Schedule 5 - Employment tribunal procedure rules: further provision

Judicial Review and Courts Bill – in the House of Commons at 6:08 pm on 25th January 2022.

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Votes in this debate

Amendments made: 10, page 83, line 5, at beginning insert “Reconsideration or”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 11.

Amendment 11, page 83, line 6, after “to” insert “reconsider or”.

This amendment allows the terminology of “reconsideration” to be used as an alternative to “review” in employment tribunal procedure.

Amendment 12, page 85, line 33, at end insert—

“(1A) For the heading substitute ‘Preliminary hearings’.”

This amendment is consequential on Amendments 13 and 17.

Amendment 13, page 85, line 36, leave out “pre-hearing review” and insert “preliminary hearing”.

This amendment and Amendment 17 rename “pre-hearing reviews” as “preliminary hearings” in employment tribunal procedure.

Amendment 14, page 86, line 2, leave out “pre-hearing review” and insert “hearing”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendments 13 and 17.

Amendment 15, page 86, line 6, at end insert—

“(ai) for ‘pre-hearing review’ substitute ‘preliminary hearing’;”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendments 13 and 17.

Amendment 16, page 86, line 14, leave out sub-paragraph (5) and insert—

“(5) For subsection (2A) substitute—

‘(2A) Procedure Rules may not enable a power of striking out to be exercised in a preliminary hearing on a ground which does not apply outside a preliminary hearing.’”

This amendment is consequential on Amendments 13 and 17.

Amendment 17, page 86, line 22, leave out “’pre-hearing review’ means a review of” and insert “‘preliminary hearing’ means a hearing in”.

See the explanatory statement for Amendment 13.

Amendment 18, page 87, line 10, at end insert—

“9A In section 12A(9) (subsequent award of compensation not to necessitate review of financial penalties), in the words before paragraph (a), after ‘be’ insert ‘reconsidered or’.”

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 11.

Amendment 19, page 88, line 20, at end insert—

“(b) in subsection (3), in paragraphs (a) and (b), after ‘being’ insert ‘reconsidered or’.” —(James Cartlidge.)

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 11.

Third Reading

Photo of James Cartlidge James Cartlidge Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice) , Assistant Whip 6:32 pm, 25th January 2022

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

The Bill has received careful and sometimes impassioned scrutiny from Members on both sides of the House, and I thank all hon. and right hon. Members who have contributed. Were I to summarise the Bill in a nutshell, I would say that its common thread was streamlining our courts, not least so that we can bear down on the backlog that has built up during the pandemic.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs)

The Minister says that the Bill has received careful scrutiny. Does he agree that it is unfortunate that this Bill, which seeks to limit the jurisdiction of the Court of Session in Scotland, to use his own words from his letter to me dated 11 November, has not received the scrutiny of the Scottish Parliament, within whose purview the jurisdiction of the Court of Session and judicial review lie?

Photo of James Cartlidge James Cartlidge Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice) , Assistant Whip

I respect the hon. and learned Lady’s considerable expertise in these matters. I did write to her on that, and I think I answered that question earlier. We scrutinised the Bill in great detail in Committee, but I accept the strength of her view on that point.

Part 1 of the Bill strengthens judicial review, ensuring that it continues to serve justice and good public administration. This would not have been possible without Lord Faulks and his panel, who produced an independent review of administrative law. Their thorough work in this area is of great importance and laid the foundations for the measures in the Bill. As it stands, the Bill delivers on commitments that we made ahead of the last general election. It offers more flexibility to judges and puts more tools in the judicial toolbox.

The reforms in part 2 modernise and improve aspects of the court and tribunal system. The measures support court and tribunal recovery, and deliver improvements to the criminal justice system and to coronial processes. They build on the lessons of the pandemic and will increase the efficiency, adaptability and resilience of our justice system.

Today we have also included provision in the Bill for a power to vary the maximum sentence that the magistrates court may give for a single triable-either-way offence. This is part of our plan to extend the sentencing power of magistrates, so that we can keep more sentence hearings out of the Crown court, freeing up capacity to help us to tackle the backlog more quickly. That extension will help us to retain more cases in the magistrates courts, reducing the flow of cases into the Crown court, and will help to support recovery in the Crown court, where it is so important. It is estimated that it will save around 2,000 Crown court sitting days per year, which is the equivalent of 500 jury trials, allowing us to reduce the backlog more quickly.

I thank all hon. Members who contributed to debate on the Bill, particularly the members of the Bill Committee, during which time we made some clarificatory amendments to the Bill. I also thank the witnesses who joined us in Committee; the range of contributions from experts of considerable esteem greatly enriched our debates. Finally, it would be remiss of me not to thank the excellent officials from the Ministry of Justice, whose support has been invaluable throughout. I commend the Bill to the House.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice) 6:35 pm, 25th January 2022

This has been an interesting Bill in process, although we still do not really see the need for many of the sweeping changes that the Government are proposing. I reiterate that the Minister has worked collaboratively with us, but sadly could not agree the changes that we proposed, which would have vastly improved this largely unnecessary Bill. I am grateful to my hon. Friend Andy Slaughter for partnering me through the Bill, and my hon. Friends the Members for Lewisham East (Janet Daby), for Liverpool, Wavertree (Paula Barker) and for Luton North (Sarah Owen) for helping to hold the Government to account. Thanks, too, to all the others who were involved in the process.

Let me be clear: there is simply no need to change the judicial review process. The Ministry of Justice is trying to fix something that is not broken. The Government should instead be spending their time tackling the record backlog and protecting victims of serious crime. The Government’s changes to judicial review will have a chilling effect on justice, deterring members of the public from bringing claims against public bodies and leaving many other victims of unlawful actions without any redress.

The proposed reforms go beyond what was recommended by the expert panel set up to advise us, with no evidence to back up this overreach. The proposals are also based on figures that the Government have accepted were completely inaccurate. With the Government’s review of the Human Rights Act on the horizon, this is only the latest proposal to make it harder for ordinary members of the public to hold public institutions to account.

It is always useful to have a current example to illustrate what the impact of the Government’s draft legislation is likely to be. This afternoon—I hope the Minister is aware of this—there was a judicial review result, after disabled people challenged the Work and Pensions Secretary for failing to properly consult on the national disability strategy. The Government lost—yet again, another judgment lost. Does the Minister wish to intervene on me and tell me whether that particular challenge, and correction of an injustice, would have been possible if the provisions in the Bill had been in play today? Clearly, the Minister does not want to intervene.

We had high hopes for the coroner aspects of the Bill, but sadly it does not address the existing problems with the coroner service. Even more sadly, the Government have missed the opportunity to introduce automatic support for bereaved families at inquests where the state is represented. That is not justice; it is justice denied. On Report, I talked about the Government’s drive to apply more and more processes originally intended for adults, to children and young people. They set a precedent in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, failing time and again to safeguard one of our most vulnerable groups.

More generally, I cannot for the life of me understand why the Government are fighting shy of protecting vulnerable people from the provisions of the Bill. The Government have refused to instigate health checks and other measures to ensure that, when people do engage with online justice, they know exactly what they are doing and the potential consequences. Again, that is not justice.

We did not want to stand in the way of improving our courts system—we know it needs massive improvement—but overall, this is a bad Bill and we shall vote against it.

Photo of Bob Neill Bob Neill Chair, Justice Committee, Chair, Justice Committee 6:39 pm, 25th January 2022

I have great respect for Alex Cunningham, but I am afraid I have to disagree with his characterisation of the Bill. It makes modest reforms, which seem sensible. Although I accept that the changes to judicial review are not uncontroversial, they are not a wholesale attack. I would not support them if they were. It is important to recognise that judicial review is fundamental. We need to get that on the record. It is an absolutely necessary part of the checks and balances. It can be refined, but it must never be undermined in principle. I do not believe that the Bill does that.

It is important that we properly fund the system that enables the courts to deal with judicial reviews and other matters. In fairness, there is a missed opportunity. I agree with the shadow Minister about funding for families of bereaved persons at inquests. The Justice Committee’s report advocated that and I hope that the Government will not give up on it, but revisit it because there is an equality of arms argument here. That is not a reason to vote against the Bill, but I think that the Government have missed a trick and I hope they will reconsider that.

The changes to the criminal justice system are worthwhile in themselves, but it is important that the Government did not go greatly beyond the report by Lord Faulks, whom we should congratulate again. I hope the Government will adopt the same approach to the review by Sir Peter Gross. Sometimes less is more.

Photo of Anne McLaughlin Anne McLaughlin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control) 6:40 pm, 25th January 2022

I reiterate that we vehemently oppose much of the Bill. Nothing that has been said today or during the Bill’s passage has done anything to allay my fears or those of my party.

I thank the people who were involved in the proceedings because a lot of hard work went on. I thank hon. Friends in my party who spoke and my hon. Friend Angela Crawley who sat on the Bill Committee with me. Despite my ticking-off earlier, I thoroughly enjoyed working with Labour colleagues on the Committee. The Clerks did a fantastic job. The Clerks in the Public Bill Office could not be more helpful in walking and talking us through each of the different stages. It does not matter how many times we do it—maybe it does matter, but at my stage, it is important that there is someone there to guide us, and I thank the Clerks. I thank my hon. Friend Stuart C. McDonald for all his guidance and advice, the researchers from the SNP team, Aaron Lukas and Matt Hamill, and my own researcher, Michael Bannister, who I relied on heavily to get through much of this. I mean “get through” in terms of what we were talking about, not just getting through mentally, although he helped with that as well.

It is not over. We just need to look back to last week and what happened in the House of Lords. I never thought I would hear myself saying this, but come on the Lords and let us see what they will do with the Bill. [Laughter.] Maybe my friends on the Labour Benches will not be laughing at my next point, but there is another option for Scotland.

Scotland will soon be given the opportunity to take the option of saying, “If you’re going to disrespect the Scottish legal system, the Scottish Government and the people of Scotland, on you go, but we will take our own path and choose independence.” I do not expect many “Hear, hear”s from my Labour friends there, but Scotland has another way and we will choose that path. Of that I have no doubt.

Today I gave the Government the opportunity at least to pretend that they had a bit of respect for Scotland. They did not take it and they have just given us more grist to the mill. That is about the only thing I can thank them for.

Again, I thank everybody for the experience and we will see where the Bill goes from here.

Photo of Marco Longhi Marco Longhi Conservative, Dudley North 6:43 pm, 25th January 2022

Tributes should be paid to the judges and legal professionals who have kept our courts operational during the pandemic to the best of their ability, using technology to do so, much as we have during the last two years. It must be our priority to break through the backlog in the criminal courts, partly caused by the pandemic. Just yesterday, I received details of an awful assault in 2019 in my constituency that will be heard in court only in 2023. That delay prevents victims from receiving justice in a timely manner, does not allow closure and can delay access to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority.

The Bill Committee, of which I was a member, heard evidence from specialist witnesses that implementing the Bill would save time and make our courts more efficient and effective. If I have learned anything during the pandemic, however, it has only entrenched my belief that the Opposition seek to hold us back: they voted against the Bill, they have just said that they will do so again, and they claim that there is no need for reform of judicial review. As with everything they do, there is dithering and delay. Our justice system and our constituents would be far worse off if they were in charge.

There is no area of the law that allows individuals, families, local government, business and so on to have more than two bites of the cherry in court—with one exception, namely illegal immigration appeals. That is another reason why the Opposition disagree with the Bill: because they are quite happy for the country to continue being a magnet for illegal immigration. When challenged in Committee, not once did an Opposition Member explain why illegal immigration should benefit from a third bite.

The Bill includes provision to ease the backlog in criminal courts and introduces measures to reduce the strain on magistrates courts. It also introduces a new online common platform, which will allow those who so wish to conduct all pre-trial proceedings online. Just as our parliamentary activities have benefited from being supplemented by virtual alternatives—I emphasise that they have been supplemented, not replaced—so can our legal sector benefit.

Photo of Nicholas Fletcher Nicholas Fletcher Conservative, Don Valley 6:45 pm, 25th January 2022

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. I will speak only briefly, but it is so important that I do. I was elected on the Government’s promise to take back control. With this Bill and the Nationality and Borders Bill, I think we are moving in the right direction to make sure that that happens.

I want to speak about two points. I had a third point to make about magistrates, but my hon. Friend Andy Carter has already spoken excellently about the issue.

Photo of Nicholas Fletcher Nicholas Fletcher Conservative, Don Valley

And at length, yes.

My first point is about allowing adult defendants to plead guilty to, and accept a pre-determined penalty for, minor offences online. Over the past two years, an increasing number of services, from schools to banking, have moved primarily online, at least temporarily. Although some people have found the online experience frustrating at times, and although in most cases I believe that in-person services should resume, in this instance I support going online.

My main point is about Cart JR. It is a question of court resources, but it also relates to an issue about which my constituents frequently contact me: immigration. Most judicial reviews against the upper tribunal relate to immigration cases. I understand that some cases are quite complex, but others appear to be no more than an abuse of the judicial process through endless, meritless appeals. As the Justice Secretary has noted in previous debates on the Bill, the success rate is hardly above 3%—an appalling statistic.

It is difficult to defend the UK’s immigration system to my constituents as fair and effective when they see in the news that hundreds of people arrive via the channel every week, yet the processes that we have in place seem to allow anyone to stay, regardless of how well-founded any claim is. The message that they are getting is that it does not matter whether someone is a genuine refugee: as long as they are prepared for a protracted legal battle, with legal aid at the taxpayer’s expense, they can stay for years, if not indefinitely. As I know from my casework, that does not incline my constituents to see all asylum applicants as potential refugees; on the contrary, it leads them to see all asylum applicants as willing to abuse the legal system. That perception may not be well founded, but it is understandable.

I am sure that such behaviour can be justified, but when the entire judicial system is under unprecedented pressure after nearly two years of the pandemic, it is especially ridiculous. We need every hour of the judiciary’s time that we have. I therefore commend the Bill and will happily support it.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

Division number 175 Judicial Review and Courts Bill — Schedule 5 - Employment tribunal procedure rules: further provision

Aye: 306 MPs

No: 210 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Abstained: 1 MP

Abstaineds: A-Z by last name

The House divided: Ayes 310, Noes 211.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time and passed.