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

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:36 pm on 27th November 2018.

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Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Chair, Justice Committee 2:36 pm, 27th November 2018

I totally agree. These are useful, practical measures on their own, but they are by no means a solution to the problem. In fact, they are but a very small part of the solution.

I am bit concerned by some of the Law Society’s suggestions in briefings that some of the broader programme of courts reform is posited on making savings in judicial posts and appointments of about £37.5 million. I hope that the Lord Chancellor—or the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. and learned Friend Lucy Frazer, when she responds to the debate—will be able to set our minds at rest on that. We can make savings by using staff qualified at the appropriate level in what one might term purely interlocutory or procedural matters, but all the decisions on issues of substance in any case—whatever the sum involved or whatever the nature of the charge, in a criminal case—have impacts on the individuals concerned, and they should, in my judgment, be taken only by properly qualified lawyers in an open court process. That is important.

We cannot allow the valuable nature of this Bill to take away from the fact that we need an injection of resource into the criminal justice system. We are seeing a shortfall in appointments to the High Court bench on a regular basis. A number of hon. Members have talked about the integrity of our justice system and the importance of its legal standing, and the quality of the judiciary is key to that. We also see difficulties in making sufficient appointments—full time, at any rate—to the circuit bench. It is easier with recorders, I grant, because they are able to sit part time, but there is a real issue there.

There is also a real issue, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham knows, about morale. I think that the Lord Chancellor and the Under-Secretary of State understand that and take it on board. I do not expect them to be able to wave a magic wand and solve everything overnight, but it is important to stress these things. Technical changes are useful as far as they go, but they cannot underpin what is essentially a people-based system.