The Government has published the Courts and Tribunals (Judiciary and Functions of Staff) Bill, aiming to prepare the Court system and judiciary for modernisation to fit changing demands.
Following the scrapping of the Prison and Courts Bill in the lead up to the 2017 General Election, the Government has been slowly reintroducing the measures proposed within that Bill via new legislation, including whiplash reform within the Civil Liability Bill.
One element of the Prison and Courts Bill which had not been revisited was the proposal to allow the judiciary to deploy judges more flexibly, which is the aim of the Courts and Tribunals (Judiciary and Functions of Staff) Bill, introduced to the House of Lords.
When publishing the Bill, the Government stated it will allow the judiciary to respond to the changing demands of a reformed court system. This underpins the Government’s agenda to modernise the courts, making them future proof and delivering better services to users.
The Bill aims to achieve this by providing the following:
- Increased efficiency by allowing greater flexibility to deploy the right judge to the right case, but also allowing judges to gain experience of different types of cases, helping with their career progression.
- Allowing appropriately qualified and experienced court and tribunal staff - authorised by the judiciary, and working under judicial supervision – to deal with routine matters;
- Allowing those same authorised staff to "provide legal advice to judges of the family court and justice of the peace."
- Relaxing the burden on judges’ time to allow them to focus their expertise on matters that need it most.
According to the Government, it is expected that those routine tasks (or judicial functions as described in the Bill) would include issuing summonses; taking a plea; extending time for service of applications; or considering applications for variations of directions made in private or public law cases.
The authorisation of staff to provide legal advice to judges is in line with their experience, is evidence that there may be an 'on the job' learning pattern for those judges experiencing different types of cases.
What can we learn?
- The draft legislation is limited in scope, and fits within the Government's method of introducing those proposals from the abandoned Prison and Courts Bill into legislation piecemeal.The press release from the Government indicates that the legislation is "the first step" in moving from "slow, paper-based systems to streamlined, efficient digital services."
- The Bill does not advance the 'Online Court', which had formed a major part of the Prison and Courts Bill.The 'Online Court' was briefly discussed by the Justice Committee earlier this year, but isnot addressed as part of this Bill;
- Furthermore, the Bill does not deal with the proposed online portal to be created by the insurance industry to deal with personal injury claims, which has the subject of disapproval from claimant representatives;