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

The hon. Gentleman takes me further in the direction of the debate about the court closure plan, but we need to ensure that our resources are deployed as efficiently and effectively as possible. In that context, we have reduced the number of courts, but that money makes a contribution to our overall finances and can be reinvested as part of the court reform programme. We have to take every opportunity to make use of new technology to ensure that the experience of the justice system—the hon. Gentleman rightly highlights that witnesses are important in many cases—is as positive as possible.

I have touched on this already, but safeguards are important. Clearly, the delegation of certain judicial powers to court and tribunal staff needs to be done sensitively and sensibly, and with appropriate safeguards. Independent, judiciary-led procedure rule committees, which govern the rules within courts and tribunals, will determine which functions court staff may exercise in each jurisdiction and what qualifications and experience they will need. Those rules will then be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. All staff authorised to exercise judicial functions will ultimately be accountable to, and subject to, the direction of the Lord Chief Justice or the Senior President of Tribunals.

I am grateful for the valuable insight that Members of the other place brought to debating and scrutinising the measures in the Bill, particularly in relation to the exercise of judicial functions. Many of them drew on their own wealth of judicial experience and expertise in considering the practical issues of implementation.

Concerns were raised in the other place about the safeguards in delegating judicial functions to authorised staff. For example, concerns were raised that certain powers, particularly those that affect the rights and freedoms of citizens, should only ever be directly discharged by the judiciary. Indeed, the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton raised that point.

We have listened to those concerns, and we tabled amendments in the other place that will prevent specific judicial functions from being undertaken by authorised staff, including authorising a person’s committal to prison; in most cases, authorising a person’s arrest; granting certain injunctions; making orders for repossession of residential property, where the orders are contested; and making search orders.

We tabled amendments that will require the procedure rule committees, when making rules to allow authorised staff to exercise judicial functions, to consider whether the rules should include a right to judicial reconsideration of decisions made by such staff. The amendments will also require that, if a procedure rule committee decides against the creation of such a right, the committee will have to inform the Lord Chancellor of its decision and of the reasons for it. This will ensure much greater transparency and accountability.

The measures in the Bill strike the right balance between creating a framework for the delegation of judicial functions to authorised staff, with appropriate safeguards, and giving discretion to procedure rule committees and the senior judiciary to make the arrangements work in practice.