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Clause 29

Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 15th March 2007.

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Costs or expenses

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

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Shadow Minister (Justice)

First, I should like the Minister to explain clause 29(5), which mentions “wasted costs”, which are

“costs incurred by a party...as a result of any improper, unreasonable or negligent” behaviour. She will have been contacted by organisations such as the CBI and the Institute of Directors, which are concerned about vexatious claims being brought, particularly in employment tribunals. The vast majority of cases are totally genuine, but some will be vexatious. Does the clause enable the tribunal to award costs against the applicant if the judge decides that the case was, in all circumstances, vexatious, unreasonable and without any proper merit?

Secondly, I should like to ask a question that is appropriate at this stage, because we are talking about costs and expenses, albeit in the context of applicants to the tribunal. The Minister will have seen the note from the Association of Clerks to the General Commissioners of Taxes for Great Britain. The role of the clerk will disappear and these clerks will effectively be made redundant, because the tribunals will be brought into the new Tribunals Service. There is concern that there may not be proper provision for compensation for loss of office. I see you nodding, Mr. Bercow. I hope that I am in order on this matter. This is simply a query for the Minister to consider. Under the changes to the rights of coroners, part-time coroners will be getting compensation when they are made redundant. Why is there no provision for these clerks in the Bill? Has the Minister got something up her sleeve to ensure that they will, at some stage, receive proper compensation for loss of office?

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Conservative, Buckingham

The nod from the Chair signified nothing more nor less than the fact that the hon. Gentleman was indeed in order.

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

On the specific point about wasted costs, it would not be right for me to elaborate on what is meant by clause 29(5)(a), which states:

“In subsection (4) “wasted costs” means any costs incurred by a party...as a result of any improper, unreasonable or negligent act or omission on the part of any legal or other representative or any employee of such a representative”.

That is a fairly self-sufficient definition. Clause 29(2) states:

“The relevant Tribunal shall have full power” totally

“to determine by whom and to what extent the costs are to be paid.”

There is sufficient ambit in the clause for the whole issue of conduct and costs to be aired. [Interruption.] Actually, I see now that this is a much more dire provision than I had thought; it is to direct that legal representatives who have wasted costs may pay, so perhaps the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk has also misread it. It is not likely to be a source of concern for the CBI, for instance, that lawyers should be required to pay costs. Perhaps we shall adjourn our consideration of mischievous actions by individuals until we get to the right part of the Bill.

My understanding is that clerks to the commissioners, for instance, are office holders, not employees, so they would not fall within any redundancy cover. There is the issue of the draft Coroners Bill, which would not abolish the existing system, but terminate existing coroners’ appointments. It would not abolish the role, so there is no statutory provision for compensation in that case; there would be no redundancies, in the sense that the role would not stop existing. Provisions in the Coroners Bill provide a mechanism to pay compensation, although no commitment has been made on the level of compensation or the underlying principles that might be used to establish that amount.

The proposed enabling legislation is similar in scope to that in the Taxes Management Act 1970, providing for compensation to clerks who lose office or emoluments as a result of boundary changes. I hope that the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk feels that that has clarified the position; if he does not, I shall write to him and set it out more fully.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Shadow Minister (Justice) 3:00 pm, 15th March 2007

I am grateful to the hon. and learned Lady. I hope that it will be appropriate for me to drop her a note explaining in more detail the views of the Association of Clerks to the General Commissioners of Taxes for Great Britain, so that its point of view will at least be considered and dealt with.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 29 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 30 to 36 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 6 agreed to.

Clauses 37 and 38 ordered to stand part of the Bill.