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

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:34 pm on 27th November 2018.

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Photo of David Gauke David Gauke The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice 1:34 pm, 27th November 2018

My hon. Friend brings me back to the Bill and makes a good point—one which came up on several occasions during the deliberations in the other place about the extent to which we should be prescriptive, or whether powers should be left with the rule committees. I share his instinct that as much as possible should be left to the rule committees, because they are best placed to make such assessments. Indeed, that leads to points made by distinguished retired judges in the other place about not being over-prescriptive. Such matters may be a point of discussion this afternoon or at the Bill’s later stages.

I now turn to the Bill in greater detail. The measures will help to provide the greater flexibility and responsiveness that we need within our court system. That includes freeing up judges’ time from the most routine tasks associated with court cases. The Bill will build on existing powers that already enable staff in most courts and tribunals to be authorised to exercise some of the functions of judges. It will continue to allow appropriately qualified and experienced staff in the civil, family and magistrates courts, the High Court, the Court of Appeal, the Court of Protection and tribunals to be authorised to carry out uncontroversial and straightforward judicial functions under judicial supervision. The Bill will enable those arrangements to be extended for the first time to the Crown court, where court officers can only currently undertake formal and administrative matters. Allowing court and tribunal staff to exercise a wider range of judicial functions will potentially free judges up from undertaking more regular tasks, such as changing the start time of a hearing or changing a pre-trial preparation hearing date, so that they can focus on the more substantive matters of the case.