Enromous changes to the ways in which courts – both criminal and civil – and tribunals operate have already been foreshadowed in a number of policy documents published during 2016. Parts 2 to 4 of the Prisons and Courts Bill contain provisions that will give statutory authority to the changes that have been proposed.
The headline provisions may be set out as follows:
Part 2 creates new procedures in civil, family, tribunal and criminal matters.
It makes changes to court procedures in the Crown Court and magistrates’ courts to make processes and case management more efficient.
It allows some offenders charged with summary-only, non-imprisonable offences to be convicted and given standard penalties using a new online procedure.
It extends the use of live audio and video links, and ‘virtual’ hearings where no parties are present in the court room but attend by telephone or video conferencing facilities.
It makes provision which will apply across the civil, criminal and tribunal jurisdictions to ensure public participation in proceedings which are heard virtually (by the streaming of hearings), including the creation of new criminal offences to guard against abuse, for example by recording such stramed hearings.
It creates a new online procedure rules committee that will be able to create new online procedure rules in relation to the civil, tribunal and family jurisdictions.
It bans cross-examination of vulnerable witnesses – in particular those who have been the subject of domestic abuse – in certain family cases.
It confers the power to make procedure rules for employment tribunals and the Employment Appeal Tribunal on the Tribunal Procedure Committee and extends the membership of the Committee to include an employment law practitioner and judge or non-legal member.
Part 3 contains measures relating to the organisation and functions of courts and tribunals.
It extends the role of court and tribunal staff authorised to exercise judicial functions giving the relevant procedure rules committees the power to authorise functions in their respective jurisdictions.
It abolishes local justice areas, enabling magistrates to be appointed on a national basis, not just to a specific local justice area.
It replaces statutory declarations with statements of truth in certain traffic and air quality enforcement proceedings.
It makes reforms to the arrangements for the composition of employment tribunals and the Employment Appeal Tribunal.
It enables the High Court to make attachment of earnings orders for the recovery of money due under a judgment debt, as far as practicable, on the same basis as in the County Court.
Part 4 contains measures relating to the judiciary and the Judicial Appointments Commission.
It enables more flexible deployment of judges by enabling them to sit in different jurisdictions.
It brings the arrangements for the remuneration of judges and members of employment tribunals – currently undertaken by the Secretary of State for Employment – under the remit of the Lord Chancellor.
It rationlises the roles of judges in leadership positions who will support a reformed courts and tribunals system. (This includes provision to abolish the statutory post of Justice Clerk; this role will continue, but those qualified to be Clerks will also be able to undertake analogous work in other court/tribunal contexts.)
It gives the Judicial Appointments Commission the power to carry out more work (not directly related to judicials appointments) on a cost-recovery basis.
Source, Explanatory Notes to the Prisons and Courts Bill 2017, available at https://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/2016-2017/0145/en/17145en02.htm