JUSTICE submitted a briefing on the Courts and Tribunals (Online Procedure) Bill 2017-19 ahead of Committee Stage in the House of Lords. The Bill aims to establish an Online Procedure Rule Committee (“OPRC”), able to make Online Procedure Rules in relation to civil, tribunal and family proceedings.
JUSTICE is broadly supportive of the Bill. In particular, we are encouraged that Clause 1(3) makes clear that the power to make Online Procedure Rules is to be exercised with a view to supporting accessibility, simplicity, efficiency in the resolution of disputes, as well as the use of innovative methods of resolving disputes.
Our briefing proposed moderate changes to the Bill, aimed at: i.) ensuring that the OPRC includes membership of all judicial staff applying the relevant rules, and ii.) placing greater emphasis on access to justice more generally.
Specifically, we note our concern that the government’s commitment to retaining paper-based channels for initiating claims has not been articulated on the face of the Bill. Further, we suggest that the principles outlined at Clause 1(3) should be expanded to encourage access to legal and technical assistance.
Regarding the OPRC, we propose an amendment to ensure that the new “authorised court staff”, as defined in last year’s Courts and Tribunals (Functions of Staff) Act, would have representation on the committee. We also support an amendment proposed by Lord Beecham that would ensure gender balance on the OPRC, although we suggest that this should be broadened to cover ethnicity.