Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments Twelfth Report


20. The Committee draws the special attention of both Houses to these Regulations on the ground that they require elucidation.

21. Regulation 3(2) authorises a Commissioner to (a) extend or abridge any time limit under the Regulations (including, subject to certain provisions, granting an extension where the time limit has expired); (b) expedite, postpone or adjourn any proceedings. It was not clear to the Committee in what circumstances it was contemplated that the power to abridge the time limits may be exercised, why no provision was made for the parties to be given an opportunity to make representations that a time limit should not be abridged, or for informing them of any direction given by a Commissioner under regulation 3(2).

22. In a memorandum printed in Appendix 6, the Northern Ireland Court Service states that the power to abridge time limits will be used to secure the expeditious conduct of proceedings and be exercised in much the same way as the corresponding power in regulation 5(2) of the Social Security Commissioners (Procedure) Regulations (Northern Ireland)1999 (S.R. 1999/225). The Department explains that ordinarily the power in regulation 5(2) of the 1999 Regulations (which is in the same terms as regulation 3(2) of the present Regulations) has been used to abridge the time limits for the parties' submission of written observations on appeal (under provisions corresponding to regulations 14 and 15 of the present Regulations): a respondent may submit written observations within one month of being sent written notice of the appeal, and a party may submit written observations in reply within one month of being sent a respondent's written observations. Since leave to appeal would have been granted and a respondent would (on receipt of the notice of appeal) be aware of the grounds on which the appellant intends to rely, the time limits for the submission of written observations could be abridged where the circumstances justify this. The Department also states that the Commissioner's general power under regulation 16(4) of the present Regulations to issue such directions as he may consider necessary or desirable for the efficient despatch of the proceedings is sufficiently wide to allow the Commissioner to direct that the parties may make submissions on the exercise of the abridgement power, and that where the time limits have been abridged, it would be open to the parties to apply for an extension of time. The Department indicates that administrative arrangements are in place to ensure that a party who is not present when the Commissioner exercises a power under regulation 3(2) will be duly notified. The Committee notes these explanations and reports regulation 3(2) as requiring the elucidation provided in the memorandum. The Committee also notes that the Northern Ireland Court Service's memorandum failed to reproduce the Committee's questions. The Committee reminds Departments of the need to include the Committee's questions, set out in full, when responding to those questions.

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