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

As it stands, and I do not want to encourage my hon. Friend to table amendments, the Bill will not necessarily do that. He has taken a great interest in this issue, and he has been speaking to my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury. I know my hon. Friend Kevin Hollinrake will pursue the matter with his customary tenacity, and I do not wish to discourage him from doing so, unless he considers that the best way to manifest it is by tabling amendments to the Bill, in which case I would urge him to look elsewhere. I thank him for his intervention.

I draw the House’s attention to additional important safeguards in the Bill. It will provide a guarantee of the independence of staff and their decision making, by applying the statutory independence and immunities that currently apply to justices’ clerks to all authorised staff when exercising judicial functions. A member of staff will be able to exercise judicial functions only once authorised to do so: by the Lord Chief Justice or his nominee, for the courts; or by the Senior President of Tribunals or his delegate, for the tribunals. The Bill includes protections for authorised persons from legal proceedings, costs in legal proceedings and indemnification in respect of anything they do or do not do when exercising judicial functions in good faith.

The Bill also includes measures to enable greater flexibility in the deployment of judges across our family and county courts, the first-tier tribunal and the upper tribunal. For example, it will permit recorders to sit in the upper tribunal, enable senior employment judges to sit in the first-tier tribunal and upper tribunal and enable presidents of the employment tribunals for England, Wales and Scotland to sit in the employment appeal tribunal. This will make best use of the experience and skills of serving judges, and it will give the senior judiciary more flexibility to respond to sudden changes in demand and to manage case backlogs in particular jurisdictions. It will also allow judges to gain experience of different types of cases, which will help with career progression. The Bill also contains provisions relating to the amendment of judicial titles, which will ensure consistency and will help to avoid confusion for court users.

The measures in the Bill are an important part of our wider £1 billion reform programme, which will see our courts and tribunals modernised for the 21st century and our digital age. New online services are already providing new routes to justice for many. For example, of all applications for divorce from unrepresented citizens, more than six out of 10 are now made online, after the new service was launched in May. That amounts to more than 20,000 people in just over six months. It has saved time, cost and effort for them and the system. Reforms in the criminal justice system—from making pleas online for low-level offences, to the piloting of a new digital system to allow the police, Crown Prosecution Service, courts, judiciary and defence to have a single shared view of case information online—are making it work better for everyone, too.

The Bill is an important part of our wider reforms to make our justice system work better for those who use it and those who work in it. It also makes an important first step in the legislation that will underpin our reforms. We will introduce further courts legislation as soon as parliamentary time allows. With the appropriate safeguards in place, the Bill will allow our judiciary, courts and tribunals to operate more flexibly, responsibility and efficiently, and it will ultimately improve people’s experience of justice and put our courts and tribunals on a sound footing for the future. I commend the Bill to the House.