House of Commons portcullis
House of Commons
Session 2005 - 06
Publications on the internet
Standing Committee Debates

Fourth Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

Column Number: 1

Fourth Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

The Committee consisted of the following Members:


Mr. John Bercow

†Bellingham, Mr. Henry (North-West Norfolk) (Con)
Binley, Mr. Brian (Northampton, South) (Con)
†Brennan, Kevin (Cardiff, West) (Lab)
†Bryant, Chris (Rhondda) (Lab)
†Djanogly, Mr. Jonathan (Huntingdon) (Con)
†Grogan, Mr. John (Selby) (Lab)
†Heath, Mr. David (Somerton and Frome) (LD)
†Hoyle, Mr. Lindsay (Chorley) (Lab)
†Keeley, Barbara (Worsley) (Lab)
†Marris, Rob (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab)
†Prentice, Bridget (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs)
†Skinner, Mr. Dennis (Bolsover) (Lab)
Spink, Bob (Castle Point) (Con)
Stunell, Andrew (Hazel Grove) (LD)
†Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton, South) (Lab)
†Wright, Jeremy (Rugby and Kenilworth) (Con)
Frank Cranmer, Committee Clerk
†attended the Committee

Column Number: 3

Monday 18 July 2005

[Mr. John Bercow in the Chair]

Draft Civil Procedure (Modification of Crown Proceedings Act 1947) Order 2005

4.30 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Bridget Prentice): I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Civil Procedure (Modification of Crown Proceedings Act 1947) Order 2005.

May I say, Mr. Bercow, how delighted I am to serve on this Committee with you as Chairman? From comments made before the Committee, I know how much people are looking forward to your chairmanship.

The order has been moved because we want to modernise civil justice. Anachronisms remain in the system, including some of the provisions of the Crown Proceedings Act 1947, and they put the Crown—in this context, Departments and their agencies—in a more favourable position than other litigants. For example, the Crown, rather than the court, can determine where cases are heard. As a result a litigant—for example someone from Newcastle—might have to come to London when the matter could equally be considered at a court much nearer to home, which would be more convenient for the litigant and save time and money.

In all other cases, the court decides the most appropriate venue for the case, applying the overriding objective of the civil procedure rules that cases are dealt with justly. There will always be circumstances in which the Crown’s position merits special consideration, and the changes will not affect substantive Crown immunity. However, some of the current provisions are outdated and need to be changed.

We want a civil justice system fit for the 21st century. The order is a step in that direction. It will enable my Department to make changes to rules of court to do away with the outdated measures contained in the 1947 Act. I thank the Civil Procedure Rule Committee, an independent committee that makes the rules of court, and the Government legal service for the sterling work that they have undertaken, which formed the basis of the consultation exercise carried out last year. The results of that exercise were overwhelmingly in favour of the change.

We propose to use the powers contained in section 4(1) of the Civil Procedure Act 1997 to amend the Crown Proceedings Act 1947. That will repeal section 19, which relates to venue, section 20(1), which relates to the removal and transfer of proceedings, and section 35(2)(c) and (d), which relate to summary and default judgments. At the same time the Rule Committee will
Column Number: 4
unify and streamline the rules of court on proceedings by and against the Crown, which are contained in the rules of the supreme court order 77 and the county court rules order 42. The revised rules will form part 66, a new part, of the civil procedure rules.

In 1999, fundamental changes were introduced to streamline and simplify the civil justice system. By and large, civil justice procedures in the High Court and the county court have been unified through the civil procedure rules. Our objective is to deal with cases justly. That means that we should ensure that parties are on an equal footing, save expense, deal with cases in proportionate ways, ensure that all cases are dealt with expeditiously and fairly, and allot to cases an appropriate share of the court’s resources.

The court will be able to take into consideration the requirements, preferences and circumstances of both parties in deciding an appropriate venue. It may well be that many cases will continue to be held at the Royal Courts of Justice in London if a public interest issue is at stake. The new rules remove the inequality that allows the Crown to obtain a summary judgment but denies a similar right against the Crown. Summary judgments arise when a claimant or a defendant is able to show that the other party has no real prospect of succeeding in their case and no other compelling reason makes a trial necessary. Now either party in a case involving the Crown can ask for a summary judgment.

Rules will remain on summary applications to the High Court in revenue matters. That is because a straightforward issue of law or fact is usually involved, such as the payment of revenue due to the Crown where payment has been held improperly.

In future a person suing the Crown will be able to obtain default judgment against the Crown where no defence or acknowledgement of service has been received. Again, certain safeguards will be put in place. Decisions on default judgments against the Crown will be made by a master in the High Court or a district judge in a county court, who must be satisfied that documents have been properly served on the Crown.

The changes are based on the premise that the rules that apply between individuals and businesses should also apply to the Crown unless convincing justification can be given to the contrary. They represent a significant improvement for litigants and are consistent with the aims of the civil justice reforms: placing the Crown on a more equal footing with other litigants; providing unified and streamlined rules of court; potentially reducing delays and costs; and promoting access to justice for all. To implement the improvements, we need to amend the Crown Proceedings Act 1947, and the order does that. It removes a number of disadvantages for ordinary litigants by enabling the revocation of the important but possibly obstructive Crown privileges and determining the venue for cases and total immunity from summary and default judgments.

Column Number: 5

4.36 pm

Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con): Thank you, Mr. Bercow. I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship for the first but not, I hope, the last time.

The order, unlike its title, is a short and straightforward measure that will pave the way for the new civil procedure rule 66, which will govern civil proceedings brought by or against the Crown. The order and the ensuing rule contain wholly sensible reforms, which, as the Minister said, will place ordinary parties on an equal footing with the Crown in civil proceedings. For example, the Crown will no longer be able to force claimants or defendants to travel to the High Court for civil cases to which it is a party. In future, the courts will assess the most appropriate forum for the proceedings, in line with other civil proceedings. That should save time and expense for the Crown’s counter-parties, and default and summary judgments will be available against the Crown. The Conservative Opposition welcome the reforms. By removing procedural privileges, the measure will help to redress the balance between the Crown and other parties and will finally bring civil proceedings by or against the Crown more in line with the overriding objective.

Rule 1 of the CPR states that cases should be dealt with justly including, as far as is practicable, ensuring that the parties are on an equal footing. We believe that it is both practicable and appropriate to put the Crown on a more equal footing with its counter-parties. We shall, therefore, support the statutory instrument. However, I have some questions for the Minister.

First, I am unclear as to how the order interacts temporarily with the new CPR 66. I understand that that will be introduced by statutory instrument, but when will that be? Also, until it comes in to force, which rules will govern civil proceedings involving the Crown? I imagine that they must be the old RSC order 77 and CCR order 42, but will the reforms that we are considering not affect the application of those orders in the interim? Is there the risk of a gap in coverage because of that? I see no transitional provisions in the order and do not understand how the period from tomorrow until the introduction of CPR 66 will be governed. I should appreciate it if the Minister would explain.

Secondly, I note with interest that certain proposals in the Government’s consultation paper, “Civil Proceedings by or against the Crown—a review of Civil Procedures,” on which the reforms are based, met with opposition from some respondents. For example, several were opposed to the rules relating to counterclaims and set-offs and were against the continued disapplication of the rules on enforcement. I appreciate that most responses were favourable in relation to most of the proposals, but I am interested to know what action the Minister has taken to investigate the soundness of the arguments against. I hasten to add that I do not necessarily share them. Is the Minister able to reassure us that the details of all the proposals included in CPR 66 will be debated in due course?

Column Number: 6

We are largely in favour of the reforms, so we shall vote for the order.

4.39 pm

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): Thank you, Mr. Bercow. It is a particular pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today. I declare an interest, not only because I am a member of the Law Society as a non-practising solicitor, but because my constituency Labour party receives funding from my former employer, Thompsons, a major firm of civil litigators, which has worked in the civil courts of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

I want to ask the Minister about rule 66.5, which she mentioned when talking about revenue cases. The position on such cases seems to be an exception to the welcome changes proposed in the draft order. Paragraph (2) of the rule provides that summary Crown applications to the High Court on revenue matters must be made in the High Court under the part 8 procedure. The High Court of England and Wales is based principally in London, but has trial centres and courts around the country, such as the High Court of the Queen’s bench division in Birmingham, where I used to practise. Will it be possible to make such applications in provincial High Court centres? I understand the measure to mean that responses to such applications will be issued in the High Court, and not the county court, and I am anxious that such applications—exceptional as they may be for the Revenue—should be dealt with in the provinces, as many constituents greatly object to the expense of having to go to London for court cases when there are perfectly capable judges and suitable court facilities around England and Wales to which the statutory instrument will apply.

I seek the Minister’s assurance that despite being retained by the High Court, such revenue matters will be dealt with in the nearest provincial High Court to the debtor’s residence or to the relevant place of business, which is the usual way in which to deal with such things. The Minister talked about parity with the usual way in which a business suing a consumer would do so in the court nearest to the consumer’s residence. For example, a water company that had not been paid by a person with a billing address in Wolverhampton would go to the Wolverhampton county court, or, possibly, the High Court in Birmingham. Will she clarify that point?

4.42 pm

Bridget Prentice: I thank the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly) for his and his party’s support for the changes to the rules. I am pleased that we agree that the changes play an important part in modernising court procedures. I hope that my responses to his questions will be fairly positive.

The changes will come into effect on 1 October; the civil procedure rule committee will make relevant civil procedure rules that will come into effect on the same day, so that there will be no need for any transitional
Column Number: 7
arrangements. As for Parliament having the opportunity to debate the rules, it is for either House to pass a resolution to annul the rules once they have been laid, which would open the opportunity for them to be debated.

I listened to the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris), and I would be grateful if he allowed me to
Column Number: 8
write to him with further details on those issues. On that basis, I commend the draft order to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.


    That the Committee has considered the draft Civil Procedure (Modification of Crown Proceedings Act 1947) Order 2005.

Committee rose at sixteen minutes to Five o’clock.


House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2005
Prepared 19 July 2005