Courts and Tribunals (Online Procedure) Bill [Lords]

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:45 pm on 16th July 2019.

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Photo of Paul Maynard Paul Maynard The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice 3:45 pm, 16th July 2019

With the leave of the House, I will do my best to respond to the points raised as speedily as I can, because I know that many are now gathering for the next debate. It is interesting that we started off the debate with a bit of a spiel about ideology and cuts. I found that intriguing, given that we are talking about the £1 billion Government investment in our Courts and Tribunals Service and its modernisation. I am grateful to the Chairman of the Select Committee, my hon. Friend Robert Neill, for reminding everyone in the House that these proposals have the support of our senior judiciary.

A number of concerns were raised about what was termed digitisation by default. Let me make it clear that innovation is crucial to delivering modernisation, but we should never introduce more complexity or technological innovation merely because we can. We should do so because that innovation satisfies our requirements for proportionality and accessibility within the justice system. We always need to work with the grain of human nature, as our law is essentially a human contract in and of itself. Changes should never result in less justice or in people being incentivised not to behave in their own best interests. I have said at least twice in the debate already that the alternative methods must be protected at all times. People can seek telephone advice, for example. We are also piloting face-to-face advice in at least 25 areas. At any point, people can opt out of the online procedure, and the paper-based alternative will always be available. Either side in a case can opt out of an online procedure to ensure that it does not occur online.

Concerns were also expressed about piloting. I hear the point that there is no need to rush, and we are starting by focusing on civil claims under £25,000 being conducted online. Evaluation is important, and I have made it clear that I do not want Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service to mark its own homework. There will be an independent evaluation, and the panel has already met. It will have academic input in particular to look at the outcomes in relation to access to justice and the cost to users.

The membership of the committee was raised on a number of occasions. Let me be clear that the committee needs to be sufficiently agile to deal with a changing environment in which numerous online procedures will appear from time to time. Nothing in the Bill prevents the Lord Chancellor from utilising clause 7 to expand the membership of the committee when he sees fit to do so. At the same time, the committee can at any point choose to set up sub-committees or to bring in any wider expertise that it needs to draw up the procedures that it thinks appropriate.