PARLIAMENTARY DEBATES

HOUSE OF COMMONS

OFFICIAL REPORT

Fourth Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

DRAFT MAXIMUM NUMBER OF JUDGES ORDER 1996

Thursday 28 March 1996

LONDON: HMSO

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The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: SIR JOHN HUNT

Boateng, Mr. Paul (Brent, South)

Carlile Mr. Alex (Montgomery)

Davies, Mr. Quentin (Stamford and Spalding)

Eagle, Ms. Angela (Wallasey)

Evans, Mr. Jonathan (Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department)

Hunt, Mr. David (Wirral, West)

Jopling, Mr. Michael (Westmorland and Lonsdale)

Livingstone, Mr. Ken (Brent, East)

Luff, Mr. Peter (Worcester)

Mackinlay, Mr. Andrew (Thurrock)

MacShane, Mr. Denis (Rotherham)

Mullin, Mr. Chris (Sunderland South)

Powell, Mr. William (Corby)

Sedgemore, Mr. Brian (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)

Shaw, Mr. David (Dover)

Smith, Mr. Tim (Beaconsfield)

Streeter, Mr. Gary (Plymouth, Sutton)

Touhig, Mr. Don (Islwyn)

Viggers, Mr. Peter (Gosport)

Mr. E. P. Silk, Committee Clerk

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3 Fourth Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation Thursday 28th March 1996

[SIR JOHN HUNT in the Chair]

Draft Maximum Number of Judges Order 1996

10.30 a.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Mr Jonathan Evans): I beg to move, That the Committee has considered the draft Maximum Number of Judges Order 1996. This is the first occasion on which I have had the pleasure of addressing a Committee under your chairmanship, Sir John. The order raises the statutory ceiling for Lords Justices to 35. Members of the Committee will recall that the Maximum Number of Judges Order 1994 increased the maximum numberof judges in the Court of Appeal from 29 to 32. The Lord Chancellor said at that time that he thought that the three extra appointments would prove sufficient to deal with the increasing work load, but that he would keep the situation closely under review. During the past year, the situation in the civil division of the Court of Appeal has worsened. The number of outstanding appeals has risen from 1,618 to 1,833 in the legal year to September 1995. As a result, waiting times in the court have continued to lengthen. Priority is given to child cases and other appeals which need to be heard urgently, but other non-priority appeals such as from the chancery or Queen's bench divisions can expect to wait an average 18 to 20 months for a hearing. Measures have been introduced during the past year to help to reduce delays, such as an extension of the leave to appeal filter and fixed time limits for oral arguments. The early signs are, however, that those alone will not solve the problems, particularly in the short term. The need to maintain the progress that has been achieved in the past year in stabilising the waiting times in the Court of Appeal criminal division means that it will not be possible to reduce sittings in the criminal division to provide relief for the civil division. The Lord Chancellor considers the current level of delays in the civil division to be unacceptable and does not believe that he can wait to see the full benefit of the measures that have been taken in the past 12 months before taking further action. He has therefore agreed with the Master of the Rolls that the only viable long-term option is for there to be a review of the appellant procedure for the civil division. The review will start within two months of the publication of the report of Lord Woolf's review of the civil courts, which is likely 4 to be in late July or August, and it is expected that its terms of reference will be announced by the end of April. The Lord Chancellor and the Master of the Rolls agree that the difficulties in the civil division cannot be overcome by the repeated enlargement of the Bench. The Lord Chancellor is, however, anxious to provide some immediate relief to help to stem the rising number of outstanding appeals in the civil division and has, therefore, concluded that three additional Lords Justices should be appointed as soon as possible.

10.32 am

Mr. Paul Boateng (Brent, South): The review of the appellate procedure in the civil division is particulary welcome. Delay is all too often a cause of injustice and anything that deals with the current logjam in the Court of Appeal is be welcomed. Labour Members give the order our unreserved support. There is a continuing anxiety that, as the work load in the Court of Appeal and for the judiciary generally increases, there needs to be a review, not only of procedure but of the infrastructure under which, and in the context of which, judges carry out their function. One thinks particularly of administrative and secretarial assistance, which is unsatisfactory, and also of the potential use and availability of information technology. I hope that those matters will be taken into account by the Department in the review of procedure, because procedure cannot be divorced from the context in which judicial decisions are made or from the administration of the Court Service. With that, we give the order a welcome and wish it well. We are glad that it came to the Committee.

10.34 a.m.

Mr. Jonathan Evans: I am pleased that the honourable Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) welcomed the order and the review that has been announced by my noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor. A significant amount of additional administrative support has been given to the judiciary during the past 12 months, but I am aware of the views expressed by the Master of the Rolls, who thinks that steps along American lines—introducing more skilled legal assistance for the judiciary—should perhaps be taken. My noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor said when the order was being discussed in the other place that that will be part of the review, which the Committee will welcome. I hope that the Committee will feel that the order makes a significant improvement to the current situation and addresses an immediate problem. I commend the order to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Committee has considered the draft Maximum Number of Judges Order 1996.

Committee rose at twenty-five minutes to Eleven o'clock.

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THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE:

Hunt, Sir John (Chairman)

Boateng, Mr.

Davies, Mr. Quentin

Evans, Mr. Jonathan

Hunt, Mr. David

Jopling, Mr.

Luff, Mr.

MacShane, Mr.

Mullin, Mr.

Smith, Mr. Tim

Streeter, Mr.

Viggers, Mr.

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