The Online procedure rule committee

Part of Courts and Tribunals (Online Procedure) Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:00 am on 23rd July 2019.

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Photo of Paul Maynard Paul Maynard The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice 10:00 am, 23rd July 2019

The hon. Member for Bolton South East points out that her amendment is common sense. When someone tells me that, it normally means that I should subject it to triple scrutiny. My antennae start to twitch at that concept.

The hon. Lady also said that she wanted a diverse committee. That probably means having slightly more than 10 people on it, which could well be a challenge too. The point made by the hon. Members for Hammersmith and for Wrexham was totally fair, and I hope to explain how the widest possible range of people, with experience germane to the issues that the committee will consider, can play the role in the committee that they seek.

The Government support the need for a small, focused and agile committee to make new court rules that are easy to understand and tailored for ordinary users. The committee will initially have six members, including a representative from the legal profession and members from the judiciary, IT and the lay advice sector. I believe that that set-up will allow for the creation of simple, effective rules that support all users throughout their journey.

It is not just the Government who have decided that that is the appropriate number but the judiciary. However, it is not set in stone. We recognise that sometimes a variety of expertise may be needed, so we expect that over time the Lord Chancellor will wish to make use of clause 7 to change the composition of the membership. The committee will need to draw on expertise from across disciplines and jurisdictional boundaries, reflecting the type of proceedings that are being considered at any moment in time.

We believe that that approach will allow us to ensure that rules are always made by those most suited to the task, without hampering the committee’s efficiency. As the first online procedure that the committee will consider will be online civil claims below £25,000, it seems sensible to begin with a committee best suited to developing procedures relative to that particular type of case. Furthermore, it should be noted that clause 8(1) requires the committee to

“consult such persons as they consider appropriate”.

That is another route to ensure that the committee will have access to the relevant knowledge and expertise needed.

Adopting amendment 3 would create an imbalance in the number of members who could be appointed by the Lord Chancellor in comparison with the number that could be appointed by the Lord Chief Justice. That is something that Members of the other place, and the previous Lord Chief Justices in particular, specifically did not want to happen. I therefore urge the hon. Lady to withdraw the amendment.

Amendments 4 and 5 propose adding a member to the committee to represent the views of people who are digitally excluded. I have heard the many representations made, and I agree that we must ensure that proper consideration is given to the needs of those who require support to access digital services. As colleagues will be aware, we amended the Bill in the other place to ensure that all members of the committee always consider the needs of those who struggle to engage digitally.

I fully agree that digital support for those who want to access online services but struggle to do so for a variety of reasons is paramount if the system is to be effective. The committee already includes someone with IT expertise and someone from the lay advice sector with knowledge of user-specific experience. Considering that, alongside the fact that all members must now consider the needs of digitally excluded people, I do not consider that the amendments are required.

It is also important to recall once again that clause 7 provides a power to vary the membership of the committee, so if in the future it was felt appropriate to reflect a particular expertise permanently on the committee, that can be provided for. Under clause 8, the committee must also consult those it considers appropriate, so can readily avail itself of any expertise needed. I therefore urge the hon. Lady not to press amendments 4 and 5, nor amendment 3.