Courts and Tribunals (Judiciary and Functions of Staff) Bill [HL] - Committee

– in the House of Lords at 3:41 pm on 10th July 2018.

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Clause 1 agreed.

Amendment 1

Moved by Baroness Chakrabarti

1: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—“Report on availability of judicial training to support deployment(1) Within twelve months of the coming into force of section 1, the Lord Chancellor must publish a report on the availability of the judicial training necessary to enable judges to be deployed more flexibly.(2) The report under subsection (1) must be laid before each House of Parliament.”

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Shadow Attorney General

My Lords, at Second Reading, it was widely acknowledged around the House that there were practical arguments for expanding the flexible deployment of judges, including some temporary judges appointed outside the usual Judicial Appointments Commission selection process, to a wider pool of courts and tribunals. However, the appointment of temporary judges as a principle should be approached with caution. Further, it is important to view flexible deployment in general through the prism of the Government’s wider programme of reforms and cuts. Given the planned savings on judicial salaries, we have to ask whether the provisions are at least in part a short cut to make up for a shortfall—even a crisis—in the recruitment of permanent judges that will become a de facto cost-saving measure. Any trend towards an increasing reliance on temporary judges would be worrying. Temporary judges, most likely seeking permanent appointment, are by their nature less independent than their permanent counterparts.

The Government should surely provide greater evidence of the need for these provisions, such as the detail of the changes in business demand referred to in the impact assessment and the reasoning for the proportionality of these measures. If introduced, it is surely a reasonable requirement on the Government to ensure that proper training is made available for these temporary appointments whose deployment will involve oversight of areas of law new to the personnel concerned. This is already a routine practice in the deployment of judges in the Crown Court: the paucity of Crown Court judges with a criminal law background is well acknowledged and, arguably, none the less regrettable. There is no argument against proper provision of support and training to those less practised, temporary judges or, indeed, permanent judges deployed in new areas. Given the backdrop of major cuts to the MoJ, the need for effective and proper training is all the more acute to ensure the quality of judicial practice. That is why I am probing with this amendment and I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Beith Lord Beith Liberal Democrat

This gives us an opportunity to look at whether the training is intended to embrace the increasing use of online and virtual court facilities. We cannot advance that cause in the context of the Bill, because it has been drafted to exclude some of the things that we all assumed were part of the modernisation programme. It would indeed be difficult to ensure that the training and deployment of judges meant that they were well equipped for these changes, because we do not know what the parliamentary underpinning would be, but this would be a useful moment for the Minister to indicate how far the well-declared and strongly supported plans that emerged from the Briggs and Leveson reports form part of the Government’s thinking on how judicial deployment and training should operate.

Photo of Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Conservative

My Lords, I take this opportunity to raise a question, in the confines of this amendment, about training. I know that my noble and learned friend has explained on a previous occasion that the role of justice clerks is changing and that that is the purpose of this. What stage are we at with consulting the justice clerks? I understand, looking at paragraph 10 of the impact assessment, on page 5, that currently the most senior lawyers in Her Majesty’s Courts & Tribunals Service are indeed justice clerks. To what extent are they agreeable to these changes? I want to be assured that we will not find ourselves in a situation in the autumn where perhaps they do not entirely agree to what we are asking of them. At the same time, I wonder if there is an expectation that those undertaking this new role will travel further to courts, particularly magistrates’ courts, given that in rural areas there are so few of them. We have seen an increase in cancellations of trials and cases not being heard, where witnesses have found it difficult to travel to and reach the court on time.

Photo of Lord Judge Lord Judge Judge

My Lords, one issue that arises is that, if we are to require more judicial training, it will have to be funded. The second point is that the Lord Chief Justice is responsible for the organisation of judicial training and a report from the Lord Chancellor—if I may say so, with respect—is completely unnecessary. These issues can be addressed by the Lord Chief Justice in his annual report.

Photo of Lord Pannick Lord Pannick Crossbench

Can the Minister say whether he thinks that Clause 1 of the Bill will make any significant contribution to resolving what the Lord Chief Justice has described as the unsustainable recruitment crisis that is facing the Bench?

Photo of Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury Judge

My Lords, I will just add a footnote to what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, has said. The Lord Chief Justice’s annual report is laid before Parliament, so the information about judicial training will be laid before Parliament in so far as the Lord Chief Justice considers it appropriate, he being responsible for training.

Photo of Lord Keen of Elie Lord Keen of Elie The Advocate-General for Scotland, Lords Spokesperson (Ministry of Justice)

My Lords, as the noble Baroness said, this amendment would require the Lord Chancellor to publish, within 12 months of Clause 1 coming into force, a report on the availability of training for judges that will enable them to be flexibly deployed.

As has been noted, the Lord Chief Justice and indeed the Senior President of Tribunals already have far-reaching powers of deployment. The measures in the Bill seek to amend and build on existing powers in legislation. Of course, it is the Lord Chief Justice and the Senior President of Tribunals who are responsible for arrangements for the training of the judiciary. As the noble and learned Lords, Lord Judge and Lord Neuberger, observed, it will be for the Lord Chief Justice, who is responsible for training, to report on these matters, as he seeks to do in his annual report. It would not be appropriate in these circumstances for that responsibility to pass to the Lord Chancellor.

With regard to funding for training, the Lord Chancellor is committed to providing suitable funding for the judiciary; that includes funding in the area of training, particularly by the Judicial College. I add only that that is in accordance with the arrangements that have to be made for resourcing under the Constitutional Reform Act 2005. As I indicated, the Senior President of Tribunals has an equivalent responsibility in relation to judges and members of the tribunals within the scope of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007. Those responsibilities are exercised through the Judicial College.

The report that the Lord Chief Justice provides with regard to judicial training is a report to Parliament, so it will be available to Parliament in due course. Therefore, it would be inappropriate for the Lord Chancellor to report to Parliament on the availability of judicial training, a matter that is properly for the senior judiciary.

In these circumstances, I venture that the amendment is unnecessary. We can be confident that all our judges are recommended for appointment by the Judicial Appointments Commission following a rigorous process. At a minimum, they will have met the statutory eligibility criteria for the relevant office. In relation to the offices in Clause 1, in many cases the judges will have already met the statutory eligibility criteria. In addition, when it is required, they will have also demonstrated specialist expertise—for example, where judges are appointed or authorised to specific jurisdictions, such as the Commercial Court, the Media and Communications List and the Technology and Construction Court or TCC.

The Judicial College strategy for 2018-20, published in December last year, states:

“All newly appointed and newly assigned judicial office holders will receive induction training”.

It says that, over this period:

“The College expects to deliver more induction training to support increasing flexibility of judicial deployment across courts and tribunals when workload fluctuates”.

The Judicial College has also been devising more cross-jurisdictional training in skills required for all jurisdictions because of the flexibility in deployment that will be available.

On whether or not the provisions in Clause 1 will make a significant contribution to what has been referred to as the recruitment crisis, I cannot say that on its own it will make a significant contribution to recruitment, but certainly the flexibility that is being introduced into the system may assist in that regard. We recognise that more needs to be done with regard to that matter. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, will be aware that the terms and conditions of the senior judiciary will be the subject of a report later this year. I look forward to that so that we can consider how the matter can be taken forward.

The noble Lord, Lord Beith, raised the rollout of digitisation with regard to the court process. Of course, we hope eventually to bring all these developments together. They are complementary to each other. I acknowledge that we have not yet been able to introduce further provision within the narrow confines of this Bill, but it is our intention that the provisions anticipated by the Queen’s Speech, and indeed laid out in the original Prison and Courts Bill, will be brought forward when legislative time allows.

I hope that I have gone some way to reassuring the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, that the appropriate training arrangements are in place to support flexible deployment of the judiciary and that she will see fit to withdraw her amendment. I pause to observe that the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, arise in respect of later groups. Perhaps I may address them at that time.

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Shadow Attorney General

I am grateful to the Minister for that reassurance as to process and to other noble and learned Lords for their exposition of the responsibilities on the Lord Chief Justice, the Judicial College and so on. I have yet to be reassured, however, about the adequacy of funding for this training or the adequacy of funding to the MoJ to deal with, among other things, this recruitment crisis. I fear that we may have to return to this matter but, for the moment at least, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 1.

Amendment 1 withdrawn.

Amendment 2

Moved by Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames

2: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—“Report on the impact of the provisions under section 1 on the diversity of the judiciary(1) The Secretary of State must carry out an assessment of the impact of the provisions under section 1 of this Act on the diversity of the judiciary.(2) This assessment must make reference to whether increasing flexibility in the deployment of judges has had an impact on the diversity of the judiciary.(3) The Secretary of State must lay a report of the assessment before both Houses of Parliament within one year of this Act passing.”

Photo of Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Justice)

My Lords, I said at Second Reading that I regarded the area of judicial diversity as a significant one for the improvement of the Bill. Amendment 2 is an attempt—drawn as widely as possible while keeping it within scope—to retain the Government’s focus on the need to have judicial diversity at the centre of their programme for the modernisation of the courts.

I am not one who believes that the Government do not understand the need for the judiciary to look, feel, seem and actually be more similar to and representative of the public at large, whose cases and disputes it is their job to determine and resolve. Often, such disputes involve very human problems. Only as recently as 24 April, the Lord Chancellor wrote jointly with the Lord Chief Justice and the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, the chairman of the Judicial Appointments Commission, to your Lordships’ Constitution Committee to announce a funded programme to encourage applicants for judicial office, aimed partly at increasing the diversity of successful applicants by providing targeted support to underrepresented groups.

However, I emphasise that the importance of this issue has become all the greater as the number of unrepresented litigants in civil and criminal courts has increased. It was bad, but not so bad perhaps, when advocates looked and sounded like me and perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and we addressed judges in court who looked and sounded like the former judges in this House, for whom we all have the greatest of respect and affection. But a great deal of modern litigation in courts and a great many cases in tribunals are not like that at all. Litigants are often representing themselves or are represented by informal McKenzie friends. It makes it no better that they are often opposed by more powerful parties represented by qualified lawyers whom they perceive, probably rightly, in part at least, as having an understanding with the judge or tribunal that leaves them at a serious disadvantage. I fear that, for too many unrepresented litigants, we lawyers, judges and tribunal members often sound as if we come from another planet.

Judicial diversity will not solve all these problems but it can do a lot to help. We have come a long way in securing better representation of women on the Bench. It is now somewhere between 20% and 25%, but that is nowhere near enough. The recent and frankly long-overdue appointment to the Supreme Court of Lady Arden has of course helped, but we need the appointment of more women at all levels of the judiciary. In 2010, the report of the advisory panel chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, on improving judicial diversity pointed out that there was no easy route to achieving a representative judiciary. It made a large number of important recommendations which were widely welcomed by the professions and the Bench but which, frankly, have not been addressed with the full-hearted commitment that they demanded.

From 2010 to 2014 we had the work of the judicial diversity task force which reported on progress in implementing the recommendations of the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, but which was left with the uncomfortable view that there was still a great deal to be done. Since then there has been some progress, but it has been painfully slow. Even the most enthusiastic optimist would struggle to discern even the beginnings of anything approaching a transformation. In 2013 we had the so-called tipping-point amendment to the Crime and Courts Act, which I enthusiastically supported, but which, while useful, I do not now perceive as having made a great deal of difference. I have no doubt that the Judicial Appointments Board under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, has continued to press for further improvement. So, why is there the relative failure?

On the recruitment of more women, I suspect that we have simply failed to acknowledge and understand the way in which women’s expectations of work/life balance have changed. Women, particularly professional women, are tending to have children later. That means that their childcare responsibilities carry on later into their lives. At the same time, an ageing population means that obligations to look after elderly parents go on longer. These long-term developments have all been happening against a background where judges have been appointed at a younger age than before and where they have had to serve longer in order to qualify for a full pension.

At the same time, in something of a perfect storm, changes and efficiencies—in themselves desirable—in court procedures have meant that the volume of pretrial reading and the writing of reserved judgments have increased exponentially, so that the demands on judges’ out-of-court time have become ever more severe. It is no wonder that against that background the Lord Chief Justice had cause to complain in his Mansion House speech last week that, for the fourth year running, High Court vacancies would not be filled and there was a risk that we would be 20% short of High Court judges. The difficulties of accepting an appointment are therefore much more serious for women, as well as for men, with caring responsibilities. Just imagine being sent on the circuit for six weeks as a civil lawyer to try crime with one child at home doing GCSEs, another struggling with A-levels and an elderly parent in poor health who needs regular attention.

The difficulty lies not just with attracting women to apply for the Bench. We have been hopelessly unsuccessful in attracting ethnic minority applicants to the Bench and to tribunal membership. With 14% of the population being of ethnic minority origin, there are no Court of Appeal judges of ethnic minority origin and only 1% of High Court judges and 1.4% of circuit judges are of ethnic minority origin. The recommendations made by Justice in its 2017 paper Increasing Judicial Diversity would make a good start. But that means positive targets for selection bodies and an obligation to report on progress to the Justice Select Committee. It means a responsibility on selectors and the judiciary as a whole to play their part in encouraging more diverse candidates to apply. It involves assembling lists or pools of judges who might be suitable for each court or tribunal, and the flexibility in deployment in this Bill may play a part in that. It involves an external and rigorous review of selection processes and trying to give junior lawyers who join the Bench at a lower level a realistic chance of being promoted to more senior positions. Most of all, it involves improving the attraction of a judicial career and working conditions. It is not necessarily the case that flexible working times or part-time working will always be the answer. We need to develop a combination of working patterns that attracts, suits and retains the maximum number of diverse candidates. We need to make a positive effort to search out candidates from regional solicitors’ firms and sets of chambers, well outside the traditional range of metropolitan firms and metropolitan sets.

In turn, the professions need to work to ensure that life as a junior lawyer is both rewarding and flexible enough to fit in with family life, because we need to help at that stage of people’s careers as well. While at the moment solicitors do this better than barristers, both sides of the profession are pretty hopeless. Junior solicitors in corporate departments or in litigation can be kept in their offices well into the night for weeks on end. That would not be acceptable in many organisations in either the public or private sector and is no way to encourage diversity, and if we do not secure diverse professions then we will not secure diverse judges and tribunal members. We must all do better.

I hope that flexible deployment may help. It should help in building up a pool of suitable candidates. However, I sound a note of caution about judge arbitrators, whose appointment is encouraged in the Bill. I appear as an advocate in a number of arbitrations, and a system is developing in which there is a kind of macho determination to make everyone appearing in an arbitration work as hard as possible so as to conclude hearings in the shortest possible time. That is often enough to put off able advocates from this kind of work. Arbitrations have a great role to play in dispute resolution but those involved in them at all levels also have their role to play in broadening and improving professional and judicial life.

These solutions are not easy to achieve but they are perceptible and the goal is important. I hope my modest amendment to this limited Bill may play its part in moving us all towards that goal. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Pannick Lord Pannick Crossbench 4:00 pm, 10th July 2018

My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Marks, for managing to table an amendment to this anodyne Bill that raises an issue of real significance. I say simply that it is a remarkable achievement for the Government to bring forward a Bill on courts and tribunals that ignores all the serious problems facing our justice system, not simply diversity but the recruitment crisis, the crisis in legal aid, the appalling state of the judicial estate and the vital need for modernisation.

Photo of Lord Beecham Lord Beecham Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Housing)

My Lords, I concur with the remarks of the noble Lords, Lord Pannick and Lord Marks. I remind the House that I have a parental interest in these matters in that my daughter is a barrister and sits as a part-time district judge. We support the amendment, particularly because of the concern about both gender and ethnic representation in the judicial system, which is currently well below what should be expected.

I have only one reservation about the amendment, which is that it calls for a report to be laid within a year of the Act passing. That does not seem to be a reasonably long enough period in which to judge the extent to which progress is being made. I would have thought that if the Government were disposed to accept the principle here, and I hope they would be, a more realistic period of two to three years would be one in which we would be able to genuinely measure whether there was an impact that all of us around the House would wish to see. Subject to that, we certainly support the principles of the amendment and I hope the Government will look at it sympathetically.

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, this amendment would require the Secretary of State to assess and report on the impact on judicial diversity of the measures before noble Lords today.

The judiciary already has wide powers to deploy judges between jurisdictions in our courts and tribunals. The judicial deployment measures in the Bill are intended to amend existing legislation in specific areas to enhance these powers to ensure that judges continue to be deployed where needed and appropriate. Being able to make the best use of judges’ time and expertise to react to changes in case loads of different jurisdictions has benefits for all court and tribunal users.

The measures are targeted to specified judicial roles and are intended to fill gaps in existing deployment measures. They are therefore limited in scope. As the measures are about how our existing judiciary may be deployed, they do not impact directly on new appointments to the judiciary.

Implementing these measures will largely follow existing processes by which the senior judiciary authorise judges to sit in additional courts or tribunals. In the interests of fairness and transparency, where it is appropriate in accordance with the circumstances of each case, deployment decisions will be taken following an expression of interest exercise across the eligible pool of judges.

Increases in flexible deployment may enable individuals to gain valuable experience in sitting in other jurisdictions. For example, the measure which provides for the 14 senior employment judges also to be judges of the unified tribunals may enable them to demonstrate their competencies across a broader range of case types. This may in future result in more diverse appointments to higher courts and tribunals.

I am sure that all Members of your Lordships’ House would agree with many or most of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Marks. I, too, have a long-standing interest in this area. However, I was struck by the assumption he sometimes seems to hold that only women have caring responsibilities. I hope he will agree that men should care, too.

I am happy to place on record this Government’s commitment to working with the judiciary and the Judicial Appointments Commission to increase judicial diversity. We have seen gradual improvements in gender and ethnic diversity since 2014, but we know that there is more to do to improve judicial diversity at all levels. For example, the representation of men and women from BAME communities has increased from 6% to 7% in the courts and from 9% to 10% in tribunals, and the first BAME judge was appointed to the Court of Appeal in 2017. The judiciary publishes annual judicial diversity statistics, and this year’s publication will take place on Thursday.

It is important for the quality, independence and impartiality of our judges that we always appoint the most talented candidates on merit. We know that there are many talented potential candidates from a diverse range of backgrounds and we want to encourage and support even more of them to apply for judicial office. That is why the Ministry of Justice strongly supports the work of the Judicial Diversity Forum and works as part of the forum alongside legal professional bodies, judicial representatives and the Judicial Appointments Commission to co-ordinate action to increase judicial diversity.

In April we announced funding for a pre-application judicial education programme, PAJE, which will provide information and support to those considering a judicial role, and will be targeted in particular at those from underrepresented groups. This is very much a partnership project, and the Ministry of Justice is working closely with the Judicial College, members of the judiciary, the Bar Council, the Law Society and the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives to finalise the programme content. We anticipate that the first candidates will be able to participate in PAJE in early 2019.

There are several other initiatives and support schemes for potential candidates from diverse groups that are run by the Judicial Office and the legal professions, and supported by the Judicial Appointments Commission. These include outreach events, judicial-run workshops and mentoring schemes.

The Lord Chancellor is personally committed to working with the Lord Chief Justice and the chair of the Judicial Appointments Commission to consider all practical actions that would impact positively on diversity, assess the impact of our existing activities and measure progress. The Lord Chancellor appears regularly before the Justice Select Committee and the Lords Constitution Committee on matters relating to the judiciary, including diversity. We think that this is the appropriate and proportionate way of advising noble Lords on actions that we are taking to improve judicial diversity.

I hope that what I have said has reassured the noble Lord of our commitment to improving judicial diversity—

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Shadow Attorney General

I apologise for intervening. Before the noble Baroness sits down—I love this convention—I was just thinking about her comments on meritocracy and the importance of having merit. Surely she is not suggesting an inherent tension between merit and diversity. I was a little concerned that she might be satisfied with the current pace of change. Have I misunderstood that? Is she not impatient for a greater speed of change in this area, in the light of the constitutional and public concerns aired by the noble Lord, Lord Marks?

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 4:15 pm, 10th July 2018

I think that the noble Baroness is perhaps not entirely understanding my comments. It is absolutely key that we get the best candidates into the job. The point of this is to make sure that the pool of possible candidates is as broad as possible. No candidate, whether they be from a BAME community, female or disabled, should be left out of the pool—and from that pool it is important that we select those candidates who are the best for that particular job.

I hope that, in the light of my comments, the noble Lord will be content to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Justice)

My Lords, when the Minister started her response, I was tempted to accuse her of complacency. However, I now accept, after the length of her speech and what she said subsequently, that that was directed only to the limited ambit of the Bill.

On the subject of men’s caring responsibilities, I think she will find that Hansard will show that I specifically mentioned them—although I may have emphasised women’s. But as a father of seven, it would be wrong for me to omit mention of caring responsibilities myself. I should also perhaps have echoed the parental declaration of interest of the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, because one of my children is a solicitor.

I respond to the point that the Minister made about merit regardless of all. The whole point of the tipping amendment that we tabled to the courts Bill was to ensure that, where there were candidates of equal merit, it was permissible to choose a candidate who had a protected characteristic over an equally qualified candidate, in much the same way as happens in organisations across the land. That ought to be important.

Finally, I do not accuse the Minister of complacency. What she said plainly showed that the Government do care. However, I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, in attacking this Bill for its failure to address the very real problems and make good the promise of modernisation of the courts in a comprehensive fashion. I know that the noble and learned Lord has told us that other legislation will follow on the modernisation of the courts, but there are real issues to address, and judicial diversity is one of them. Saying that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 2 withdrawn.

Clause 2 agreed.

Clause 3: Authorised court and tribunal staff: legal advice and judicial functions

Amendment 3

Moved by Baroness Chakrabarti

3: Clause 3, page 3, line 24, leave out subsection (3) and insert—“( ) A statutory instrument containing regulations under this section may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.”

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Shadow Attorney General

My Lords, currently the Bill provides that regulations under Clause 3 shall be made under the negative resolution procedure and then interact with rules of court to be made and come into force without the need for parliamentary scrutiny altogether. This stipulation of which judicial functions may be delegated and to whom, and an authorised person’s requisite qualifications or experience, is to be provided with quite light parliamentary scrutiny. I would be grateful to the noble and learned Lord or the noble Baroness if they would say a little more in their reply about the relationship between the regulations and the rules for those purposes.

Since the fall of the Prisons and Courts Bill last year, there has been no parliamentary scrutiny, even by the Justice Committee, of the Government’s ambitious programme of expensive modernisation measures or the associated court closures and staff cuts. By providing that regulations in the Bill be made under the negative resolution procedure, the Government seem once more to be seeking to avoid proper parliamentary scrutiny, even in relation to quite significant changes to our justice system.

At Second Reading, in response to similar concerns, the Minister said that,

“the purpose of primary legislation is to implement law, not to review that which we can already do”.—[Official Report, 20/6/18; col. 2053.]

On reflection, I respectfully disagree with that constitutional analysis. To my mind, the legislative process is to create law and certainly, at times, to review, direct and even constrain government policy, particularly when it has the potential profoundly to impact on our justice system. Without careful scrutiny and additional safeguards, this governmental drip feed may be capable of eroding some of our most fundamental institutions. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Judge Lord Judge Judge

My Lords, there should be an upgrade here, in accordance with the proposed amendment.

Photo of Lord Beith Lord Beith Liberal Democrat

My Lords, one of the things that might be reviewed is how the arrangements for delegating decisions work in the context—mentioned by my noble friend—of a large number of litigants in person. This number has increased since the withdrawal and limiting of legal aid. Court officials find themselves giving forms of advice to unrepresented litigants, if only to ensure that the court can proceed with the minimum of chaos and disruption. A clerk in a county court, for example, may simply remind the litigant of what the court needs to know in order to resolve a case and what would not be advantageous to spend lots of time on. That is a valuable function. Of course, legal advice can go far beyond that into areas on which it would be wholly inappropriate for a court official to give, or purport to give, advice. Wise officials make quite clear the limit of what they can say.

By whatever mechanism we review these provisions, whether it is that suggested in the amendment or the reasonably adequate existing ones offered by the Justice Select Committee and Constitution Committee, we should look at them in a context in which officials are being asked for advice or guidance by people who are not represented.

Photo of Lord Pannick Lord Pannick Crossbench

My Lords, I echo the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge. We are dealing here—at least potentially—with matters of significant constitutional concern. The power which the Secretary of State or Lord Chancellor is being given includes a power to make “consequential provision”. That is a very broad phrase: it is not merely transitional, or transitory or saving, it is consequential—something that is a consequence of that which is in the legislation. It is, therefore, entirely appropriate that this amendment should be approved by this House.

Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench

My Lords, on the matter of meeting the new challenge of litigants in person, particularly in the family courts, I highlight the value of the family, drug and alcohol court national unit. While the national unit supports these drug and alcohol courts for children in the public law system, the same judges—and I imagine the same clerks—also work in public family law. The wonderful thing about this unit is that it supports judges, clerks and the administration in family courts to become better at their job; better at managing these cases which are often very difficult and troubling.

So when the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen of Elie, writes to me—I am grateful to him for his letter today on the matter of the Family Drug and Alcohol Court National Unit—and says that the responsibility is now passing down to local authorities, I hear what he says and understand why he says it. However, there is a distinct benefit to the judiciary and the courts in training them to be more effective in working with these families, particularly now that they are often litigants in person. I therefore hope that he may keep an open mind, and that perhaps he will be persuaded that some money should come from central government for this special national unit for supporting family drug and alcohol courts.

We have a challenge with regard to the many families in this country who are struggling to stay together or to manage amicably and effectively a separation with the least damage to their children. Having well-equipped judges and clerks in the courts to help this process is vital, and I suggest to the noble and learned Lord that this special national unit can help with that.

Photo of Lord Keen of Elie Lord Keen of Elie The Advocate-General for Scotland, Lords Spokesperson (Ministry of Justice)

My Lords, Amendment 3 relates to the power in Clause 3 for the Secretary of State to make consequential, transitional, transitory or saving provisions in relation to the authorised staff provisions by way of regulations. It provides that they are subject to a process of negative resolution by Parliament, while the amendment seeks to apply the affirmative resolution procedure.

We believe that it is necessary to take the power in Clause 3(2) to avoid any implementation difficulties or legislative inconsistencies that could arise from changing the law. We have already identified consequential amendments to primary legislation and have made provision for them in the Schedule to the Bill. The necessary changes to secondary legislation may not become apparent until after the provisions in the Bill are implemented; therefore, this power is needed so that the authorised staff provisions can be given full effect. However, I emphasise that it is not concerned with making consequential amendments to primary legislation, for which provision is already made in the Schedule, and so this is a narrow power. As I indicated, the power cannot be used to amend primary legislation, so in these circumstances we considered that the negative resolution procedure is entirely appropriate.

I hear what noble Lords and noble and learned Lords have said about moving from the negative to the affirmative procedure, and I will give further thought to that. However, at this stage I invite the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, to withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Shadow Attorney General

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister, and in particular to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, for their kind encouragement. In the light of all that, I am happy at this stage to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 3 withdrawn.

Clause 3 agreed.

Amendment 4 not moved.

Clause 4 agreed.

The Schedule: Authorised court and tribunal staff: legal advice and judicial functions

Amendment 5

Moved by Baroness Chakrabarti

5: The Schedule, page 6, line 36, at end insert—“( ) is a qualified solicitor, barrister or chartered legal executive with more than three years’ experience post-qualification, and”

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Shadow Attorney General

My Lords, I will also speak to Amendments 6 and 7. These amendments in aggregate stipulate that authorised persons must have the following minimum legal qualifications: to be,

“a qualified solicitor, barrister or chartered legal executive with more than three years’ experience post-qualification”,

as recommended by the Law Society. Clause 3 delegates judicial functions to authorised staff, which must be understood in the broader context of the wider reform agenda and the austerity measures behind it. The savings generated through the proposed reforms will arise only through the reduction of the court estate, together with savings in judicial salaries. Further proposals include the relocation to new off-site service centres of many case management functions, listings and scheduling, which currently take place within court buildings with the benefit of on-site judicial supervision. The implication has to be that these off-site service centres will be supervised by authorised staff and not by judges. Concerns about that eventuality are hardly assuaged by the assurance in the related policy note that authorised staff will remain under the supervision of the judiciary if the judiciary are not on site.

The prospect of authorised staff performing judicial functions when they are not subject to the training, experience, ethos and oaths of professional judges but are employed directly by HMCTS raises questions of accountability and independence, and concerns that they might be subject to administrative pressures, such as meeting HMCTS targets. Without reasonable limits on who can be authorised, this delegation has the potential to change the essential nature of our judicial system. Transparent and public scrutiny by parliamentarians with a democratic mandate is necessary. Although I acknowledge that the remit of the relevant procedure rule committee is to set out requirements, procedure is a different matter from this kind of delegation and the issue of setting out qualifications.

Procedure rule committees are of course made up predominantly of senior judges, who are under the pressures and financial constraints that we have addressed throughout our consideration of the Bill, so it is perhaps a little unfair to place them under those pressures and then require them to prescribe the delegation—in effect, marking their own homework. There are implications here for the rule of law and the independence of judicial decision-making, and we argue that such a shift would potentially fall short of the reasonable expectations held by members of the public of the appropriate level of experience and independence of those making judicial decisions about their fundamental rights.

The amendment sets a very low level of qualification for an authorised person and we do not see why the Government cannot accept it. I note that the Minister has pointed out, and will no doubt do so again, that three years’ post-qualification experience, which is what we seek, is a higher bar than that currently required of assistant justices’ clerks. However, such staff do not currently perform judicial functions, let alone the range of judicial functions that, under the Bill, might be performed in the future. Therefore, if there is to be uniformity in practice, we can surely set the bar for qualification at three years’ post-qualification experience, which is not a very high level. One has to ask whether the reluctance on the part of the Government to set minimum post-qualification periods is down to fiscal concerns about staff salaries. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to those concerns. I beg to move.

Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench 4:30 pm, 10th July 2018

My Lords, I understand that the purpose of the amendment is to ease the burden on the courts. In a statement last year, the President of the Family Division highlighted the ever-increasing burden on the public side of the family courts as the number of children taken into local authority care accelerates. This is an area of the courts that is experiencing a lot of pressure, and I just want to highlight to the noble and learned Lord and to the Committee that problem-solving courts can also be a good solution to the pressures on our courts. The family drug and alcohol courts are a good solution to reducing the pressure on the courts and might help to limit the use of the innovation to which the Schedule refers.

The founder of the family drug and alcohol courts, District Judge Nicholas Crichton, highlights that the problem-solving courts are much less adversarial and more solution based. For instance, one often finds with children being taken into care that a young, teenage mother addicted to drugs and alcohol will have one child and that child will be removed. She will promptly have another child, and then another child, and each one will be removed. However, if one treats the mother’s addiction and gets her off alcohol and drugs, which the family drug and alcohol court is good at doing, she may well stick with the one child or the second child, and this eases the burden on the public family courts. I recognise that the Schedule seeks to deal with the heavy burden on our courts. I encourage the Minister to look carefully at developments in this area and to consider problem-solving courts as another way of dealing with this issue.

The family drug and alcohol courts highlight the value of the achievement of District Judge Nicholas Crichton in introducing them. The Government have generously funded them from the beginning, through both the Department for Education and the Ministry of Justice, and it is highly commendable that they have invested in this important new approach to keeping families together and stopping children from being removed into local authority care unnecessarily.

Photo of Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury Judge

My Lords, the noble Baroness is right to be concerned about the expertise and experience of the people who make decisions. My concern about the amendment is that it puts a potential straitjacket on the ability to appoint the appropriate people to make appropriate decisions. There will be many decisions where people with her requisite experience would be appropriate, but there will be others where less experience would be adequate for the decision-making.

Given that the rules which will set out the requirements will have to be laid before Parliament, and that many of the decisions outside the rules are made, effectively, by the Lord Chief Justice, while what the noble Baroness said has considerable force in some circumstances, it would unsatisfactorily reduce the flexibility of these proposals. They are largely not concerned with the problems of judicial recruitment which have been canvassed in the House today—which any self-respecting former judge, such as myself, is concerned about—but, none the less, the proposals in the amendment would unduly constrain the flexibility which the measures in the Schedule sensibly envisage.

Photo of Lord Keen of Elie Lord Keen of Elie The Advocate-General for Scotland, Lords Spokesperson (Ministry of Justice)

I am obliged to the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, the noble Earl and the noble and learned Lord for their contributions.

There are two strands to this group of amendments, and it is important to differentiate between them at the outset. Amendments 5 and 6 relate to the qualifications for staff providing legal advice; Amendment 7 relates to the qualifications for staff exercising judicial functions. For those staff authorised to provide legal advice to judges at the family court and magistrates, the measures in this Bill replace existing statutory provision for legal advice to be provided by justices’ clerks and assistant clerks. In future, the function of giving legal advice will be exercised by a member of court or tribunal staff authorised by the Lord Chief Justice, or at least a party nominated by him.

Currently, there are different provisions governing the qualifications required of justices’ clerks and assistant clerks. The qualifications required of justices’ clerks are set out in statute. Those for assistant clerks, however, are provided in regulations made by the Lord Chancellor under the powers in Section 27 of the Courts Act 2003. Broadly, an assistant clerk must be a barrister in England and Wales, or a solicitor of the senior courts of England and Wales, or have passed the necessary exams for either of those professions, or have qualified as a legal adviser under historical rules that were in place prior to 1999. The vast majority of legal advice is currently provided by assistant justices’ clerks.

The position in the Bill is that the qualifications required for staff to be authorised to provide legal advice to justices of the peace and family court judges will also be specified by the Lord Chancellor in regulations, and the regulations must be made with the agreement of the Lord Chief Justice, which provides a further important check on this power. The Government take the view that regulations will provide a flexible and proportionate approach to establishing the right qualifications for those authorised staff providing legal advice to judges of the family court and magistrates. I note the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Neuberger, about avoiding a straitjacket so far as these matters are concerned.

I understand the desire of the noble Baroness to see more detail of how our proposals will work in practice. In order to assist the debate on this matter, yesterday we published a draft of the regulations setting out the qualifications for those authorised staff giving legal advice. These regulations broadly reflect the legal qualifications currently required by assistant clerks, with the important addition of fellows of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives or those who have passed the necessary examinations to be a CILEx fellow. While the Government do not envisage that the regulation-making power will need to be exercised regularly, it would allow us to reflect any developments in the legal profession as to qualifications required to practise. The addition of CILEx fellows is an example of where this flexibility might well be needed.

I should add that Amendments 5 and 6 would impose a much stricter requirement than the current arrangements. Some of our legal advisers qualified through a scheme which has not been available since 1999, which did not result in qualification as solicitors, barristers or fellows of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives. In addition, those who have completed the necessary examinations to become barristers in England and Wales or solicitors may become assistant clerks. The current practice works well and demonstrates that assistant clerks are appropriately qualified and experienced for the role they undertake, and we intend to retain these provisions in the new regulations. However, the approach taken by Amendments 5 and 6 would exclude some of our best and most experienced legal advisers. That, I would suggest, cannot be right. I want to be very clear about the Government’s intention. Legal advice will continue to be provided by authorised court and tribunal staff with appropriate legal qualifications as it is now. The draft regulations, which we have published, seek to confirm this.

Turning now to Amendment 7, as I have said, the powers in Clause 3 and the Schedule are not entirely new. For example, in the First-tier Tribunal and Upper Tribunal there is already a power for rules to provide for the exercise of judicial functions by staff. The most basic functions, such as issuing standard directions at the commencement of a case, can be carried out in some tribunal jurisdictions by authorised staff with no legal qualifications. Slightly more complex functions, such as applications for postponements of hearings, extensions of time, withdrawals and reinstatements, can be undertaken by caseworkers who have legal qualifications. The most complex of the delegated functions, such as the consideration of late appeals, are generally reserved to registrars who are legally qualified and have legal experience. It is not necessary for all authorised staff exercising judicial functions to possess legal qualifications, as many will be carrying out routine, straightforward tasks. Where powers currently exist, rule committees are already used to determining the qualifications needed for staff to exercise particular functions, and this works well. Again I note the observations of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Neuberger, about not placing these matters into an unnecessary straitjacket.

The Bill will allow the relevant procedure rule committees to set requirements relating to the necessary qualifications or experience of such staff. The committees are best placed to assess these requirements for their jurisdictions in light of the functions that they are authorising staff to exercise. As a further safeguard, a member of staff will not be able to exercise judicial functions until they have been authorised to do so by the Lord Chief Justice or his nominee, or by the Senior President of Tribunals or his delegate. Authorisations are therefore ultimately the responsibility of the judiciary, and they will not authorise staff unless satisfied as regards their competence.

As with Amendments 5 and 6, setting the qualifications bar as high as in Amendment 7 would rule out a large proportion of courts staff from exercising judicial functions, even though they might have been doing so for a number of years. Such a loss of expertise would render the provisions in Clause 3 and in the Schedule essentially unworkable. Based on that explanation, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, will feel able not to press her amendment.

I add only two further points. I note what the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, said about the family drug and alcohol courts. I have written to him on this subject and he is not one to give it up. I understand the importance of these courts and the point that he seeks to make, albeit it does not impact directly on these amendments.

A further question was raised by my noble friend Lady McIntosh, who is no longer in the Chamber, on consultation with justices’ clerks regarding these proposals. The Government consulted on the role of justices’ clerks in 2016, and justices’ clerks responded to that consultation. There is nothing in the reforms touching on justices’ clerks in this context that will directly lead to staff having to travel further for the purposes of their engagement in these matters. With that explanation, and having regard to the fact we have now published the draft regulations, I again invite the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, not to press her amendments.

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Shadow Attorney General 4:45 pm, 10th July 2018

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that. I certainly do not seek to place a straitjacket on reasonable management of the court system, but I am still concerned about the breadth of this power to delegate judicial functions in particular. These amendments, which are probing at this stage, are all of a piece. In the light of the further debate to come, for the time being I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 5 withdrawn.

Amendments 6 and 7 not moved.

Amendment 8

Moved by Baroness Chakrabarti

8: The Schedule, page 10, line 33, at end insert—“( ) No authorisation under subsection (2) shall include the power to—(a) make an order of the court which is opposed by one or more party,(b) make any order of the court in a civil claim with a value of more than £25,000,(c) make any order of the court with a penal notice or power of arrest,(d) make any order of the court in a matter in which one or more parties lack capacity as defined in section 2(1) of the Mental Capacity Act 2005,(e) make any order of the court in a matter in which one or more witnesses are a vulnerable witness as defined in section 16(1) of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999,(f) make any order of the court under section 37 of the Senior Courts Act 1981 for an injunction, including any freezing order,(g) make any order of the court, referred to as a “search order”, under section 7 of the Civil Procedure Act 1997,(h) make any order of the court as to costs,(i) make any order of the court concerning expert evidence,(j) take a plea from a defendant in criminal proceedings, or(k) make any other determination which is dispositive of the cause.”

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Shadow Attorney General

My Lords, in moving Amendment 8, I will speak to Amendment 10. Once more, these amendments would place restrictions in the Bill as to what type of function will be permitted to be delegated to authorised persons. The previous amendments were about who might be an authorised person. The restrictions this time include that no authorisation,

“shall include the power to … make an order of the court which is opposed by one or more party … make any order of the court in a civil claim with a value of more than £25,000 … make any order of the court with a penal notice or power of arrest”.

The stated intent of the policy of delegating judicial powers is to improve the efficiency of the courts service by diverting judges’ time from routine administrative tasks to allow them to focus their time and expertise on more complex and significant matters. However, there must be reasonable limits to what powers can be given to authorised persons who are not judges. Without those limits, we have a power that has the potential to change the essential nature of our judicial system. I am sure that this is not the Government’s intention, but we need to construct this power for future Governments of whatever stripe because significant judicial power should be exercised by judges.

While it is almost impossible to create a definitive or exhaustive list of appropriate judicial functions for the delegations that will cover every tribunal and eventuality, it is reasonable to expect some red lines and limits relating to the most significant decisions and exercise of power. It does not seem unreasonable to ask that Parliament have an opportunity to set out a framework for such delegation and to exclude decisions that deprive an individual of their liberty or of life-changing sums of money for most people, and decisions that parties have contested or those involving vulnerable witnesses or people lacking mental capacity.

Other provisions in the amendment provide a mop-up of what might provide a red line around a decision which could dispose of a matter altogether. Lord Briggs drew such a line in his civil court structure review, at caseworkers making dispositive decisions, which he saw essentially as a judicial role. All delegated functions in the civil jurisdiction are routine case management functions and are often confined to cases where all parties consent. Legal advisers do not currently make decisions that represent a final determination and a party may request reconsideration of any decision of a legal adviser within 14 days of being served notice of it. Are these not therefore reasonable restrictions to place on delegated functions in the context of criminal proceedings, where so much is potentially at stake? The MoJ’s own factsheet on delegation to staff says that delegated decisions are unlikely to involve contested matters. Why not put such a reasonable restriction in the Bill, given that many case management decisions are potentially important judicial functions that should not be delegated?

In addition to concerns about transparency, there is a danger that efficiencies gained by delegating case management decisions will be lost if the court then has to reconsider such decisions at a later stage in the process. Further, if one accepts the case for the limited delegation of some of the most straightforward decisions to such authorised staff, one has to raise concerns that these relatively low-paid staff—HMCTS staff being paid less than other government lawyers—are being used to save money without proper remuneration for their increased workload. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Justice)

My Lords, I have some sympathy with two of the new paragraphs proposed in the amendments. I have sympathy with those relating to orders of the tribunal or the court with a penal notice or power of arrest. I have some sympathy, too, with the restriction on the power of a court to make an order under Section 37 of the Senior Courts Act for an injunction, including any freezing order, and the corresponding power for the tribunal.

I am afraid that is as far as my support goes for the noble Baroness’s amendment, because all the other powers may be entirely trivial. In particular, the noble Baroness places reliance on the idea that a contested order should not be made. Some contested orders are unbelievably trivial. If I seek a 14-day extension for the service of my defence and the other side says that I should do it in seven, and the authorised person says, “Well, you can have 10”, the idea that he or she should not have the power to make that order is wrong.

One has to leave it to the good sense of the rule committees to decide where it is sensible that such restrictions should be drawn. Injunctions are in a different category and where the liberty of the individual is at stake we have a different category, but otherwise I am afraid I cannot support the amendments.

Photo of Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury Judge

My Lords, I applaud the noble Baroness’s concerns, which, as in the previous amendments, are directed towards ensuring that the high standards of justice in this country are maintained.

I echo to a considerable extent what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Marks. However, in the end, these are matters for the rule committee. There are two protected factors: one is that nothing can be done without it being in the rules, and the second is that the Lord Chief Justice needs to give his or her authorisation to the person who makes the decision. The other amendment concerns the Senior President of Tribunals. With the rules, there is the protection of them having to be laid before Parliament, and therefore any restrictions of the sort that the noble Baroness wishes to put forward would have to be considered by the rule committee. If they were not in the rules, and this House felt that they should be, this House would then have an opportunity to see what was said and why. I again suggest that these matters are best left to the rule committee. As the noble Lord has indicated, there is clearly room for disagreement over which items and categories should be included and what should not be included. That is best left to the rule committee and, in due course, to the Lord Chief Justice.

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I thank all contributors to this short debate. These amendments seek to place in the Bill a list of functions that authorised staff would not be permitted to undertake. I ask the same question that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, asked at Second Reading: do we really want to put such restrictions—which he described as a fetter on the administration of justice—in this Bill? An example would be the proposal to prevent authorised officers making orders that are opposed by one or more party. I accept that there will be circumstances in which it could be inappropriate for an authorised member of staff to adjudicate on such a matter. However, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, and the noble Lord, Lord Marks, pointed out, where, for example, the parties to a case are simply disagreeing about a date on which a hearing should be set, should it not be possible for an authorised member of staff to deal with this under the supervision of a judge?

I fully understand the intention behind these amendments and recognise the importance of ensuring that adequate safeguards are in place. Our provisions ensure that the judicial functions that authorised staff may or may not exercise will be subject to appropriate scrutiny by experts, generally in the form of the procedure rule committees. The Bill will also ensure that, where staff are authorised to provide legal advice or to exercise judicial functions, they are suitably experienced and qualified. It is important to recognise that the concept of authorised staff performing judicial functions is not a new one for courts and tribunals. Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service staff can already be authorised to exercise the jurisdiction of almost every court or tribunal, up to and including the High Court and Upper Tribunal. Rule committees already have experience in deciding the functions that such staff may exercise.

I remind noble Lords that the purpose of these provisions is to increase the efficiency of our courts by allowing authorised staff to undertake a wider range of functions under the supervision of judges, so that judges themselves are free to deal with the more complex matters before them. This amendment would not only place unnecessary limitations on what we could achieve in this area but would undermine the progress that we have already made. For example, justices’ clerks and assistant justices’ clerks currently make cost orders and search orders in appropriate cases. They also make orders for special measures for vulnerable defendants, victims and witnesses giving evidence, such as the use of video links and screens. They carry out these tasks efficiently and effectively.

The Bill provisions build on the existing process for assignment of judicial responsibilities in a sensible and proportionate way, and will allow authorised staff to carry out judicial functions in the Crown Court for the first time. Staff will be authorised by the Lord Chief Justice or his nominee and will work under the supervision of the judiciary. The Bill puts decision-making as to which functions may or may not be exercised by authorised staff in the right hands: the procedure rule committees. Here, the powers can be properly scrutinised by judges, practitioners and other interested parties. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, spoke powerfully about his own experience of chairing the Criminal Procedure Rule Committee, the expertise of the committee and the fact that it always managed to reach consensus. The judiciary is ultimately responsible for authorising court and tribunal staff to exercise such functions and, as is currently the case, it will do so only if satisfied as to their competence. As pointed out by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Neuberger, procedure rules are also subject to parliamentary scrutiny via the negative resolution procedure which provides an additional check on these provisions. In the light of the reasons I have set out, I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, will withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Shadow Attorney General 5:00 pm, 10th July 2018

My Lords, I am once again grateful to the Minister and to other noble Lords for engaging in the argument for the amendments. I fully understand that this is all about efficiency, but that is not completely reassuring in the context of the biggest cuts to any department, even in a time of significant austerity.

I fear that the public outside this Palace think of the adjudication of contested matters in a court as a judicial function. That is the general perception of the public of what happens when there is a dispute between parties in the courts. It does not seem unreasonable to suggest, for example, that only a judge should be responsible in court for depriving someone of their liberty, or indeed, for making orders involving large sums of money. Noble Lords will forgive me for saying that even some of the more trivial decisions referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Marks, could be far less than trivial in a given context. I am being offered the reassurance of the procedure rule committee, but delegating judicial functions to non-judges is not a matter of mere procedure.

I am afraid that I feel this is a question of principle, to which we may have to return again on Report. But for the time being, at least, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 8 withdrawn.

Amendment 9

Moved by Baroness Chakrabarti

9: The Schedule, page 11, line 8, at end insert—“67BA Right to judicial reconsideration of decision made by an authorised personA party to any decision made by an authorised person in the execution of the person’s duty as an authorised person exercising a relevant judicial function, by virtue of section 67B(1), may apply in writing, within 14 days of the service of the order, to have the decision reconsidered by a judge of the relevant court within 14 days from the date of application.”

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Shadow Attorney General

My Lords, in moving Amendment 9, I shall also speak to Amendment 11, both of which have been drafted by the Bar Council. The amendments will ensure that a,

“party to any decision made by an authorised person in the execution of … a relevant judicial function”,

or, “of a tribunal”,

“by virtue of section 67B(1)”,

or,

“by virtue of paragraph 3 of Schedule 5”,

respectively,

“may apply in writing, within 14 days of the service of the order, to have the decision reconsidered by a judge of the relevant court within 14 days from the date of application”.

The statutory right of reconsideration sits alongside the other amendments we have been discussing to create some constraint on this delegation of judicial function to non-judges. That approach would allow any,

“party to a decision made by an authorised person … to have the decision reconsidered by a judge”,

as recommended by Lord Justice Briggs in his 2016 report, Civil Courts Structure Review. He said:

“The creation of an extensive right to have the decisions of Case Officers reconsidered by a judge has from the outset been regarded as the natural safety valve for concerns about what was … described as the delegation of judicial functions to persons who are not judges”.

As a minimum safeguard, the right of reconsideration has the benefit of freeing an authorised person from the obligation to produce detailed reasons for every decision, as would be the case if a right of appeal were created. It has the additional benefit of going further than a right of review, guaranteeing judicial oversight of the decision, which a right of review would not ensure.

The statutory right would also ensure compliance with Article 6 of the Convention on Human Rights, which requires decisions by an independent and impartial person. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Justice)

My Lords, I fully support the noble Baroness’s Amendments 9 and 11. It seems to me that the Bar Council is absolutely right to draw a distinction between the nature of rules specifying what decisions can be made by authorised persons and the question of whether such decisions made by authorised persons should be subject to a review.

The noble and learned Lord was good enough to circulate to us not only the draft statutory instrument that he mentioned but the policy statement in support of it. It is quite clear that the procedure rule committees will be responsible for making the decision as to what decisions should be made by authorised persons: that is, the Criminal Procedure Rule Committee, the Family Procedure Rule Committee and the Civil Procedure Rule Committee. Of course, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Neuberger, is right to point out that those rule committees make rules that are both subject to scrutiny by Parliament and subject to approval by the Lord Chief Justice. However, that does not have a bearing on the question of whether decisions, once made, should be reviewable.

I commend these two amendments because they set a simple and short time limit of 14 days for making the application for review, and a further 14 days only for the decision upon that review. Furthermore, I believe that there is some benefit to be gained from uniformity, so that all such decisions made by authorised persons are subject to the same time limits and the same procedure. It seems to me that to have different rules for different types of decisions would be a mistake.

I would of course expect that, in due course, the review provisions would be implemented by applying a test that the decision of an authorised person would be overturned only if it was outwith the range of reasonable responses to the question posed to the authorised person—the traditional appellate test, rather than a fundamental review test. Subject to that, it seems to me that to give an authorised person an unappealable, unreviewable power to make what will sometimes be very important decisions, even if they are sanctioned by the rules, would be going too far. So I support these amendments.

Photo of Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury Judge

My Lords, I have considerable sympathy with these amendments, in the sense that, as the noble Lord, Lord Marks, has said, the idea of a decision being made by a non-judicial person and not being referable to a judicial figure is inconsistent with justice. Whether it is right to provide in such clear terms, and such uncompromising general terms, for the circumstances and requirements for such an appeal seems to me, again, to be questionable. While I absolutely see the requirement for a right of appeal, I would have thought that, again, it would be better to leave it to the rule committee, which, as the noble Baroness has said, consists of experienced people from all aspects of the justice system.

Having chaired the Civil Procedure Rule Committee for three years, I can say, as has been quoted in relation to its criminal equivalent by my noble and learned friend Lord Thomas, that considerable care is given to ensure that all the requirements of justice are met. It is very rare, if ever, that I can remember a decision being arrived at which was not arrived at by consensus. To my mind, in those circumstances, while it is essential that there is this right, it is a right whose details should be worked out, at any rate, by the rule committee—the rules of which, as I have said, sounding like a scratched record, are put to the House.

Photo of Lord Keen of Elie Lord Keen of Elie The Advocate-General for Scotland, Lords Spokesperson (Ministry of Justice)

Again, I am obliged to the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Neuberger, and other noble Lords for their contributions on this matter. Of course, the purpose of the amendments is to give a party in a case the right to request in writing that any decision of an authorised person exercising the functions of a court or tribunal be considered afresh by a judge.

The Schedule to the Bill ensures that the functions of a court or judge that authorised staff may exercise will be determined, and be given appropriate scrutiny, by experts in the form of the independent procedure rule committees. The purpose of these provisions is to enable authorised staff to undertake straightforward case management and preparation duties, thereby freeing up judges to focus on more complex and contentious matters. We are not proposing that these officeholders will undertake, for example, the determination of the final outcome in a contested case. It is our view that a statutory right set out in the Bill to have any decision made by an authorised person considered afresh by a judge would be inappropriate and disproportionate.

I have some sympathy with the intention behind the amendments and the desire to provide protections for court users. Our view, which I believe is reflected in the observations of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Neuberger, is that a decision about whether a right to reconsideration is needed should be left to the experts on the rule committees who are best placed to understand the circumstances in which a review mechanism may be required in their particular jurisdictions. It is not a case of one size fits all. To that extent, I would take issue with the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Marks. The committees should also consider any appropriate time limits for review and the way in which any application should be made. Again, that is essentially a matter for the committees.

These provisions already exist in our procedure rules. Practice Direction 2E of the Civil Procedure Rules makes express provision for review in civil money claims of a decision by a legal adviser. Under the tribunals procedure, in accordance with Rule 4(3) of the Tribunal Procedure (Upper Tribunal) Rules 2008, there may be a review of a decision made by a caseworker. In the magistrates’ court, there is provision for an application to be renewed before the magistrates where it has been dealt with previously by a caseworker. In the Crown Court, there is an inherent jurisdiction to hear such applications at the time of an appropriate hearing. I seek to emphasise that there is a diversity of approaches, all of which generally apply their mind to the question of the review of the decision of a caseworker, and those reflect the views of the relevant rule committee as to what is appropriate for the particular tribunal, court or level of court. That is what we feel should be left open and which would be lost by this amendment.

I go back to an observation that was made earlier, quoting the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, at Second Reading, that,

“detailed restrictions on procedure are a very real fetter on the administration of justice”.—[Official Report, 20/6/18; col. 2039.]

That is what we want to free up here. It is appropriate that these decisions should be made by the procedure rule committees. I hope that in the light of those observations, the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, will see fit to withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Shadow Attorney General

Once more, I am grateful to the Minister and other noble Lords for engaging with this argument. I do not wish to bore your Lordships’ with this, but there are some really serious concerns at play. I am told to be reassured by the rule committees, and of course I hold the rule committees in enormous esteem, but the rule committees cannot provide the funding that would avoid pressure to overdelegate to underqualified people in the future. When I raise these concerns, I am told that I must not worry because of the rule committees.

My second concern is that the public have a real and reasonable expectation that significant contested decisions in a court will be made by a judge; or, if not, at least that there would be a right of appeal or review before a judge. In the light of the repeated reassurances in the context of different attempts to constrain delegation in the Bill, we will have to return to this issue on Report. For the time being, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 9 withdrawn.

Amendments 10 and 11 not moved.

Schedule agreed.

House resumed.

Bill reported without amendment.