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Peers rein in government over sweeping Online Court powers

By: John Hyde

The government will be made to seek the backing of the lord chief justice about the scope of any future online court, the House of Lords voted this week.

Peers backed an amendment from Lord Judge, a former LCJ, to the Courts and Tribunals (Online Procedure) Bill, which had its report stage in parliament on Monday.

The change specifies that the Lord Chancellor may give written notice of proposals only ‘with the concurrence’ of the LCJ. In effect the two must agree on which proceedings fall under the auspices of the new Online Procedure Rule Committee.

During the vote, 226 members voted in favour of the amendment and 182 against.

Lord Judge said during the debate that the Lord Chancellor was being handed ‘exceptionally broad powers’ with no justification for giving him the power to override the views of the LCJ on such important matters.

He added: ‘What in the end we have here is the ability… of the Executive to decide how litigation shall be conducted. That is what is objectionable about it.’

Labour frontbencher Lord Beecham, Liberal Democrat Lord Beith and crossbencher Lord Pannick all supported the amendment.

Meanwhile, Justice minister Paul Maynard has said the MoJ will monitor the need for the remaining courts and tribunals and England and Wales, despite the department having already closed hundreds of buildings in the last nine years.

He told a House of Commons debate last week: ‘As it stands, the court and tribunal estate is a patchwork that has developed over time and a legacy from many predecessor organisations. This has meant a concentration of buildings in some locations.

‘Of the 337 operational court and tribunal buildings, 245 are within five miles of another court or tribunal, so this should be kept under review. We should test whether buildings are really needed or suitable for the uses to which we put them.’

Former shadow justice minister Andy Slaughter said a series of closures in south west London had forced work to be transferred to Clerkenwell and Shoreditch county court, where ‘farce then turns to tragedy’.

He claimed that files are being lost there, hearings have not taken place more than a year after work was transferred, telephones are not answered, paperwork has been lost, and bailiffs warrants are being executed despite warrants being suspended. At present, Slaughter added, 70% of staff at the remaining court are agency workers.

(Courtesy: Law Society Gazette)