Courts and Tribunals (Online Procedure) Bill [Lords]

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:21 pm on 16th July 2019.

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Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Chair, Justice Committee, Chair, Justice Committee 3:21 pm, 16th July 2019

I welcome the thrust of the Bill, which is an important, if modest, piece of legislation. The Minister is right to say that it is an enabling Bill. It is welcomed by the judiciary and that should weigh heavily with us, because this legislation is necessary to put in place the rule committee, which, in turn, is required to set up the online procedure in a practical form.

It is worth remembering that this has been talked about and largely initiated by the judiciary from a very early stage. The Briggs report in 2016 by Sir Michael Briggs, as he was then—he is now Lord Briggs of Westbourne—was the first important step in that and largely dealt with online civil money claims. Sir Michael made it very clear to me and many others he spoke to that it was a source of frustration that that sensible and practical measure had been delayed for so long. Since then, that was expanded on by the White Paper in 2016—the joint vision that was set out on transforming our justice system. Although the Opposition have made some criticisms of the Bill, it is worth remembering precisely that that was a joint vision, endorsed by the senior judiciary in England and Wales every bit as much as by the Government. It is an unusual example in our constitution of joint ownership of a project.

The Justice Committee took evidence from the Lord Chief Justice, the Master of the Rolls and the Senior President of Tribunals only last Wednesday. We had a detailed session with them, which was a very valuable insight into this issue. It was clear that they strongly endorse and welcome the principle of the programme and that they see it as one—if it is delivered correctly—that can enhance access to justice from where we are at the moment. Our Committee was impressed with that evidence. That does not mean that questions will not need to be answered in the Public Bill Committee and, in particular, as the rules are drawn up. I understand the points from the Opposition Front Benchers and elsewhere about the technical nature of how the rule committee is to be constructed, but the overall thrust of the proposal is clearly welcome.