29 Mar 2018, 2:39 p.m.

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s question. Our position is that there should be a system. What that system entails and how it works is subject to negotiation, but we should have something that makes it easier to resolve issues.

In concluding, I want to summarise some of the things that hon. Members mentioned. My right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (David Hanson) spoke about very important crime issues. My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous) talked about the legal services sector and how we are ahead in it. My hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) rightly spoke about the impact of our leaving the European Union on children and their rights. The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) made the interesting point that crime, civil justice, children’s rights and legal services should not be bargaining chips, but should be placed on a separate track and taken out of the contentious political debate. That would be a helpful way forward. The hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald) rightly raised the impact on Scotland.

Everyone is aware that numerous treaties will have to be made to cover each and every area of law we have talked about. We will need not one set of treaties but treaties with 27 or 28 countries, with some opting in and some opting out. It will be a lengthy and complex process. I reiterate the questions asked earlier. How far have the Ministry of Justice and the Government got with drafting the relevant legislation and treaties? Which have been written and which have not? How are they progressing? When will they come to Parliament for debate? When will we be able to feel that these things will happen? Real issues have been raised, and many Members feel that, when we leave, we may be without the systems we currently have that make the criminal and civil justice systems much easier to deal with.

Lucy Frazer Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Lucy Frazer) - Hansard
29 Mar 2018, 2:43 p.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Buck. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) on securing this debate—his second in two days—on a very important subject. I also thank him and his fellow Committee members, past and present, for their important report of March last year.

As a former barrister, I fully understand the importance of obtaining the right deal for the justice system as we leave the EU. My hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) made a powerful speech about the many reasons why our justice system is important, and I agree with him. The Government recognise the importance of the legal sector. I know that because the Prime Minister highlighted it earlier this month in her Mansion House speech. She not only referred specifically to the importance of civil judicial enforcement and the mutual recognition of qualifications, but identified a few areas where the UK and EU economies were linked, one of which was law.

Before I deal with the issues Members raised, let me show how the Government have listened to the important points made by the Justice Committee and others. In its report, the Committee stated that we need certainty during any implementation period and that we must recognise the importance of criminal justice, and of mutual recognition and enforcement. It also highlighted the role of legal services. All those points have been and continue to be listened to. On implementation, the Committee stated that it was concerned that we would move to an inferior type of arrangement for a transitional period, and that it wanted to remove the risk of uncertainty. I hope the Committee is pleased that, in the implementation period, we will ensure that we have the same common rules so that our laws remain in place. There will be no inferior relationship in that period.

The Committee stated that we should prioritise EU-UK co-operation on criminal justice and that that serious matter should be negotiated separately. My hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst rightly identified that the Prime Minister has recognised the importance of this area, as she did when she was Home Secretary. She said in her Munich speech that we are “unconditionally committed to maintaining” Europe’s security now and after our withdrawal from the EU because “our first duty” as a nation is “to protect our citizens”.

On commercial law, the Committee outlined that the Rome I and Rome II regulations on applicable law rules do not require reciprocity and could be incorporated into domestic law. That is precisely what the Government are doing under the repeal Bill. The Committee asked us to ensure that maintaining the UK as a first-class commercial law centre is a top priority. It asked us to protect choice of law, and mutual recognition and enforcement. It stated that we should replicate the recast Brussels regulation and remain a party to the Lugano convention and The Hague convention. The Committee knows those are our ambitions, which we highlighted in our future partnership paper, along with the close relationship we want. We very much hope that we will ensure mutual recognition and enforcement in our separation agreement for cases started before Brexit.

Members will have noted in the Prime Minister’s recent Mansion House speech her desire to reach agreement on civil judicial co-operation. She referenced Lugano, company law and intellectual property law, and stressed the need for legal certainty and coherence. We seek to continue our participation in The Hague convention and the Lugano convention.

Court Closures and Reform

Debate between Lucy Frazer and Yasmin Qureshi
Tuesday 27th March 2018

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Ministry of Justice
Yasmin Qureshi Portrait Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab) - Hansard
27 Mar 2018, 10:36 a.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) on securing such an important debate at a crucial time. The scale and pace at which the Government are pursuing change necessitates careful consideration of the costs and benefits of the proposed changes. With £1 billion being spent and more than 250 courts having been closed already, it is crucial that they are carefully considered and scrutinised.

We are not against court closures or digitalisation in all instances, but we want to see justice done in the most effective manner possible. We believe that the local court system must meet the demands of the 21st century, catering to the needs of all our citizens. However, we have become increasingly concerned that the Government have instituted changes that will disproportionately harm the most vulnerable, and have prioritised cutting expenditure over the delivery of justice. The Government have closed courts, or proposed closing courts, without taking into account, for example, the issues surrounding the Cambridge magistrates court closure, which my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) set out in detail. My hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mohammad Yasin) set out his own case as well.

Importantly, in 2010, the travel time standard used to determine court location was one hour, but that has now gone up to a whole day for a return trip. Clearly that will affect many courts, and the most vulnerable will bear the heaviest costs. For young mothers who are unable to find care, or the elderly who find long journeys difficult, such court closures will prohibitively reduce access and will cost more. It is therefore hard not to share the conclusions of the Justice Committee last month that underlying such changes is an approach

“which appears to favour the principle of value for money over the principle of access to justice”.

In the light of that, I ask the Minister directly whether the Government are seriously not concerned that court closures will make victims and witnesses less likely to travel to courts to give evidence.

I acknowledge the contribution of the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake), who set out in detail what court closures could involve for all the people who use the system. It may be a case of a false economy: saving in one budget, but spending from another. Does the Minister agree that the reduction in courts is a backward step for our criminal justice system, because it would be difficult for people to access it?

Another important point is that the price at which the vast majority of such buildings has been sold seems alarmingly low. We recently found out that 80% of courts sold—that is, more than 120 courts—raised an average of not much more than the price of an average UK home. Research has shown that half the courts were sold for less than one and a half times the price of an average UK house. That is worrying, considering that most courts are in central city locations and are much bigger than most houses. Of the money raised so far, almost two thirds was generated by the sale of just nine courts in prime sites in and around London. Indeed, with courts in Ely, Rochdale and Consett being sold for a grand total of £21,000 combined, we see a clear picture of public property being sold off at knock-down prices. Perhaps that is not unsurprising from the party whose Government oversaw the underselling of Royal Mail by £1 billion.

The pace and width of sales bears the distinctive hallmarks of a Government who are selling off the family silver, which Conservative Governments have engaged in in the past. They find underutilisation and say that it is done for that reason, but that is not right. We know that courts are being utilised far more than is said. Hon. Members have already alluded to the fact that, for many of the courts that have been earmarked for sale on the basis of underutilisation, that is not actually the case, for example in Cambridgeshire or at Blackfriars Crown court, not far from here. Are the Government not concerned that selling recently updated buildings represents a clear waste of public money? Clearly, they need to reconsider whether there really is a need to close a court, in light of not just cost but the impact on everyone who uses it.

The digitalisation of courts is a historic shift. Digitalisation and virtual courts will have a lasting impact on our judicial system. Again, we have no objection to that. As the hon. Member for Henley (John Howell) said, technology can be used very effectively in courts. However, we are concerned about whether the Government have carried out proper consultation, looking at not just cost-effectiveness but the impact on people. At the moment, there is nothing on record from the Ministry of Justice to show what impact virtual courts and digitalisation will have on people involved in court proceedings.

A recent survey of magistrates, lawyers, probation officers and defendants highlighted serious concerns that appearing on video may make it more difficult for defendants to understand and participate in court hearings. Shockingly, prior to the introduction of the Prisons and Courts Bill in the previous Parliament, which was aborted due to the general election, no research had been carried out on the effects of virtual justice reforms on victims or defendants. In light of that failure, I ask the Minister again that she will guarantee that research into that key area will be done and published in advance of the courts Bill being brought to the House.

Further, in the push to move to virtual courts the Government seem to be assuming that town halls, police stations and other civic buildings will be able to provide space for virtual courts, and witnesses giving evidence from one court to another. No research has been done on whether any of that is plausible.

In addition, little consideration has been given to ensuring that there is proper legal advice for defendants. In the present system, if someone goes to court, a clerk and sometimes even friendly lawyers are on hand to give advice. I remember being in court and hearing somebody who was unrepresented saying something. I intervened, saying that they might need to see a lawyer or get advice. Obviously I cannot give advice in that situation, but guidance can be given. That happens so much in court, but it will not happen in a virtual court, because nobody is going to be there to see the problems arising. That aspect of the change has not been considered at all.

For most people, courts are something they only face once in their lifetime and the court system is alien, highly intimidating and difficult. Constituents have come to me with simple, straightforward issues, and they are so worried about what to do if they have to go to court, because it is an unusual situation for them. Although we have no problem with virtual courts, digitalisation or technology, there is again a question about how that is rolled out and how people who could be affected are considered.

The Government’s plans for automatic online convictions risk defendants pleading guilty without understanding the full implications of doing so. I ask for reassurance from the Minister that defendants will have sufficient legal advice to ensure that that does not happen. What mechanisms will be put in place to ensure that people online understand what is happening? Some of us may be computer-literate, but there are many people who do not have email accounts or internet in their home. What will be done about that?

In the reform proposals, the Government have spent more than £100 million on contractors, £30 million of which has gone to management consultants such as PwC. The amount of money spent—I would point out that it is equal to the amount raised from the sale of 223 courts —on projects that depend on an unpredictable future is a worrying sign of this Government’s attitude to proper parliamentary scrutiny.

Going forward, I ask the Government to ensure that all those concerns are addressed and that the issue of transparency is taken into account. If people are sitting in small rooms in different offices in civic buildings giving evidence or being dealt with, how do we ensure that our justice system is transparent? At the moment, we have physical courts that we can go and see, so how to ensure transparency in the court system must be addressed. Justice must be done and must be seen to be done. I ask the Government to look at the issues we and other hon. Members have raised and to promise that there will be no further court closures or reforms until they have published the draft courts Bill, fully detailing their proposals, and this House has debated those proposals.

Lucy Frazer Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Lucy Frazer) - Hansard
27 Mar 2018, 10:46 a.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I congratulate the hon. Member for Slough (Mr Dhesi) on securing this debate. He made some important points about the justice system in general. I am grateful that he secured the debate, has raised those points and has given me an opportunity to respond.

I make one point at the outset. The hon. Gentleman talked about cuts. The reform programme is certainly not about cuts. As he mentioned, the Government are putting £1 billion into our court reform programme and every time a court closes, the money from the sale of that court goes straight back into our justice system—more particularly, our court system.

Like the hon. Gentleman, I would like to address the issue of justice in broader terms. We should start by asking ourselves a question in the context of the debate. What is justice, and how should it be administered? It is not necessarily about a court, a wig and a dock—it is much broader than that. It is not constrained by a particular location or a setting. It is about the fair determination of rights. Although a court of course plays an important part in the determination of those rights, we must also think about how in the modern world we can deliver better, fairer and more effective justice, which is why the Ministry of Justice has started to invest £1 billion in our justice system over the last few years.

We are upgrading our system so that it works better for everyone—judges, legal professionals, vulnerable victims, witnesses, litigants and defendants. We are modernising the system. The hon. Member for Slough asked what the evidence is of the advantage of technology, and I will answer that. The Civil Justice Review of the 1980s said that we needed to use computers to manage listing. Lord Woolf called for the use of technology in the 1990s. In 2015, the Civil Justice Council stated that online dispute resolution had the possibility and potential to bring forward advantages to our justice system, such as lower cost but also more access to justice. When the court reform Bill went before the House before the general election, a document on transforming justice was put together by the Lord Chief Justice and Lord Chancellor of the time and the Senior President of Tribunals. They all called for our justice system to be brought up to date using technology. They recognised that it would bring our system forward and that by doing so, we would need fewer court buildings. I was interested to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Douglas Ross) calling for more digitalisation in Scotland.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Lucy Frazer and Yasmin Qureshi
Tuesday 23rd January 2018

(2 years, 6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Ministry of Justice
Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer - Hansard
23 Jan 2018, 11:45 a.m.

As the hon. Lady will know, the previous Lord Chancellor committed to a review of legal aid later this year, and I also commit to reviewing the situation later this year. Legal aid for housing is always available and can be accessed through the telephone gateway.

Yasmin Qureshi Portrait Yasmin Qureshi (Bolton South East) (Lab) - Parliament Live - Hansard
23 Jan 2018, 11:46 a.m.

Judicial review is a key tool for ordinary people to challenge unjust and unlawful decisions by the state and other public bodies. Deep cuts to legal aid have undermined that ability, so will the Minister commit to reviewing legal aid funding for judicial review in the Government’s forthcoming legal aid review?

Lucy Frazer Portrait Lucy Frazer - Hansard
23 Jan 2018, 11:46 a.m.

As I have already mentioned, a legal aid review is taking place later this year. As a matter of principle, legal aid is available for judicial review in certain circumstances when certain conditions are met.