Courts and Tribunals: Recovery

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:50 pm on 3rd December 2020.

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Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 12:50 pm, 3rd December 2020

May I also thank the Lord Chancellor for advance sight of his statement?

These matters are, of course, largely devolved to Scotland, where the impact of the pandemic is being felt just as it is in jurisdictions across the world. My colleagues in the Scottish Government continue to work with partners, including the Scottish courts and prosecution services, victims’ groups and the legal profession, to identify the best possible way to deal with the problems that arise from the pandemic. To facilitate social distancing, remote jury trials are taking place across Scotland in the Sheriff courts as well as in the High Court. Additional funding for those was announced back in October. It was pleasing to hear Scotland’s second most senior judge, the Lord Justice Clerk Lady Dorrian, say that there has been an excellent collaborative effort across the justice sector in Scotland, which will increase court capacity in an environment that is safe for all participants.

May I ask the Lord Chancellor something about sexual offences? The European Court of Human Rights has held that the right to an effective remedy means that the state must ensure that sexual offences are investigated and prosecuted effectively, and that the state must also avoid undue delay in getting those cases to trial. Historically, Scotland has very strict time limits and I know that even during the pandemic this responsibility of effective remedy and speedy resolution is one that the Scottish Government take very seriously. Can he confirm that the UK Government take it equally seriously and are having regard to our obligations under the Strasbourg convention in this respect?

Turning to employment tribunals, they of course deal with reserved issues and are UK-wide. I want to raise with the Lord Chancellor the issue of the sharp rise in employment tribunal applications during the pandemic. This increase has gathered pace during lockdown, which tends to suggest that the impact of coronavirus has had a direct effect on the number of claims that are being made to employment tribunals. This has, of course, been an incredibly difficult time for business, but unfortunately there appears to be a trend of employers who are not following correct redundancy procedures, and this is only likely to result in more unfair dismissal claims. What can the Lord Chancellor do to address the increased strain on the tribunal system that this will create?

Finally, genuine mistakes around limitation periods for making an application to an employment tribunal can result in individuals being barred from seeking justice. That can happen in particular to claimants who are not entitled to legal representation or cannot afford it, and who may already have been involved in long and wearying internal grievance and disciplinary procedures. May I therefore ask the Lord Chancellor: is he still looking seriously at doubling the length of the time within which individuals can bring a claim to an employment tribunal from three to six months?