New courts bill announced
Marc Bloomfield
One of the legislative casualties of the prime minister’s decision to call a snap general election last year was the Prisons and Courts Bill, as parliament ran out of time to consider it. The ‘Courts’ section of the bill has now been reincarnated as the Courts and Tribunals (Judiciary and Functions of Staff) Bill, which was announced by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) yesterday (23 May 2018).
The MoJ believes the changes to be introduced by the bill will enable judges to use their time more efficiently by allowing them to sit in different courts and tribunals, and by permitting more tasks to be devolved to court staff. In a statement published on the MoJ website, justice minister Lucy Frazer QC said: ‘This bill supports our fundamental transformation of the justice system, making courts easier to use, more efficient and fit for the digital age’ (‘New legislation will modernise the courts’, MoJ/HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) press release, 23 May 2018).
The National Audit Office report on the HMCTS modernisation programme, Early progress in transforming courts and tribunals (HC 1001), published earlier this month, highlighted the need for primary legislation for the planned reforms, including the extension of virtual hearings, which the original courts bill had been intended to cover (see ‘Courts and tribunals reform programme progressing more slowly than expected’). Andrea Coomber, director of the charity JUSTICE, told Legal Action: ‘What is proposed responds to some of the concerns we’ve expressed in our report, Delivering justice in an age of austerity, but we need to see the detail of the full bill.’

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