Clause 7

Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:45 am on 15th March 2007.

Alert me about debates like this

Chambers: jurisdiction and presidents

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Shadow Minister (Justice)

I beg to move amendment No. 13, in clause 7, page 5, line 3, after ‘Tribunals’ insert

‘and after consultation with such persons as he considers appropriate’.

Photo of Joan Humble Joan Humble Labour, Blackpool North and Fleetwood

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 37, in clause 7, page 5, line 30, after ‘other’ insert

‘and after consultation with such persons as he considers appropriate’.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Shadow Minister (Justice)

The amendments are, again, probing amendments. The Bill states that the Lord Chancellor must consult such persons as he considers appropriate. What exactly does that mean? I should like to ask the Minister about the Constitutional Reform Act and the separation of powers inherent in it, because I am concerned that a great deal of theBill is moving slowly but surely—indeed, gravitating relentlessly—away from the spirit of that earlier legislation, hence the probing nature of the amendments. Will she clarify those points?

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Attorney General, Shadow Lord Chancellor and Shadow Secretary of State for Justice, Party Chair, Liberal Democrats

I have a couple of additional questions, and the Minister will see that I have added my name to the amendments, both of which come from the Law Society of Scotland, which raised questions with the hon. Gentleman and with me. The amendments probe the wider question of what is behind the organisation of the new system. There are later amendments about what we will call the groupings of the organisation, but it would be helpful if the Minister explained the theory behind the way in which the tribunal system will be divided into areas. For example, the European Court of Human Rights sits in chambers subdivided into groups of judges, so that more people can deal with cases at any one time. There is obviously a logic in having groupings, but if she could flesh out the thinking behind the provisions, that would be helpful not only to us but to others who have an interest in such matters.

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs 10:00 am, 15th March 2007

The amendments in the group concern clause 7, which is about chambers, which is the term that has been selected to define the way in whichthe new Tribunals Service is likely to be grouped. At present, in order to form chambers the Lord Chancellor  requires the concurrence of the senior president. The amendment would additionally require him to consult more widely about the formation of chambers. Amendment No. 37 relates to the assignment of functions between the chambers. At present the Lord Chancellor or the senior president make the order to assign the functions, each with the concurrence of the other. Amendment No. 37 would also require whichever of them was concerned to consult.

A detailed policy statement has been published that explains how the order-making powers in the Bill will be used, a copy of which has been placed in the Library. If it is inconvenient for any member of the Committee to get a copy of that policy statement, I am sure that we can bring some to the Committee, if there are not some here already. The statement sets out how it is proposed the order-making powers will be used. That document makes it clear that the Government have already undertaken to consult widely and fully on the establishment of the chamber structure, as one would expect with such a new structure. The statement also gives an early indication of the Government’s thinking on both the criteria for groupings and possible groups for the first tier, which will be useful for hon. Members.

Our starting point is that there might be three chambers. The hon. Member for North Southwarkand Bermondsey asked me about the Government’s thinking. We are thinking in the direction of one chamber to deal with tax and regulation, one to deal with social security, and one to deal with mental health and related welfare issues. However, the document also makes it clear that a final decision on the initial shape of the chambers will be taken only after a full and wide consultation, which we plan to hold later this year. That will allow everybody who will use the chamber structure—office holders, judicial leaders, tribunal users and their representatives—to have the maximum involvement in the development of the structure.

We plainly have no resistance to consultation andwe intend to hold it. The only difficultly in reinforcingthat consultation as proposed in the amendment isas follows: quite minor changes to the allocation of functions might subsequently need to occur, yet we would have encumbered ourselves with a broad duty to consult in every case, which might be disproportionate.

I hope that I have helped the hon. Member forNorth Southwark and Bermondsey to understand our embryonic thinking. We shall supply him with a copy of the policy document, so that he can study it further. I also hope that I have satisfied the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk that we are very much in favour of full and wide consultation, but that we do not wantany subsequent minor changes to be saddled with a disproportionate demand that we should consult. I therefore hope that I have persuaded him to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Shadow Minister (Justice)

I am grateful to the Minister for that confirmation. She has made it clear that the Government will hold that wider consultation. In the light of that, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Shadow Minister (Justice)

I beg to move amendment No. 14, in clause 7, page 5, line 4, leave out ‘chambers’ and insert ‘divisions’.

Photo of Joan Humble Joan Humble Labour, Blackpool North and Fleetwood

With this it will be convenientto discuss the following amendments: No. 15, in clause 7, page 5, line 6, leave out ‘chamber’ and insert ‘division’.

No. 16, in clause 7, page 5, line 7, leave out ‘chamber’ and insert ‘division’.

No. 18, in clause 7, page 5, line 9, leave out ‘chamber’ and insert ‘division’.

No. 19, in clause 7, page 5, line 11, leave out ‘chamber’ and insert ‘division’.

No. 20, in clause 7, page 5, line 12, leave out first ‘chamber’ and insert ‘division’.

No. 21, in clause 7, page 5, line 12, leave out second ‘chamber’ and insert ‘division’.

No. 22, in clause 7, page 5, line 14, leave out ‘chamber’ and insert ‘division’.

No. 23, in clause 7, page 5, line 15, leave out ‘Chamber’ and insert ‘Division’.

No. 25, in clause 7, page 5, line 17, leave out first ‘chamber’ and insert ‘division’.

No. 26, in clause 7, page 5, line 17, leave out second ‘Chamber’ and insert ‘Division’.

No. 27, in clause 7, page 5, line 19, leave out ‘chamber’ and insert ‘division’.

No. 28, in clause 7, page 5, line 21, leave out first ‘Chamber’ and insert ‘Division’.

No. 29, in clause 7, page 5, line 21, leave out second ‘chamber’ and insert ‘division’.

No. 30, in clause 7, page 5, line 22, leave out ‘chamber’ and insert ‘division’.

No. 31, in clause 7, page 5, line 24, leave out first ‘Chamber’ and insert ‘Division’.

No. 32, in clause 7, page 5, line 24, leave out second ‘chamber’ and insert ‘division’.

No. 33, in clause 7, page 5, line 26, leave out first ‘Chamber’ and insert ‘Division’.

No. 34, in clause 7, page 5, line 26, leave out second ‘Chamber’ and insert ‘Division’.

No. 35, in clause 7, page 5, line 28, leave out ‘Chamber’ and insert ‘Division’.

No. 36, in clause 7, page 5, line 28, leave out ‘chambers’ and insert ‘divisions’.

No. 38, in clause 7, page 5, line 32, leave out ‘chambers’ and insert ‘divisions’.

No. 48, in clause 7, page 5, line 34, leave out ‘chambers’ and insert ‘divisions’.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Shadow Minister (Justice)

This group of amendments looks horrendous. It looks like the debate could go on for hours and hours, but I assure the Committee that it will not. The group is really very simple and looks much worse than it is.

Our approach is twofold. First, we have tabledthe amendments because we feel that language is important. I said earlier that the tribunals need to be as user-friendly as possible. There is a body of opinion that takes the view that the word “chambers” is  old-fashioned, formal and little bit arcane. If we want the system to be as accessible as possible, we may have to look at the language. “Division” is more purposeful, focused and, perhaps, less formal. I ask the Minister to consider changing “chamber” to “division”. She will correct me if I am wrong, but Lord Denning once said, “It matters less what you say, but how you are heard.” If we are saying strongly that these will be informal bodies, it makes sense to change the terminology and use “division”, which has more consumer resonance than “chamber”. That is the first raison d’être for the amendments.

I should like to probe the Minister further aboutHer Majesty’s Government’s intentions in relation to the organisation of the new tribunal system and the different chambers/divisions. Obviously, we would like those to be called divisions. Can the Minister tell us a little more about the proposed groupings? Presumably, the plan is to group together similar jurisdictions, thus allowing judicial deployment to be as flexible as possible. Presumably, that is what she has in mind. We must also ensure that expertise is maintained. How are we going to maintain expertise within the new system?

The Minister mentioned the policy statement. Many Committee members will have got their copies from the Library. I am not asking her to do our research for us, but she could make life easier by having copies of the policy statement put on a table in the Room, because some Committee members may not have had time to collect theirs from the Library.

We are talking about work in progress. The Minister said a moment ago that there is substantial work in progress and a substantial consultation taking place. I should like her to confirm that HMG will go down the subject-matter route, rather than the geography route, in grouping chambers throughout the country. We are concerned about the work load of the legal members, particularly the non-legally qualified tribunal members. When the Minister mentioned that a moment ago, she hinted, as the policy statement makes it clear, that the Government are moving away from the current silo system into three main groupings and gave some details about what those will be. Will we have the same pattern for the upper tribunals as well?

Finally, will the Minister tells us how the consultation process is going? It is an important consultation. Are all the different people who need to be consulted being consulted? What form is the consultation taking? What time scale is she considering in the process? I move the amendment in the spirit of my two arguments for this probing exercise.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Attorney General, Shadow Lord Chancellor and Shadow Secretary of State for Justice, Party Chair, Liberal Democrats

I shall be brief because I know that this matter was raised in the House of Lords and that there was discussion about the names. Unless the Minister is going to tell me that something has changed in the last couple of days, the courts in this country are divided into divisions, not chambers. That appears to work well. However, I am all for trying to use words that the public relate to, rather than words that sound more Victorian or old-fashioned. I should be grateful if the Minister would seriously consider the amendments, which would make the system sound more accessible to the public. That must be in everybody’s interest.

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs

The last group of amendments that the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk moved was tabled in the House of Lords Grand Committee, but not moved. The discussion last time round was, in effect, held under the present group of amendments, so I shall try not to be too repetitive but to answer the hon. Gentleman’s questions as directly as I can.

The proposal would be to have within chambers, jurisdictions that were similar in nature and of similar subject matter. I guess that that would also require similar skills of scrutiny and similar experience. That is what is in our minds at the moment, and we are thinking of that direction, rather than geography. We will consult widely, although the consultation is not yet under way. There will be a full consultation document in the autumn, and any orders that emerge to set up the chambers will be subject to affirmative order. There will be a full opportunity for everyone who wishes to do so to contribute.

On the work load, people will be moved in and moved across jurisdictions only if they agree, so they will have an understanding of their own work load. Whether the upper tribunal will have chambers to correspond with those of the first-tier tribunal is a very good question, but we have not yet resolved it. We suspect that if there were, they would follow those that we have in mind for the lower tribunal. We are interested in having input on that.

On the timescale, we will start this autumn, and I presume that there will be the usual Cabinet Office requirement of three months’ consultation. Happily, there will be every opportunity for people to have some input.

The other limb of the amendments and the only one that has not been covered is the chambers. The point of creating chambers is to concentrate expertise. They will be set up when their nature has been determined by the Lord Chancellor, with the concurrence of the senior president. The pointers are in the policy document.

The word “chambers” will not be in everyday use. The Law Society or the Law Society of Scotland criticised the word because it thought that it was confusing and not modern. I am cheered that the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk believes that language is important and I suppose that he will give three cheers for the gender-neutral drafting that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House announced. We agree totally that language is important and we are pleased to have the hon. Gentleman’s support. Indeed, we shall make him an honorary sister later.

To be fair to the hon. Gentleman, Sir Andrew Leggatt proposed using the word “division” because it is consistent with terminology in the High Court. We chose “chambers” because it is different and is not used daily in the courts. They will call a tribunal whatever they call it now, but “chambers” as opposed to “division” is intended to be a little more flexible because the Court of Appeal and the High Court, which have jurisdictional divisions, are quite rigid in that effect. We chose a word that indicates flexibility in jurisdiction.

I hope that that explanation is sufficient to persuade the hon. Gentleman that the language is tolerable, and that he will not press his amendment.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Opposition Whip (Commons)

The Minister mentioned a consultation exercise in the autumn. Will she explain a little more about that consultation for the record and how it dovetails in with any legislation that we may confirm this week?

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs

I have already set out the nature of the consultation. The Cabinet Office requires it to be three months and there will be a full paper. We have already started the process in the sense that we have issued a detailed policy statement so that people can see which way our thoughts are going and prepare themselves for the fuller consultation document. It will be the usual open consultation and anyone who wants to make a submission can do so. I am sure that Ministers will actively look for responses and input from relevant people, which is common form. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we have every intention of making the consultation as thorough as possible. A whole series of new structures is being proposed and it is important that we leave no stone unturned to ensure that we get the structures right.

The Bill contains some detailed provisions on how the new structure will function—provisions which set out the essential bedrock guarantees of independence, security of tenure and so on for the new tribunal judiciary. Further detail will emerge in the form of orders and regulations after we have consulted within the framework, and after people have had an opportunity to digest how the framework would work. Those measures will have to be considered by the House by way of affirmative resolution, so I do not think that the hon. Gentleman need worry.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Shadow Attorney General, Shadow Lord Chancellor and Shadow Secretary of State for Justice, Party Chair, Liberal Democrats 10:15 am, 15th March 2007

I have heard the Minister’s arguments and it is not the most important matter, but will she reflect on the wording? In addition—I shall not press it now and if necessary we can address it on Report—will she say whether the senior president-designate has expressed a view on the issue? If so, what is that view?

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Shadow Minister (Justice)

It is always nice when a Minister describes a question as being a good one and says that it is being considered, such as my question about the upper tribunals and whether the same system will be used for them. She has pledged to my hon. Friendthe Member for Hornchurch to consider a possible amendment on the clause that we considered earlier, so we have had not too bad a morning’s work, particularly as hon. Members from my party have not been told off for not doing our own research.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Shadow Minister (Justice)

Indeed, and we do not have the civil service.

Will the Minister continue to reflect on the terminology, because it is important in relation to the public’s perceptions of the legal system? That is why I  hope that she will not have a completely closed mind on the amendment and on the use of the word “divisions”. Obviously, we shall not press the amendment to a vote, but I hope that the Minister will be prepared to continue the discussion on terminology. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Shadow Minister (Justice)

I beg to move amendment No. 17, in clause 7, page 5, line 8, leave out ‘, or two persons,’.

Photo of Joan Humble Joan Humble Labour, Blackpool North and Fleetwood

With this it will be convenient to consider amendment No. 24, in clause 7, page 5,line 16, leave out subsection (5).

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Shadow Minister (Justice)

This is a short, sharp, probing amendment. Clause 7(2) refers to one or two persons being required to preside over each chamber. I am intrigued as to why two people are needed, and I am concerned that two different people might chair a tribunal during the course of one hearing. Could that happen? It is unlikely, but will the Minister clarify the point?

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. The answer to his specific question is that one could not change the personnel in the middle of the case.I recall once going to do a university disciplinary tribunal case for 10 students who had been demonstrating. Half way through the summer during which the case was being heard, the academics on the tribunal went off on their usual interesting fact-finding missions overseas, and I came in one morning to find that half the members of the tribunal who had been present for the previous three weeks had gone, and completely different people had replaced them. The appellate tribunal had no difficulty whatever in quashing such convictions as there had been, and there would be a similar outcome in any other cases of swapping in the middle of a case. So the answer is no.

The purpose is one of flexibility. We have not yet worked out, through the consultation and input that I have mentioned, exactly what the jurisdictions will be, what the chambers will consist of, and what the exact size of chambers will be. It is hard to predict how many presidents will be required to cover each chamber. There might be good reasons to have two people presiding over one chamber, because of job sharing,for instance, or other reasons of flexibility. If two chambers merged to create a single chamber, it would probably be a good idea to keep two presidents. It is all about flexibility, and there is nothing to be gained from restricting it while so much is still at large. I invite the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Shadow Minister (Justice)

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs

Clause 7 and schedule 4—the latterhas yet to be debated—set up the boundaries of jurisdiction between the first and upper tiers. Together,  they impose a duty on the senior president to developa policy on the assignment of judges to chambersand to enable tribunal judges to sit across different jurisdictions. Once existing tribunals transfer in, a wide range of specialist jurisdictions will be brought together, and it would dilute expertise and damage the service if all judges and members were expected to deal with all kinds of case.

The Government want a structure, a grouping of jurisdictions, so that similar work can be dealt with appropriately by those who have the relevant experience to deal with it. I call them chambers, but I keep an open mind on that at the request of the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk. At the moment, however, the term chambers commends itself to us. The division into chambers will, I guess, follow the current jurisdiction or boundaries, but it is intended to be more flexible. The Lord Chancellor and the senior president can create chambers by order.

Schedule 4 deals with the appointment of presidents by the Lord Chancellor. The presidents are intended to provide judicial leadership within their chambers and to guarantee levels of expertise, so that the chambers will be able to issue guidance on changes in law and practice as they relate to the functions allocated to their chambers. Deputy chambers presidents will take on functions that can be delegated when necessary. Some chambers presidents may be appointed directly; others might come from the senior judiciary. The Lord Chancellor has to consult the senior president at all times about such appointments, and if a senior judge is appointed, he will have to seek nomination from the relevant chief justice. If no appropriate candidatesfor tribunal presidents come forward, the Judicial Appointments Commission will suggest some.

No one will be able to preside at the same time over more than one chamber in either the first tier or the upper tribunal, but someone might preside over one chamber of the upper tribunal and a first tier tribunal  at the same time. We want to use our experienced and skilled judiciary as flexibly as possible, and the senior president has responsibility for policy on the matter. To ensure the openness and transparency of the system, the senior president will have to publish that policy, saying how he proposes to assign judges and members. To ensure appropriate executive accountability to Parliament—something that troubles the hon. Gentleman, particularly because of the resource implications—the concurrence of the Lord Chancellor will be required before the senior president’s policy can be adopted.

Panel composition requirements will be set by order of the Lord Chancellor; that will be done jurisdiction by jurisdiction. The number and qualifications of members assigned to sit on particular appeals must take account of recourse implications, and scrutiny will be provided. The chamber structure will enable the system to adapt swiftly as circumstances change, while guaranteeing the experience and expertise that is so important to the user.

Clearly, much has yet to be fixed and determined through consultation, but clause 7 provides a good framework. I therefore move that it stands part ofthe Bill.

Photo of Brooks Newmark Brooks Newmark Conservative, Braintree

I apologise, Madam Chairman, for not catching your eye a little earlier.

I support the Minister in the use of gender neutral language. It is important. As co-chairman of the Conservative party’s women2win group, I approve. On a technical point, I use the phrase “Madam Chairman” because the man of “chairman” comes from the Latin derivative of mano—a hand on the chair—and has nothing to do with men or women.

I turn to the substantive question.

It being twenty-five minutes past Ten o’clock,The Chairmanadjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at One o’clock.