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The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Alan Johnson): In her written ministerial statement to the House on 12 February, Official Report, columns 87-88WS, the then Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Redittch (Jacqui Smith), provided a progress report on the work being undertaken following the publication of the Privy Council review of intercept as evidence in January 2008.
Since February, detailed work has focused on testing the practical impact and effect of the model developed. This work has been undertaken in concert with experienced independent legal practitioners. The programme is now complete, and work is now in hand to draw the emerging conclusions and test their validity. The Advisory Group of Privy Counsellors, the right hon. Sir John Chilcot, my noble Friend the right hon. Lord Archer of Sandwell, the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith) and the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Michael Howard) is following this closely. Indeed they also see merit in seeking further advice on key points for, as they noted in their interim report in February, the issues are complex. I know they share my determination to get this right. I should like to thank them for their continuing commitment and invaluable contribution.
I look forward to discussing with them the final conclusions of the programme. I shall then provide a formal report to Parliament on the full findings of the work programme, and the Government's decision in the light of them, soon after the return following the summer recess.
The Minister for Policing, Crime and Counter-Terrorism (Mr. David Hanson): I am pleased to announce that the annual report 2008-09 and accounts of the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA) will be laid before Parliament today.
The Secretary of State for International Development (Mr. Douglas Alexander): I have today published, and laid before Parliament, the Department for International Development Annual Report and Resource Accounts for 2008-09 (HC 867-1 and HC 867-11).
The report sets out the good progress we have made this year in meeting our aim of alleviating poverty in the poorer countries of the world. It provides the first full year reporting of progress against our 2007 public service agreement and our departmental strategic objectives, and reports against targets set in previous spending reviews that are still current. The report also includes our full set of accounts for 2008-09 and the progress we have made on the International Development (Reporting and Transparency) Act 2006, further underlining our commitment to transparent and accessible reporting of UK development policies and programmes.
The Law Commission published its report on 13 May 2008. This follows a major programme of work on the reform of housing law. Unlike most other Law Commission reports, this report does not focus solely on reform of substantive law but rather looks at the broader social issues of how housing problems arise and how they might be better addressed.
The report makes recommendations in three broad areas: (i) better advice and assistance (ii) non-formal (that is, not involving a court or tribunal) dispute resolution and (iii) formal dispute resolution.
The Government broadly accept all of the Commission's recommendations on the provision of better advice and assistance. Substantial progress has already been made in improving advice provision and encouraging early engagement, for example, by promoting and signposting court users to the community legal advice helpline and the community legal advice website.
The report recommends that promotion of mediation and alternative dispute resolution is an important component of non-formal dispute resolution. The Government are committed to promoting mediation and using alternative dispute resolution as a tool to ensure court action is a last resort.
The Law Commission also recommends the transfer of jurisdiction for a number of different types of cases, including stand-alone disrepair cases, from county courts to tribunals. The Government have already, separately, confirmed that they will transfer dispute resolution and other proceedings arising out of the provisions of the
Mobile Homes Act 1983 to residential property tribunals. However, it is not satisfied that a case has been made out for any other transfers.
The Government also reject the Law Commission's recommendation that the county court should have powers to grant interim relief pending the outcome of a local authority internal review in homelessness cases. It is usual for parties to have to exhaust all alternative remedies before coming to court. This is a key feature of our policy of encouraging early resolution of disputes/problems, with the court only being used in the last resort. Local authorities are empowered to take decisions on homelessness applications and there are statutory procedures that are in place to ensure that this is done fairly. The Government consider that there is a significant risk that any changes in this area would be exploited to circumvent these procedures to the detriment of those who are genuinely homeless and in priority need.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Bridget Prentice): The tribunals service was created in April 2006, bringing together the administrative support for over 23 tribunals from across government into a single organisation so that tribunals were visibly independent of original decision makers, and to bring improved quality and efficiency in the provision of administrative and management support.
The provisions of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007-TCE Act- followed these administrative changes and created a new judicial and legal framework, bringing together a range of formerly separate tribunals into a new unified two-tier tribunal structure-the first-tier and upper tribunal-under a senior president, Lord Justice Carnwath. The first-tier and the upper tribunal were established under the TCE Act on 3 November 2008, with the first-tier tribunal being the first-instance tribunal for most jurisdictions. The upper tribunal mainly, but not exclusively, reviews and decides appeals from the first-tier tribunal. It also has the power to deal with judicial review work delegated from the High Courts of England and Wales and Northern Ireland and from the Court of Session.
The TCE Act has provided a cohesive statutory framework for a unified tribunal system dealing with nearly 600,000 cases a year which is committed to improvement and innovation for the benefit of the public.
The TCE Act also contains provisions for the jurisdictions of most existing tribunals administered by the tribunals service to transfer into the new two-tier structure. The main exception to this is the system of employment tribunals, which will remain as a distinct pillar within the tribunals system. The structure is designed to be flexible so that, in the future, when Parliament decides to create a new appeal right or jurisdiction, it will not be necessary to create a new tribunal to administer it.
Both the first-tier and upper tribunal are divided into chambers that group together jurisdictions, and their judiciary, dealing with like subjects or where
individual panels need the same types of members. The following chambers have been established in the first-tier tribunal:
Social Entitlement (3 Nov 2008)
War Pensions and Armed Forces Compensation (3 Nov 2008)
Health, Education and Social Care (3 Nov 2008)
Tax (1 April 2009)
Administrative Appeals (3 November 2008)
Tax and Finance (1 April 2009), and
Lands (1 June 2009)
Everyone who holds a judicial office within the tribunals service, including those who have or will be transferred into one of the new chambers, have been asked to take the oath of allegiance. So far 2,622 judges have taken the oath.
The new judicial structure allows for the flexible deployment of judges, known as "cross ticketing", within and across the new chambers. This will mean that suitably qualified judiciary can hear cases in jurisdictions other than the one to which they were first appointed without the need for a further Judicial Appointments Commission competition. This will reduce the costs of training and support. It will also enable the flexible deployment of judiciary to meet fluctuations in workloads between jurisdictions; it will encourage greater consistency of standards and approach across previously disparate jurisdictions; it will assist where there are difficulties in finding judges for particular locations and where there are recruitment difficulties in smaller jurisdictions. Working with the judiciary, the tribunals service has identified £6 million of efficiency savings relating to judicial activity in 2009-10 in areas such as reducing adjournments and more effective deployment of judges. A further £10 million in 2010-11 is now being sought.
The judges within this new structure are currently subject to widely differing rates of remuneration inherited from the tribunals from which they have transferred or will transfer and which have or will be abolished. Under the existing arrangements, therefore, many office holders will find themselves doing effectively the same job as each other for what would be unequal pay. This would hamper effective operation of the system and the delivery of efficiencies as well as leave pay inequalities in place. To address these issues, in March 2007 the Government commissioned the Senior Salaries Review Body to propose a pay structure for the tribunals judiciary following implementation of the TCE Act. The SSRB delivered its report No.66, Review of Tribunals' Judiciary Remuneration, in November 2008. The report includes 18 recommendations and proposes a single salary structure for tribunals judiciary linked to that already in operation for the courts judiciary and some tribunal judges. The report and the Government's response to each of the 18 recommendations have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses, the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.
The Government broadly accept those SSRB recommendations in relation to legally-qualified salaried and fee-paid tribunals judiciary, as an important step in
supporting the tribunals service and the new judicial structure. Addressing the issues identified by the SSRB enables the tribunals system to operate as effectively and efficiently as possible.
While the Government recognise and support the important role played by non-legally qualified members, it has decided not to implement those recommendations that apply to non-legal members. In taking this decision, account was taken of the level of increases being recommended by the SSRB and the lack of market-based justification in the current economic and public expenditure climate. The Government will be prepared to review any specific recruitment and retention issues, which might arise, with any targeted salary or fee supplements being paid at the discretion of the Lord Chancellor. The Government will keep under review the arguments for drawing a link between the pay of fee-paid and salaried judiciary and that of non-legal members in the light of recruitment and retention data and the overall economic climate.
The impact of this new pay structure will see no change for over 92 per cent. of the salaried judiciary and 37 per cent. of legally qualified fee-paid members. Non-legally qualified members pay will be unaffected by these changes. Pay costs are expected to be no more than £160,000 in the current year and £400,000 incrementally in the remaining four transitional years.
The creation of the tribunals service and the implementation of the TCE Act have been major steps in delivering improved services to tribunal users and a more effective and efficient system. Rationalisation of the judicial structure and, as a consequence, judicial pay is a key part of that.
The Ministry of Justice has today published proposals to refocus limited civil and criminal legal aid resources on priority cases.
Proposals in the first part of the paper are the product of joint working between the Legal Services Commission and the Ministry of Justice, and suggest a range of changes to the funding rules to ensure that legal aid funds are being directed to meritorious cases. Proposals include:
reforming the way that the public interest is considered in deciding whether to grant legal aid by establishing a new committee to include non-lawyers, and creating a ring-fenced budget for these cases;
removing certain low-priority cases, such as low-value damages claims, from scope for civil funding, where issues can be resolved instead through complaints procedures or ombudsman schemes;
tightening the existing rules for granting legal aid for judicial review, following a significant decline in the number of successful permission applications; and
notifying the other side when civil legal aid is applied for to discourage fraudulent applications from those outside the financial eligibility limits.
Proposals in the second part of the paper have been developed by the Ministry of Justice and are also aimed at focusing resources on priority cases. The first proposal concerns the removal of advice and assistance on prisoner treatment issues from the scope
of the Criminal Defence Service. Funding will be available to prisoners with serious concerns about their treatment under the civil scheme, subject to passing the relevant civil funding code criteria. This includes the need to exhaust the prison internal complaints procedure in most cases in advance of seeking legal advice. This proposal builds on the reforms to Prison Law funding which were published by the Legal Services Commission yesterday.
The second proposal concerns the removal of the delegated powers for solicitors to self-grant legal aid in judicial review cases. This follows the rise in failed judicial review applications, many of which are funded through legal aid. With the exception of housing judicial review, civil and criminal legal aid providers will no longer be able to self-grant emergency representation in judicial review and will need to seek approval in advance from the Legal Services Commission.
The third proposal concerns restricting routine access to the civil legal aid scheme in England and Wales for those who are not residents in the UK. Funding for serious matters such as mental health detention, childcare or child abduction proceedings, domestic violence protection or emergency housing matters would remain available. Funding would also continue for overseas British citizens, European citizens involved in cross border disputes, and those whose country is a party to a bilateral agreement providing access to legal aid in the UK.
The consultation paper, "Legal Aid: Refocusing on Priority Cases", is available on the Ministry of Justice website at: www.justice.gov.uk. Responses are invited by 8 October 2009.
The Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (Mr. Jack Straw): Revised operational guidance to police forces on the issue of penalty notices for disorder for retail theft and criminal damage has been published today. Copies will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
Under the PND scheme, established under the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 (sections 1-11), the police can issue fixed penalty notices of £80 for minor retail theft, criminal damage and cannabis possession. Recipients have 21 days in which either to pay the penalty or elect to have their case heard in court. If no action is taken, a fine of one and a half times the penalty amount is registered against the offender by the magistrates court.
Under section 6 of the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001, the Secretary of State has the power to issue guidance to the police on the issuing of penalty notices. The latest version of the guidance was issued in March 2005. In view of concerns raised over the inappropriate use of PNDs, we have now issued strengthened revised guidance on retail theft. This restricts use of the disposal to first-time offenders who are not substance mis-users where the value of goods stolen is less than £100 or where damage caused is less than £300. The definition of retail theft has also been tightened to ensure that the disposal can be considered only for cases of shoplifting where normally the goods recovered are fit for re-sale.
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