Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40
TUESDAY 23 JANUARY 2001
LAIRG, QC, AND
40. So it has not achieved the quantitative
targets set for 1999 and you say
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) Well, it did get its numbers
target of reducing outstanding complaints down to 6,000 by 31
December 2000. It did achieve that.
41. It achieved the target of reducing the number
of outstanding complaints, the backlog. It has not, however, achieved
the timescale targets within which new complaints are processed
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) Standards have been set which
they have accepted and really what one has got to look at now
is the new targets and whether these new targets are achieved.
Let us take one illustrationand it is turn round times,
you are absolutely rightif you take service and conduct
cases, they should be aiming for determination of all service
and conduct cases within a 12-month period but what we have agreed
in the shorter term is 50 per cent within three months, 80 per
cent within six months, 90 per cent within 12 months, and 100
per cent within 18 months. Now these are the new targets. One
of the things that I will have to look at, having had this chance,
is whether they deliver on these targets. I do say that I am perfectly
willing to consider more radical solutions.
42. Those new targets you have just given, are
they analogous, and therefore relaxations of, the targets given
in 1999, processing 90 per cent of complaints within three months
and 100 per cent within five months?
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) I think they are, yes.
43. We have relaxed those targets that were
there set and you have also told us that you are unhappy with
the quality of the decisions?
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) Yes, I have, yes.
44. Given that the Government has assumed for
itself the power to appoint a Legal Services Complaints Commissioner,
if the OSS fails to come up with the goods in terms of both quantity
and quality, when will that power be invoked?
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) I am not going to say categorically
whether it will be invoked but obviously the gravity of the situation
which the Law Society finds itself in is very, very well known
to us and self-regulation is a privilege, it is not a right. I
think that self-regulation must be exercised in the interests
of the public, not in the interests of the profession. I hesitate
always to say that this is the Law Society's last chance, I hesitate
to say that, but I do say that the gravity of the situation that
faces them is very clear to the current leadership. I do not wish
to discourage it from the efforts that it is making to transform
the attitude to customer care in the solicitors' profession. You
are far better sticking with self-regulation, if you can, but
at some point because Government's patience will run out.
45. But you do have a hope that under the current
leadership those targets you set can be fulfilled?
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) Yes, of course.
46. If we move on to one or two questions on
modernising the courts. Lord Chancellor, what is the position
at the moment over the possibility of some court cases being televised?
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) Well, what I would say about
that is this: that you have to distinguish very, very closely
between trials and in particular criminal trials and, let us say,
appellate proceedings. There is, of course, a statutory ban on
photographing or televising court proceedings. But I am sure that
many in this room will remember the Louise Woodward trial in 1997,
and I have to say that I expressed then a viewwhich I repeat
to the Committee todaythat I am hostile to the televising
of trial proceedings in this country. Let me tell you why. There
is a great, great risk that the behaviour and the judgement of
the lawyers, the witnesses and, indeed, the jury itself might
be affected by the knowledge that these parties are participating
in a live media event. Even more serious than that is the risk
that the witnesses, particularly in criminal cases, might be influenced
in the evidence that they give, or find themselves subject within
their own communities to undue pressure as a consequence of live
coverage. Indeed, I go further, that televising criminal trial
proceedings would risk the post-trial punishment of witnesses
and perhaps also their intimidation in future cases. You can take
it that is the position of the Government in relation to trials,
and in particular criminal trials. Now as far as appellate proceedings
go, if I felt that there was any interest or demand for it, certainly
I would be willing to consult with the higher judiciary on the
feasibility, on a pilot basis, of televising appellate proceedings
of particular public interest so that the public could be better
informed about the nature of the judicial process. We can think
of many cases recently where there would be a very valuable educative
effect potentially in that, for example the Siamese twins case,
for example perhaps even the Pinochet case.
47. I was going to mention that one.
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) Yes. Now then I think if that
proposal was made, the pilot could not be broadcast because there
is a statutory ban. But you could certainly pilot it and assess
the quality of what the media did to see whether there would be
any change. Now, of course, there would be some who would oppose
that on the basis that it would be the thin end of the wedge and
appellate proceedings would go first and that would feed an appetite
for trial proceedings, but I hope that I have made it absolutely
plain that a line in the sand has been firmly drawn as far as
trial proceedings go.
48. You have made a very powerful argument and
one which it would be difficult, I would imagine, to counter about
criminal cases. You mentioned the Pinochet case. Without going
into the merit or otherwise of the case itself, I listened to
some of the proceedings in the Lords and I could not for the life
of me see what harm would come, as far as justice was concerned,
if it was televised. So you are not closing the door by any means?
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) No, certainly. I intended to
49. Yes. Do you think that there is any possibility
that, along the very limited lines that you have mentioned, we
will see in the next five years such televising?
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) I doubt it if one is talking
about televising and broadcasting but certainly I have not closed
my mind, if there is demand and a request for it, to piloting
the televising of appellate proceedings. I have to say, although
I may be proved wrong, it is a matter for the media really to
say whether this is something that they would be interested in.
I think the principal media appetite obviously would be for trials
because of their dramatic quality but if I was satisfied that
there was a demand, if I was satisfied that we could set up pilots
in appropriate places, I would discuss it with the higher judiciary
and I do not set my face against it.
50. Have the media actually approached you in
any way to discuss it?
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) No.
51. Not at all?
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) No.
52. Directly on this point. You have said that
you have not set your face against certain kinds of televising
of certain kinds of trial or appellate proceedings, at least.
You are not going to promote it, but you will be willing to respond
to media requests?
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) Yes. It is not an issue that
is very high on a crowded agenda for me but what I am making absolutely
plain is that if there is a demand for it, and there is a responsible
proposal, I would look at it very carefully.
53. That, therefore, amounts in some respects
to an invitation to the media to approach you as to the kinds
of proceedings, appellate proceedings, that they might wish to
try and televise? You can then consult upon it?
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) My door is always open.
Mr Winnick: They can see your special adviser.
54. The appellate proceedings and those other
proceedings which would involve pure points of law but would not
necessarily involve witnesses might not be restricted to the very
highest courts, the House of Lords and the Court of Appeal?
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) No.
55. It might be below that. For example, the
High Court Divisional level on a case stated from the magistrates?
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) Yes. I used appellate proceedings
because of their considerable public interest in particular cases
but I could see that the same principle could apply to any case
which simply involved legal argument, if you like, at whatever
level between the judge and the lawyer in court.
56. Or first instance judicial review?
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) For example, yes.
57. Can I just say to start with, Lord Chancellor,
you are being televised at the moment. I hope that is not influencing
what you are saying.
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) I am sorry you reminded me
of that because it has made me more self-conscious.
58. I am sure it does not. I just wanted to
ask a question about information technology. We have a list here
of the various pilot projects in information technology, on e-mail,
on video conferencing, on websites. I am a little bit alarmed
that the legal system finds it necessary to have a pilot project
on the use of e-mail. Are you worried that it might not catch
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) I think it is always wise really
to pilot anything that is new. Since you cannot be doing everything
all of the time, you want to be able to assess, I would have thought,
wherever there is demand where the greatest demand is, it seems
to me to make sense.
59. To have a pilot project on e-mail in one
county court implies that all the other county courts do not have
it or will have it later. Is it not self-evident enough now that
things like websites or video conferencing or e-mail are a part
of normal business methods of any business and that it could be
introduced everywhere at the same time?
(Lord Irvine of Lairg) It seems to me that there are
a whole range of future possibilities arising out of IT. You can
have virtual hearings where parties resolve their disputes online.
You can have electronic case files where parties can file documents
in court. You can have streamlined administration of small claims.
There is a whole range of things, all of which are set out in
our document Modernising the Civil Courts. I know that
you can say "Well, it is pretty obvious that this one is
going to work" but I do not, for myself, object to piloting
to test demand. My instinct is, of course, to agree with you.
If it is good in one place you would infer that it would be good