The Online procedure rule committee

Part of Courts and Tribunals (Online Procedure) Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:45 am on 23rd July 2019.

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Photo of Yasmin Qureshi Yasmin Qureshi Shadow Minister (Justice) 9:45 am, 23rd July 2019

We believe that the procedure rule committee should be larger than currently proposed and that members should be a member of the Bar, a solicitor, a legal executive or magistrate. The reasons for that are twofold. First, it is surprising that the Government envisage the Online procedure rule committee as having a very small number of members, yet the Family procedure rule committee and the Civil procedure rule committee have somewhere in the range of 11 to 16 members. The Online procedure rule committee seems to have by my calculation about five members. We believe that is too small a number to be able to deal with a committee that is going to be pretty revolutionary in what it is designing. It would be wrong to exclude a legal executive, solicitor, barrister or magistrate from that, because the idea behind the committee is to deal with the smaller cases from the civil and criminal courts, and it is legal executives and solicitors who are often involved in the preparation of those cases.

Although some barristers are involved with the procedural side, they normally attend court and do the advocacy part of any case. They should obviously be present, because they bring their knowledge and experience of dealing with the issues that arise in the courts, but it is the solicitors who do the procedural work—some do advocacy as well—and they are best placed to advise on the various potential pitfalls that the Online procedure rule committee should be considering. They are involved in laying the summonses and in preparing the casework, as are the legal executives, who do a lot of the procedural work, such as starting cases. Not to have them in the committee does not make any sense. If we want a good system, we need the people who are involved in the day-to-day procedures. The people who are involved in the process are being excluded.

That also includes magistrates, as this will apply to the magistrates court as well. It is very important that a magistrate who has been sitting in court is involved. They can raise the potential pitfalls, problems and challenges that might arise. To exclude those groups of people from the committee flies in the face of common sense.

We have tabled the amendment to make the Online procedure rule committee even better, and to ensure that those who are on it have wide, diverse opinions. With no disrespect to the senior judges who would be sitting on the committee, they tend to be members of the Bar, although there are some who were solicitors, but most of them will not know what the court procedures are, especially in the lower courts. To expect them to be actively involved in setting up online procedures will weaken the ability of the committee to do that.

I do not doubt that our judiciary is brilliant, and I am sure that the judges appointed will be excellent, but most of them deal with cases when they reach the court, when what we need are the people who know about the procedures, how things start and all the pitfalls that can happen at the beginning of a case. That is why including the groups of people we have suggested is important. We hope the Government will consider the amendment. It is designed to make the committee better.

Amendment 5 would allow for the inclusion of somebody who has experience representing people who are digitally excluded, as we want to ensure that the committee is able to formulate rules that will help those people. I think everyone here would accept that some people are digitally excluded and that it is important to have someone who represents those views.

Our amendments would strengthen the Online procedure rule committee, and would not substantially affect the numbers. If the Government were to accept our amendments, there would still be less than 10 people in the committee, which is a lot less than in the other procedure committees. This is a really important committee. It should include the most diverse range of people, who are able to come up with rules that are user-friendly, easy to understand and easy to access.