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Lord Phillips of Sudbury: I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord and am perfectly content for the matter to proceed on that basis. I thus beg leave to withdraw this amendment and shall not move Amendment No. 295B.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 295B and 296 not moved.]

Clause 39 agreed to.

Clause 40 [Power to prescribe alternative destination]:

Lord Mackay of Clashfern moved Amendment No. 296A:

Page 22, leave out lines 33 and 34 and insert--
("(c) the President of the Family Division, and
(d) the Vice-Chancellor.").

The noble and learned Lord said: This is a minor drafting amendment. I beg to move.

The Lord Chancellor: This amendment is grouped with Amendment No. 297, but the noble and learned Lord has spoken only to Amendment No. 296A.

I am grateful to him for proposing the amendment. It simply seeks to ensure that the correct order of precedence of the Heads of Division is reflected in Clause 40. That is in accordance with the order of

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precedence set out in Section 13 of the Supreme Court Act 1981. I am happy, without saying more, to accept the amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 40, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 41 to 43 agreed to.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern moved Amendment No. 297:

After Clause 43, insert the following new clause--

("Vice-President of the Queen's Bench Division
Vice-President of the Queen's Bench Division

. After section 5(1) of the Supreme Court Act 1981 (Divisions of High Court) insert--
"(1A) The Lord Chancellor may appoint one of the ordinary judges of the Court of Appeal as Vice-President of the Queen's Bench Division, and a judge so appointed shall be a judge of that Division."").

The noble and learned Lord said: In these days the work of the Lord Chief Justice of England is a heavy burden. When my noble and learned friend Lord Lane was Lord Chief Justice he sought the assistance of Lord Justice Tasker Watkins over the whole field of his activities. After some negotiation, we were able to propose an arrangement under which Lord Justice Watkins became the Deputy Chief Justice.

When my late learned friend Lord Taylor of Gosforth became Chief Justice he felt that the arrangements were a little lacking in flexibility. He wished to have somewhat different arrangements. In particular, he wished Lord Justice Kennedy to assist him in the disposition of the Queen's Bench Division judges. That is a major task because, as the Committee knows and as the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, explained to us the other day in answer to the point about returns, one can never be sure how long cases will last. Therefore, we need to have someone on hand to ensure, so far as possible, that there is a judge available for the next case when a problem arises.

When my noble and learned friend Lord Bingham of Cornhill became Lord Chief Justice, it was the understanding that he would be willing to sit in all the jurisdictions which the Lord Chief Justice can occupy; namely, the Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal, the Civil Division of the Court of Appeal--to which he was no stranger, having been the Master of the Rolls--as well as the Divisional Court, and sitting in the Crown Court at first instance from time to time. That was just to get the sense of what happens at the trial level. One thing that tends to happen as one gets older and is promoted in the English system and goes to the Court of Appeal Criminal Division is that one gets less sense of what is going on in trials.

In passing, I must say that the Scottish system ensures for the most part that even the most senior judges have to preside at trials. My noble and learned friend the Lord Advocate will confirm that. It means that the judgments of the Court of Appeal on criminal matters in Scotland are closely related to the circumstances of the time.

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The result was that my noble and learned friend Lord Bingham felt that there was scope for appointing one of the Court of Appeal judges to be vice-president of the Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal. There is a statutory provision for that in the Supreme Court Act and he appointed Lord Justice Rose, who now specialises in criminal matters and sometimes spends time in the Divisional Court. However, his main work is in the Criminal Division. That appears to me to be satisfactory.

On the other hand, there was no statutory place for Lord Justice Kennedy, but it was agreed, when I was still in office and the new Lord Chief Justice was appointed, that Lord Justice Kennedy would be de facto the vice-president of the Queen's Bench Division. When a suitable opportunity arises, as I believe it now has, I suggest that it should be made a statutory provision.

I have simply used the terms at present in place for the vice-president of the Civil and Criminal Divisions of the Court of Appeal and applied them here. I understand that there may be further refinements required to make the amendment absolutely in accordance with the high standards of drafting which my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor requires. But in the meantime, the principle is clear enough. I beg to move.

11 p.m.

The Lord Chancellor: It is of course only appropriate that my noble and learned predecessor should call the Committee's attention to the matters in which the Scots judges are so much better informed.

As the noble and learned Lord said, the purpose of his amendment is to empower the Lord Chancellor to appoint one of the judges of the Court of Appeal to act as Vice-President of the Queen's Bench Division. As the noble and learned Lord has explained, this would give formal recognition to an informal practice of several years' standing by which one of the Lords Justices gives the Lord Chief Justice support with the judicial administration of the division--and certainly such support is required.

I am happy to accept this amendment in principle because I too believe that these informal appointments should have statutory underpinning at the earliest opportunity.

The noble and learned Lord knows that his amendment is insufficient--I would not dare to say technically defective--in that a number of consequential changes are also required. For example, because the office is to be held by a member of the Court of Appeal, it will be necessary to amend the Supreme Court Act to add the Vice-President of the Queen's Bench Division to the list of members of the High Court. We shall also need to amend the long title of the Bill.

However, if the noble and learned Lord is content to withdraw his amendment, he can be assured that I will bring forward amendments at Report stage to achieve the intended effect.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern: I am of course entirely content to withdraw this amendment in order that the

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technical support for it can be forthcoming. I should have said that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chief Justice also supports this amendment, as is manifest from his name on the Marshalled List. I am very content and thank the Lord Chancellor for supporting the principle of this amendment. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clauses 44 to 48 agreed to.

Lord Kingsland moved Amendment No. 298:

After Clause 48, insert the following new clause--

("Alteration of listing
Compensation for unreasonable alteration in time and date of hearing

. Where a civil court has allocated a fixed time and date for a hearing or trial, but fails in the event to honour that commitment, without giving reasonable prior notice to the parties, the Court Service shall compensate the parties for any time and costs which have been wasted.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment would require the court service to pay compensation for wasted costs to the parties in a civil action who attend for a fixed trial or hearing which is ineffective or delayed because of a failure of the court service.

The civil justice reforms masterminded by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, which will be introduced in April this year, aim to reduce the cost and complexity of most civil proceedings. One particularly welcome innovation of the reforms is the intention that the courts will fix trial dates and starting times for trials much earlier in all proceedings in order to give the parties a timetable to work to. The new court rules will only allow these fixed trial dates to be postponed in strictly limited circumstances. This praiseworthy aim is to prevent unwarranted delays and slippages in preparing trials.

In lower value claims, which will be allocated to the new fast track in the county court, trial dates are to be fixed about 30 weeks after the defence is filed. This will cut the present average time for the conclusion of county court cases by some 50 per cent.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, also proposed that the legal costs which the winning party can recover from the losing party in these lower value claims should be fixed. This would enable a party, before beginning litigation, to have greater certainty about the costs he might have to bear if the claim does not succeed.

As the first stage of implementing the noble and learned Lord's recommendations, the fixed costs of advocacy at the trial are being introduced in April this year. This initiative is thought to be feasible because it is intended that fast-track cases will be scheduled for no more than one calendar day.

But there are serious concerns about whether or not the courts will be able to keep to definite trial dates and times. Only very limited additional resources are being allocated to the court service to implement the most significant reforms to the civil justice system for 100 years. No more full-time judges are being

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appointed and the technology needed to enable the courts to case manage and monitor actions will not be introduced until the year 2000 at the earliest.

Under the present system the courts tend to list several cases to be heard on the same day at the same time and before the same judge on the assumption that many of them will settle before the day arrives. In addition, the county courts in particular will list other appointments for the judge at 10 or 10.30 a.m. to sort out more urgent matters which have to be disposed of before starting to hear the day's trial. Quite frequently this means that a trial does not begin until noon or even the beginning of the afternoon, and if some of the cases listed for that day do not settle some trials have to be postponed. It is not always possible for courts to give parties notice of the likelihood of postponement but the present practice is that compensation will be paid to parties on an ex gratia basis if there have been errors in listing that amount to maladministration.

Without additional resources it will be very difficult for the court service sufficiently to change its established practices to ensure that even most of the fast track fixed date and time trials take place. But if the parties arrive at court with their full teams, which may include solicitor, counsel, witnesses of fact and sometimes expert witnesses, and the trial cannot start until later that day or at all substantial additional costs will be incurred which, under the new system, cannot be recovered even by the successful party because of the introduction of fixed trial costs. That will be unfair and will create uncertainty in a system that is designed to be streamlined, efficient and, above all, transparent.

I hope that the courts will be able to deliver fixed date and time fast track trials. If they cannot a system needs to be in place to provide proper compensation. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, recommended this in his report Access to Justice in 1996 and the Civil Procedure Rules Committee responsible for drawing up the detail of the reforms to be implemented in April has made a similar recommendation. I beg to move.

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