Power to require rules to be made

Part of Courts and Tribunals (Online Procedure) Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:15 am on 23rd July 2019.

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Photo of Paul Maynard Paul Maynard The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice 10:15 am, 23rd July 2019

It is a pleasure to go first for a change. On Third Reading, the other place voted to amend clauses 9 and 10 so that the Lord Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy must obtain the concurrence of the Lord Chief Justice when the Lord Chancellor or the BEIS Secretary gives notice requiring the committee to make rules to achieve a specified purpose, or the Lord Chancellor makes consequential amendments to existing legislation to ensure that the online procedure rules operate properly. Previously, the Lord Chancellor could use the powers without the need to obtain agreement from the Lord Chief Justice. The powers originally reflected the legislative procedures in place for the existing rule committees, which have worked well for many years, and which I believe should be retained.

The amendments in the other place have also altered the constitutional position. I do not consider it acceptable to use the Bill as a vehicle for significant constitutional reform. I also strongly believe that the amendments made to clause 9 in the other place fetter the Lord Chancellor’s power to give effect to Government policy through the online procedure rules. The clause now requires the Lord Chief Justice to take a decision on the implementation of that policy, which contradicts the traditional role of the independent judiciary and the concordat: a long-standing agreement between the judiciary and the Executive that specifically refers to the Lord Chancellor’s power to require committees to make rules to achieve a specified purpose.

The concordat also refers to the power to amend, repeal or revoke any enactments governing practice and procedure to facilitate the making of rules considered necessary or desirable following consultation with the Lord Chief Justice, as was originally provided for in clause 10. It is important that the Bill reflects the position in the concordat. The Lord Chancellor is directly accountable to Parliament for any rules that are made, so it is right that the responsibility lies with him alone. Therefore, with amendments 9 to 12, the Government seek to overturn the amendments made in the other place and to revert to the original wording. When these amendments are seen alongside Government amendments tabled in the other place, I hope Members will agree that there are sufficient safeguards in the Bill to allay concerns.

We amended the Bill in the other place so that before laying regulations to bring new types of proceedings online, the concurrence of the Lord Chief Justice and the senior president of tribunals is required. That is in addition to the requirement already in the Bill of an affirmative vote in each House agreeing to any such regulations. The regulations set out the framework in which the rules will operate, and the Lord Chief Justice must agree to that framework. The Lord Chancellor cannot direct the rule committee to make rules outside the framework that the Lord Chief Justice has agreed to, so the safeguards in clauses 2 and 3 provide the requisite assurances.

Furthermore, the power under clause 10 can be used only for changes that are consequential on the online rules, or that are necessary or desirable to facilitate online rules. We therefore consider that there are sufficient safeguards to ensure the appropriate use of the powers, and there is no need to provide for concurrence with the Lord Chief Justice and senior president of the tribunals in clauses 9 and 10 as well. We have actively engaged with the peers who had concerns and we will continue to discuss this part of the Bill with them ahead of its returning to the other place, where I am hopeful of achieving agreement to the changes.

Amendment 8, tabled by the hon. Member for Bolton South East, seeks to allow the committee to decline a ministerial direction to make rules on a specified topic. It is my position to ensure that lawful government policy can be given effect to and that the relevant Minister should be able to direct the Committee to make rules. The rules might be required to ensure that the online procedure is operable, and so might need to be made urgently, without additional procedure. Concern was raised about the clause on Second Reading, and I hope to be able to assure hon. Members that it is not a power grab by the Executive. The power already applies to existing rule committees and to other procedural rules not subject to the Bill.

Clause 9 reflects similar provisions agreed between the then Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice under the concordat of 2004 and given effect in the Constitutional Reform Act 2005. In practice, the power is not frequently used—indeed, there is just one example of its having been used in the existing civil procedure rule committee. Nevertheless, it is an important power and reflects the established constitutional arrangement. The amendment could cause a problematic constitutional situation whereby a rule committee could refuse to draft rules following the written request of a Minister who sought to implement a specific policy. There would be democratic concerns if a committee was able to refuse to prepare rules on a policy that the Government had been elected to deliver. Such a situation would risk embroiling the judicial members of the committee in a political debate. We should all seek to avoid that.

The proposed amendment would also lead to a situation in which the new committee operates differently from other committees that deal with civil, family and tribunal proceedings. It would diminish the power of the appropriate Minister to respond rapidly to changing circumstances, and would effectively give the new committee a power of veto to make rules, which could lead to delays for users who are required to engage with the justice system or for HMCTS in delivering the reforms. As the Minister is the one who is answerable to Parliament, ultimate decisions on policy making should be in their hands, not in the hands of the committee. I urge the hon. Lady not to press amendment 8, and I commend amendments 9 to 12 to the Committee.