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Clause 70 - Criminal Procedure Rule Committee

Courts Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:15 am on 8th July 2003.

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Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath 10:15 am, 8th July 2003

I beg to move amendment No. 137, in

clause 70, page 33, line 9, leave out 'and'.

Photo of Mr Bill O'Brien Mr Bill O'Brien Labour, Normanton

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment No. 138, in

clause 70, page 33, line 11, at end insert

', and

(l) one legal executive who has particular experience of practice in criminal courts.'.

Amendment No. 140, in

clause 77, page 36, line 35, leave out 'and'.

Amendment No. 141, in

clause 77, page 36, line 37, at end insert

', and

(p) one legal executive who has particular experience of practice in family proceedings.'.

Amendment No. 143, in

clause 83, page 38, line 35, leave out 'and'.

Amendment No. 144, in

clause 83, page 38, line 37, at end add

', and

(h) one legal executive who has particular experience of practice in county courts.''.'.

Amendment No. 136, in

clause 105, page 57, line 41, at end insert—

'(10) In this Act ''legal executive'' means a Fellow of the Institute of Legal Executives.'.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

This is a large group of amendments, and I am indebted for them to my friends at the Institute of Legal Executives, who do an excellent job—I hope that the Minister will confirm that—and are part of the backbone of the legal profession in this country.

Most members of the Committee will probably already know that legal executives are employed in solicitors' offices and in local government to conduct criminal work. They have a wide range of responsibilities, including giving advice to clients, preparing cases for trial in both magistrates and Crown courts, and seeing clients at police stations and prisons. Fellows of the Institute of Legal Executives, who specialise in criminal work, are accredited police station representatives, and representatives of the institute have contributed substantially to the review

of the operation of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.

Legal executives employed in local government have rights of audience in a magistrates court under section 223 of the Local Government Act 1972. That allows authorised officers of a local authority to prosecute or defend cases in magistrates courts on behalf of that authority. I know from having worked with many legal executives over the years that it is not easy to obtain a legal executive's professional qualification; a great deal of work and study goes into qualifying as a fellow of the institute, particularly, but much work is also involved in the lower exams.

Legal executives, by virtue of their professional qualifications, their experience of magistrates courts work and the regulatory regime under which they operate, are entirely suitable, in my view, to be considered for appointment to the criminal procedure rule committee. There should be provision in the Bill to provide for legal executives' particular practical expertise at the sharp end of preparing criminal cases to be represented on the criminal procedure rule committee.

I hope that when the Minister responds, he will acknowledge the work that has been done by the Institute of Legal Executives and by all their members, especially their fellows. Even if he cannot accept the amendment today, I hope that he will be prepared to say that the Government will look carefully at the advantage of involving the institute.

We tabled amendment No. 141 to clause 77 on a similar matter. It, too, relates to the role of legal executives in public and private family matters. Legal executives have a wide range of responsibilities, including giving advice and preparing cases for trial in the county court, the High Court and the magistrates court. Anyone who has been involved in family cases, as I have been—I am sure that the hon. Member for Stafford and some other hon. Members will have had similar experiences—knows that a great deal of the work could not be done without experienced legal executives.

Legal executives have rights of audience on family matters in chambers in the county court and in the High Court. Those who are employed in local government have rights of audience in the family proceedings court under the Local Government Act 1972. Those who are authorised as legal executive advocates by the institute have rights of audience in open court, not only in chambers in the county court, as well as before magistrates in family and related proceedings in the family proceedings court. Legal executives who satisfy the Law Society's criteria, by having the required years of experience and the requisite hours of chargeable work, are eligible for membership of Law Society panels, including the family law panel, the family law panel advanced and the family mediation panel. Legal executive advocates are eligible for membership of the children's panel.

We consider that it should be clearly stated in the Bill that the practical expertise of legal executives in

family proceedings should be used on the family procedure rule committee, too. That is why we have suggested amendment No. 141. Similarly, amendment No. 144 relates to the civil procedure rule committee under clause 83. Again, legal executives are heavily involved in the Law Society panels, such as the civil and commercial mediation panel, the clinical negligence panel and the personal injury panel. It would therefore be helpful if it were clearly stated in the Bill that a legal executive who has particular experience of the practice in the county courts could be a member of the civil procedure rule committee. That is the basis on which we are suggesting that improvements could be made in the Bill to recognise the crucial work of legal executives.

I hope that the Minister, even if he cannot accept our amendments, will at least say that the Government will continue to keep the matter in mind and may table amendments at a later stage to incorporate the work of legal executives and the contribution that they can make to the different rule committees.

Photo of Norman Lamb Norman Lamb Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Treasury)

I support the comments made by the hon. Member for Surrey Heath. I speak from experience as a solicitor and, in my early years, as a solicitor in local government, so I am aware of the rights of audience of legal executives in the range of courts described by the hon. Gentleman. Although legal executives may not have the same breadth and depth of training across the range of legal provision as solicitors and barristers, none the less their expertise in the areas in which they specialise is often deep, and well worth acknowledging by giving them a role on the committees that will be established under the Bill.

The Minister ought to respond to the amendments by considering them seriously and giving the fellows of the Institute of Legal Executives the standing that they deserve by allowing them to contribute to the rule-making process.

Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs)

The nature of the work of legal executives is important in ensuring that the legal system in its broadest sense works smoothly and effectively. As the hon. Member for Surrey Heath suggested, I wish to take the opportunity to put on record my thanks to the Institute of Legal Executives for provoking the debate.

I understand that it prompted the hon. Gentleman to table specific amendments for discussion in Committee. It is perfectly legitimate that he has done so, but the amendments are not necessary.

I shall not distinguish between the different natures of criminal, family or civil procedure rule committees, because the reason why the amendments should not be accepted applies to differing circumstances.

For a start, the membership of the committee is already capable of ensuring a broad range of representation, comprising not only the judiciary, the legal profession and the voluntary sector, but individuals from other organisations with particular experience in various jurisdictions. I recognise that important and excellent work is undertaken by legal executives throughout the country, but it would be a

leap to say that the currently suggested members of committees, especially solicitors, could not bring the full coverage of specialist knowledge or value to the process of making procedural rules, and that we would need specifically to make legal executives part of the membership. Those whom we envisage as members of the rules committees will be capable of covering such specialist work adequately.

For example, the civil procedure rule committee will be made up of practising solicitors who have direct experience of the processes in which legal executives become involved. Such people are capable of representing that cadre of interests on the committee. The strategic purpose of the committees is to produce procedural rules that benefit the administration throughout the criminal, family and civil jurisdictions. That requires a broad understanding of the justice system, as well as an understanding of the details of specific court procedures. Adequate specialist interest will be represented.

If a committee is discussing an issue that requires the specific input of legal executives, there will be nothing to prevent it from asking representative organisations for their views or advice. The opportunity for the committee to consult different organisations, including the Institute of Legal Executives and representatives of legal executives in general, will exist. It is possible for committee proceedings to be informed by consultation and dialogue with organisations such as the Institute of Legal Executives. Simply because the committee's membership may not explicitly comprise legal executives, that would not preclude their views from forming part of its consideration.

Photo of Norman Lamb Norman Lamb Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Treasury) 10:30 am, 8th July 2003

Will the criminal procedure rule committee have a role in determining rights of audience before courts?

Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs)

I understand that that will not be the remit of the criminal procedure rule committee—inspiration has struck me just at the right moment, as members of the Committee may have noticed. It would not be right to lose the flexibility of the membership of the committee as set out under the Bill. If circumstance change in future, it is possible that we could alter membership if something was so transparently obvious and we had missed a particular set of expertise from membership of the committee. At present, the composition lists strike the right balance, and in view of the obvious respect that the Committee has shown to the work of legal executives, I hope that hon. Members consider that we have struck the right balance.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

I am disappointed with the Minister's response. It is not good enough to say that solicitors can deal with such matters.

As I made clear, there are many cases in which legal executives do so. They are so much in control of the case at the sharp end, that in many cases their expertise is different from that of solicitors. Given the way in which the rules committees will operate, they would have specific expertise and skill to offer, and it is important to state that in the Bill. I shall therefore press amendment No. 138 to a division when the time

comes—but I beg to ask leave to withdraw amendment No 137.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

I beg to move amendment No. 72, in

clause 70, page 33, line 10, leave out 'appear to'.

Photo of Mr Bill O'Brien Mr Bill O'Brien Labour, Normanton

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 27, in

clause 70, page 33, line 11, at end insert

'one of whom must be from an organisation which represents victims of crime'.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

We are now on to a different subject. I wish to include a requirement in subsection (2)(k) that the people who will be undertaking the work represent voluntary organisations, rather than merely appear to do so. Amendment No. 27 would ensure specific representation for those who are working on behalf of victims of crime.

For many years I have worked with Victim Support, as other hon. Members have, including my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson). Far too often in our criminal courts, the interests of victims are forgotten. I therefore felt that it was important to amend the clause so that it would be clear that the interests of victims of crime would be represented. That is what the amendment seeks to achieve. My argument can be shortly stated, but the brevity of my remarks should not suggest that I do not feel strongly about it.

The Bill deals with the way in which courts will be administered in the future, and if we do not include specific requirements to ensure that the interests of victims of crime are looked after, we will have missed a great opportunity. Conservative Members feel strongly about that matter, and I hope that the Minister will accept the amendment, or something akin to it.

Photo of Angela Watkinson Angela Watkinson Opposition Whip (Commons)

I support the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath on amendments Nos. 72 and 27. Amendment 72 would leave out the words ''appear to'' from clause 70(2)(k). Nowadays, many people of good standing and long service—school governors, for example—are required to take passports to schools to prove their identity to people who have worked with them and known them well for many years. The Lord Chancellor should therefore be able to ensure that people appointed to the criminal procedure rule committee are indeed representatives of voluntary organisations, rather than merely appearing to be so. That is a small point but an important one.

Amendment No. 27 would ensure that one of the people representing voluntary organisations was specifically involved with victim support. There is a perception among the general public, most of whom never come into contact with the courts, and victims of crime, some but by no means all of whom come into contact with courts, that the rights of offenders often take precedence over the rights of victims of crime. The presence of an organisation such as Victim Support would add overt confidence to the system, so I hope that the Minister will support the amendment.

Photo of Norman Lamb Norman Lamb Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Treasury)

I am pleased that voluntary organisations are to be represented on the committee. That makes eminent sense, and it is an advance. I want to press the Minister on what on earth is meant by the words ''appear to''. They seem bizarre, and would be much better left out. On the issue of representation for victims of crime, there is, as has been said, the feeling that victims are ignored as part of the process. That has improved a little of late, and there is now more recognition of their clear and important interest in the process. It is eminently sensible that they be represented by at least one person on the committee.

Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs)

The hon. Member for Surrey Heath did not speak in depth about amendment No. 72, but the hon. Member for Upminster focused on it. It will therefore be useful to deal with the two amendments in the group separately.

I shall explain why the interesting words ''appear to'' are included in the clause. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) gently reminded the Committee about that very matter last week. The reason why the phrase appears in the provisions is to avoid arguments about who is and who is not a representative of a particular organisation. For example, if the president of an organisation proposed a named individual, who was not an elected officer, to represent the organisation, there might be an argument if the clause said that the person concerned ''must'' represent the organisation. The clause says ''appear to'' to ensure that particular individuals can be put forward without getting into formal legal arguments about whether someone is a representative in the strictest sense of the word. That is why an individual who is not necessarily an officer with an executive capacity can be nominated or suggested by a particular body. That is the explanation that I have been given, and I hope that hon. Members can live with it.

Photo of Angela Watkinson Angela Watkinson Opposition Whip (Commons)

I think that the Minister answered the question that was on my lips: will any such representative have been nominated by the organisation?

Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs)

To answer that would then prompt questions about formal nomination and whether there were contested points about who was representative of particular organisations. Flexibility has traditionally been contained in paragraphs such as these to ensure that there is no disagreement about whether somebody represents an organisation in an official capacity.

Photo of Boris Johnson Boris Johnson Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

Is it logically possible for a person to be appointed who does not represent either a voluntary organisation or, as was mentioned in a previous clause, the Association of Chief Police Officers?

Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs)

No. The paragraphs specifically state that persons who appear to represent organisations can be part of the composition of committees. That is clear. The reason why the provision says ''appear to represent'' is to avoid disagreement. For example, a president of a victim support organisation might nominate a longstanding colleague or an affiliate of a particular organisation, who may not be at that time a chief executive or a formal representative of the first

organisation. However, they would still be entitled to come to the committee, even though they did not formally represent that wider organisation.

It would be splitting hairs a little if hon. Members were to seek to push this too far, but if the hon. Gentleman still wishes to raise an issue, this is the place to do it. I do not think that he wishes to do so.

Amendment No. 27 would require that one of the two representatives of voluntary organisations must be from an organisation that represents the victims of crime. We want to broaden the voice of those affected by crime who work in the criminal justice system, which is why we have included certain measures with regard to the establishment of the criminal procedure rules committee. We want to ensure that we have broader coverage and unity across the criminal justice system for procedures in court. Subsection (2)(k) on voluntary organisations has been included so that we can find representatives ''who appear to'' come from those sections of the community and so that they have a voice on a particular committee. That is the intention.

We hope to have representatives of victims' organisations on the criminal procedure rules committee, but it is unnecessary to have an explicit reference, given that it is clear from how we have set out those provisions on the establishment of that committee that there is the capability to have that representation—for the first time, I might add.

Photo of Angela Watkinson Angela Watkinson Opposition Whip (Commons) 10:45 am, 8th July 2003

I would like there to be a provision that avoids both those representatives being representatives of groups that specifically look after the interests of offenders, so that there is a balance on the committee with regard to looking after the rights of offenders and victims.

Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs)

I entirely accept that point, which is reasonable.

More than two different voluntary organisations are involved in this work. We want sufficient flexibility to ensure that we get the broadest possible representation on the committee, which is why it would be wrong to start to subdivide areas where there is already subdivision.

I hope that that comment reassures Committee members that we wish many parts of the community, particularly those affected by crime, to have a voice on procedure rule committees. However, I would not want to pre-empt anything by specifying the individuals who are going to be on them.

I accept the spirit of the points that have been raised. The provision has been included in this clause so that we can have those voices represented on the committees. I hope that Members welcome it as a step forward.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

We welcome the provision as a partial step forward, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster rightly said, our concern is that if the Bill is left in its current form it would be possible for both people who appear to represent voluntary organisations to be from organisations that represent the interests of offenders, rather than those

of victims. That is why both amendments are extremely important. I shall not press both to a Division, however, but I must ask for amendment No. 27 to be put to the vote. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed: No. 27, in

clause 70, page 33, line 11, at end insert

'one of whom must be from an organisation which represents victims of crime'.—[Mr. Hawkins.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 4, Noes 10.

Division number 2 Adults Abused in Childhood — Clause 70 - Criminal Procedure Rule Committee

Aye: 4 MPs

No: 10 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendment proposed: No. 138, in

clause 70, page 33, line 11, at end insert

', and

(l) one legal executive who has particular experience of practice in criminal courts.'.—[Mr. Hawkins.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 4, Noes 11.

Division number 3 Adults Abused in Childhood — Clause 70 - Criminal Procedure Rule Committee

Aye: 4 MPs

No: 11 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

I beg to move amendment No. 73, in

clause 70, page 33, line 17, leave out 'may' and insert 'shall'.

Photo of Mr Bill O'Brien Mr Bill O'Brien Labour, Normanton

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments:

No. 74, in

clause 70, page 33, line 19, after 'Committee', insert

'necessarily incurred in the course of their work as members of the Committee.'.

No. 80, in

clause 77, page 37, line 1, leave out 'may' and insert 'shall'.

No. 81, in

clause 77, page 37, line 2, at end insert

'necessarily incurred in the course of their work as members of the Committee'.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

This is the traditional amendment that would change ''may'' to ''shall''. We think it important that there should be a direct tool for paying

expenses. We have talked at length about the important role that people have in our criminal justice system, and ''shall'' would be much more appropriate than ''may'' in all the examples in which that word appears in the clause. That is a brief point, and I shall listen with interest to what the Minister has to say.

Photo of Norman Lamb Norman Lamb Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Treasury)

It seems appropriate to impose an obligation to reimburse, and also to narrow it down. The clause clearly defines the expenses as those incurred in the course of the work of members of the committee. I therefore support the amendment.

Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs)

I understand that the amendment in many ways mirrors those tabled by Opposition peers in another place and subsequently withdrawn, in that discretion would be removed in the payment of expenses to members of the criminal and family procedure rule committees for their work. Obviously, we want to reimburse the travel and out-of-pocket expenses that committee members necessarily incur in the course of their work.

The provisions in the Bill are identical to those that the Lord Chancellor has in relation to the civil procedure rules committee. Members of that committee are routinely reimbursed for their travel and out-of-pocket expenses, and there have not been any problems with that. We use ''may'' rather than ''shall'' to ensure that there is discretion in paying expenses, that we do not have an open-ended and uncontrolled budget on expenses, and that we also can monitor what the expenditure is on those payments and may ensure that they are made in accordance with departmental financial controls.

If there were a compulsory automatic payment and the word ''shall'' were included, my Department's discretion regarding the payment of those expenses could be inhibited. That is why the word ''may'' is used. I am sure that Committee members would not want that automaticity in the Bill, because it could lead to open-ended expenses claims that could not be controlled, tempered or monitored by the Department.

Photo of Norman Lamb Norman Lamb Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Treasury)

Is not the way to control payments to limit them to expenses that are necessarily incurred? If there were a test of necessity, the Department could thus control the expenses.

Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs)

But then there would be disagreement and potential litigation over the word ''necessarily''. What one person regards as being incurred necessarily may not be regarded as such by another. I am sure that Committee members can think of many good examples in which such a concept would be contested.

The flexibility in the current wording is necessary to ensure that the Department has discretion and that no budget is simply demand led. We intend to honour expenses, and we have a system for properly reimbursing them and for protecting public finances. Discretion must be written in the Bill in this way to ensure that we strike the right balance and safeguard public accounts. I hope that the amendments are resisted.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

I shall not labour the point. It has been helpful to get on the record the Minister's

assurance that expenses will be paid properly and that the Government do not intend to do otherwise. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 70 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 71 ordered to stand part of the Bill.