Courts and Tribunals (Online Procedure) Bill receives first reading in House of Lords

May 2, 2019

The Courts and Tribunals (Online Procedure) Bill has been introduced to the House of Lords. It is a government Bill and its main aim is to establish a judicially chaired committee. The committee will develop new, simplified rules for online services in civil, family and tribunal proceedings to improve efficient case progress and make financial savings.

The recommendation for changes to existing rulemaking was made in the Civil Courts Structural Review which was conducted by Lord Briggs and published in 2016. He described the current system as designed by lawyers for lawyers; which means that civil courts have increasingly become inaccessible to the ordinary user. A central part of the Briggs plan to redress the balance was for the introduction of the “online court” governed by a set of simplified rules overseen by the new committee.

Section 1 of the Bill provides that online procedure rules will be devised for various “specified” courts and will vary by court type.

Section 2 and 3 provides that the “specified courts” are to be set out in regulations (via statutory instrument) by the relevant minister and include:

(a) civil proceedings,

(b) family proceedings,

(c) proceedings in the First-tier Tribunal,

(d) proceedings in the Upper Tribunal,

(e) proceedings in employment tribunals, or

(f) proceedings in the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

The factors to be considered when specifying types of proceedings are: the legal basis of the proceedings; the factual basis of the proceedings; the value of the matter in issue in the proceedings; and the court or tribunal in which the proceedings are to be brought or continued.

Section 4 provides that a five-strong Online Procedure Rule Committee will be set up as well as setting out who will sit on it, which will include judges and laypeople with experience of the lay advice sector as well as internet portals, as well as how its members will be appointed.

Section 5 provides for the powers of the Committee which will largely mirror those for each of the type of proceedings.

Section 7 says that the Committee must consult on new rules and such new rules would have to be backed by a majority of the committee before being submitted to the Lord Chancellor for approval. If approved, a statutory instrument would be made to bring them into force. Section 8 provides that the Committee may be asked by the relevant minister to make rules as the minister directs, while section 9 states that the Lord Chancellor may amend legislation to comply with, or facilitate, the rules.

A factsheet and impact assessment have been published. The Bill’s first reading took place on 1 May and second reading is scheduled for 14 May. The Committee is due to be set up as soon as practicable after the Bill becomes an Act and receives Royal Assent.