Prisons and Courts Bill

Explanatory Notes

Overview of the Bill

1. The purpose of the Bill is to reform prisons and courts by setting a new framework and clear system of accountability in the prison system, strengthening safety and security, improving efficiency and services for users in courts and tribunals, and reforming the claims process for minor whiplash injuries resulting from road traffic accidents.

2. In May 2015, the Government was elected with manifesto commitments to "continue the £375 million modernisation of our courts system, reducing delay and frustration for the public" and for "greater use of mobile phone blocking technology" in prisons.1 This Bill contains measures to support the delivery of those commitments. It also delivers the provisions outlined in the Queen’s Speech in May 2016, including broader reforms to prisons in England and Wales.

3. The Bill is in 6 parts:

4. Part 1 of the Bill contains measures relating to prisons. It establishes a statutory purpose for prisons and clarifies the role of the Secretary of State; bolsters the independent scrutiny of prisons - strengthening the functions of the Chief Inspector of Prisons by creating an Inspectorate and providing them with new statutory powers, and putting the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman on a statutory footing; and improves prison security to support other operational changes in prisons, through authorising public communications providers to disrupt the use of unlawful mobile phones in prisons, and providing new powers to test for psycho-active substances in prisons so that prisons can respond quickly to new drugs.

5. Parts 2 to 4 contain measures to reform the courts system. 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; allows some offenders charged with summary-only, non-imprisonable offences to be convicted and given standard penalties using a new online procedure; 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; makes provision which will apply across the civil, criminal and tribunal jurisdictions to ensure public participation in proceedings which are heard virtually, including the creation of new criminal offences to guard against abuse; 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; bans cross-examination of vulnerable witnesses in certain family cases; and 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.

6. 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 the power to authorise functions in their respective jurisdictions; abolishes local justice areas; 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; and 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.

7. Part 4 contains measures relating to the judiciary and the Judicial Appointments Commission. It enables more flexible deployment of judges; it brings the arrangements for the remuneration of judges and members of employment tribunals under the remit of the Lord Chancellor; changes to judges in leadership positions will support a reformed courts and tribunals system; and gives the Judicial Appointments Commission the power to carry out more work on a cost-recovery basis.

8. Part 5 concerns the claims process for those suffering minor whiplash injuries. It subjects damages for pain, suffering and loss of amenity for whiplash claims to a tariff and regulates the settlement of such claims.

9. Part 6 contains general provisions that apply to the Bill: it makes the necessary legal provision for the short-title of the bill, the extent, orders, regulations and parliamentary procedures, and powers to make consequential, incidental etc. provision.

1 The total investment as part of the court modernisation programme is over £1 billion.


Prepared 22nd February 2017