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Lord Beith: Courts and Tribunals Bill does not add up to the promised visionary transformation of the courts system

2 min read

Liberal Democrat peer Lord Beith, a former chair of the Commons Justice Committee, writes in advance of his Lords question on legislation to modernise the courts system. 


The Queen's Speech for this session promised a wide-ranging Courts bill which was needed, in the words of the Lord Chief Justice, to ensure that courts and tribunals did not remain "trapped in the mid-20th century".  

Nearly a year passed without any sign of the promised bill, so I tabled a Lords question about it and, as if by magic, a Courts and Tribunals bill appeared a few working days before my question was due to be answered. But what a mouse of a bill it is! 

Many of the features promised at the time of the Queen's speech have been left out - fixed penalties for guilty pleas in some minor offences, the possibility of fixed term senior judicial appointments, and protection for victims of domestic violence from questioning by the perpetrator, for example. 

And the bill is tightly drawn so that most of these issues cannot be raised by way of amendments. 

The bill is, of course, welcome so far as it goes. It will enable more efficient use to be made of the time and specialised skills of judges, and will allow for better use to be made of court staff to carry out some judicial functions, freeing judges for work which requires their skills and experience. Not much excitement will be generated by the rest of its provisions, such as changing the title of Chief Bankruptcy Registrar to Chief Insolvency and Companies Court Judge. 

It hardly adds up to the promised visionary transformation of the courts system; the Government's defence - or spin - is that much can be done without legislation, and that "further legislation will follow, as soon as parliamentary time allows". We've heard that before. 

It says something about where the Ministry of Justice stands in the Ministerial pecking order, and about the chaos of this Government's legislative programme, that a relatively uncontroversial bill promised in the Queen's Speech of a two-year parliamentary session has to be cut to the barest minimum, with the rest of its clauses pushed to the back of the parliamentary queue. 


Lord Beith is a Liberal Democrat peer

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