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Written Statements

Volume 506: debated on Wednesday 3 March 2010

Written Ministerial Statements

Wednesday 3 March 2010

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Zimbabwe: EU Targeted Measures

I wish to inform you that on 15 February 2010 the EU decided to extend for one year its targeted measures on Zimbabwe. These comprise an arms embargo, travel ban and assets freeze, with small modifications detailed below. The EU decision is entirely consistent with the UK’s Zimbabwe policy: to support reform in line with Zimbabwe’s global political agreement.

We have monitored closely the progress of the Inclusive Government since its formation in February 2009, drawing on a wide range of evidence. It has made progress on economic reform: stabilising the economy, improving public financial management and working effectively with the international financial institutions. By contrast, progress on political reform has been slow. A number of key reforms outlined in the global political agreement, which underpins the Inclusive Government, have not been met. These include reform of the media, security apparatus, judiciary, constitution and electoral system. Human rights violations continue, including the harassment of civil society activists, farm seizures and restrictions on the freedom of speech and assembly.

In response to economic reform in Zimbabwe, the EU decided to modify its targeted measures, which it lifted on eight state-owned companies that are now adequately supervised by the Inclusive Government and no longer cause concern (Industrial Development Corporation of Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe Iron and Steel Company, ZIMRE Holdings, ZIMRE Reinsurance Company, ZB Financial Holdings, ZB Holdings, Scotfin and Intermarket Holdings). The EU also lifted its targeted measures on five individuals and one company which no longer met EU criteria for inclusion on the list (Richard Hove, Joseph Msika, Vitalis Zvinavashe, Dumiso Dabengwa, Thamer Al-Shanfari and Oryx Diamonds Ltd).

The EU continues fully to support the ongoing efforts of reformers in the Inclusive Government to bring positive change to Zimbabwe, and of South Africa and the Southern African Development Community to support those endeavours. It remains ready to ease its targeted measures in response to further implementation of the reforms outlined in the global political agreement.

For its part, the UK will continue to play a full role in international efforts to support the Inclusive Government in delivering better services to its people and in preparing for free and fair elections. This year we will provide £60 million in aid to Zimbabwe, the highest level ever.

Justice

Legal Aid (Expert Witness Fees)

My noble Friend, the Under-Secretary of State, Lord Bach, has made the following written ministerial statement:

Following a consultation process, the Government today announce the launch of a new project to review current fee arrangements and deliver new fee structures for professional expert witnesses.

A central working group of key stakeholders involved in experts work will shortly be established to help MoJ gain a greater understanding of the range of work which experts do and how this is currently remunerated. In conjunction with this, a further group of experts will be asked to contribute to a wider reference group.

The new project follows the MoJ’s careful consideration of the feedback received to the earlier consultation “Legal Aid: Funding Reforms” where the Government proposed exploring the concept of fixed fees and hourly rates for experts work.

As a result of the wide range of responses received from experts, legal practitioners and other representative bodies, the Government have decided that additional analysis of this complex area is needed to ensure that any future fee structures are both sustainable and fair.

By seeking greater control over expert fees, the Government aim to reduce disbursement spend to a more sustainable level, while maintaining access to justice through the provision of key expert evidence.

It is intended that the project will report to Ministers with proposals for a new fee structure within six months.

Copies of “Legal Aid: Funding Reforms Part Three Experts’ Fees—Response to Consultation” have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Legal Aid

I am publishing today the report of Sir Ian Magee’s review into legal aid delivery and governance and announcing the Government’s decision to move the Legal Services Commission (LSC) to an executive agency of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).

I asked Sir Ian to conduct this review, which was announced in October 2009, to ensure that the legal aid budget is delivering value for money, providing a healthy and sustainable future for social welfare advice as well as considering how best to position and protect the civil fund from the criminal fund. I am extremely grateful to Sir Ian for his work.

Sir Ian’s report makes a number of recommendations to strengthen and improve the legal aid system including actions to strengthen governance and accountability arrangements, streamline policy and to establish a more rigorous approach towards legal aid fund forecasting and financial management. His report includes the option of moving the LSC to an executive agency.

It is 10 years since the LSC was established and in that time there have been considerable changes in the type of legal advice and services that the public needs. The UK has one of the most generous legal aid schemes in the world and the Government are committed to ensuring legal aid is managed effectively so that more people are able to access it to resolve their legal problems. In the current climate, it is even more important that this public money is managed efficiently and effectively. It is the right time to make some meaningful changes now that will help us protect and sustain the world-class legal aid service that we are so proud to deliver to England and Wales. The Government believe that an executive agency is the best option for the delivery of legal aid and a Bill will be brought forward as soon as parliamentary time allows. Over the coming weeks, we will consider Sir Ian’s other recommendations which will be taken forward in parallel with the move to agency status.

The change in status will see a new and stronger relationship between the MoJ and the LSC and tighter financial control over the £2.1 billion budget, which allows the MoJ to help control and address some of the financial problems that have been noted over the past year. It also presents an opportunity for the Government to consider Sir Ian’s other options for structuring the delivery of legal aid, including through devolving budgets, to help protect funding for social welfare legal advice from rising demand for criminal legal aid.

Alongside today’s publication, the chief executive of the LSC, Carolyn Regan, has announced her resignation to allow for new leadership during a time of change for the organisation. Carolyn Regan has served as the chief executive of the LSC for three and a half years.

Conditional Fee Agreements

Further to my written ministerial statement on 19 January 2010, Official Report, column 14WS, I have published today the Government’s response to the consultation paper entitled “Controlling Costs in Defamation Proceedings—Reducing Conditional Fee Agreement Success Fees”. As the response sets out, the Government have decided to proceed with the proposal to reduce the maximum success fee which can be claimed in Conditional Fee Agreements (CFAs) in defamation cases to 10 per cent. I have laid an affirmative order before Parliament today to achieve that.

Our consultation paper sought views on the Government’s interim proposal to reduce the maximum CFA success fee in defamation cases while we consider Sir Rupert Jackson’s substantial report, “Review of Civil Litigation Costs”, published on 14 January, for longer-term reform.

As the consultation paper recognised, high legal costs in defamation cases—particularly in defending claims brought under a CFA with 100 per cent. success fees—may have a harmful effect on freedom of expression. This affects not only the media, but also scientific and academic debate.

The consultation closed on 16 February. A total of 57 responses were received, including from legal professionals and their representative organisations, members of the judiciary, media organisations and from legal insurance groups. More than half (53 per cent.) of those who responded supported the proposal to reduce the maximum CFA success fee in defamation cases to 10 per cent. The response paper summarises the responses received and the Government’s conclusions.

Since that consultation closed, the Culture Media and Sport Committee has published the report of their inquiry into press freedom, libel and privacy (on 24 February 2010). The Committee agrees with our proposal that the impact of success fees on defendants should be capped at 10 per cent. However, the Committee considers that recoverability—rather than the success fee itself—should be capped at 10 per cent.

The Government are actively assessing the implications of Sir Rupert’s recommendations, and will announce how they are to be taken forward in due course. The Government are also considering the Committee’s report and will respond to the Committee’s recommendations shortly. However, in the meantime we are minded to implement the proposal to reduce the maximum CFA success fee in defamation cases to 10 per cent. immediately as an interim measure so that the specific concerns around high costs in defamation cases can be addressed urgently.

I have therefore today laid the Conditional Fee Agreements (Amendment) Order 2010 before Parliament so that the success fee reduction can come into force as soon as possible subject to parliamentary approval. The order will apply to CFAs in respect of defamation cases entered into after the date on which the order comes into force.

Copies of the response paper will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses and on the Department’s website at: www.justice.gov.uk.

Northern Ireland

Decommissioning

I have received the report of the Independent International Commission on Decommissioning (IICD) on their activity over the last six months, up to the end of the British and Irish decommissioning amnesties. I have placed a copy of the report in the Library.

I pay tribute to the tireless work of the IICD over the last 12 years in securing this progress. Their contribution has been a central part of the peace and political process over many years. The people of Northern Ireland will be safer with these illegal arms out of circulation.

Now that the decommissioning amnesties have expired, I will discuss the finalisation of the IICD’s work with the Irish Government and with the IICD. The two Governments will be asking the IICD for a report covering the whole of their 12 years experience and, of course, a report on armaments decommissioned. I will need to discuss the scope and timing of the report with the IICD and the Irish Government. John de Chastelain and his team have an enormous wealth of experience and wisdom that needs to be properly captured and understood before we finally end their role.

Non-Jury Trial (Northern Ireland)

During the passage of the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Act 2007 commitments were given that a statement would be made to Parliament each year on the volume of non-jury trial cases under the legislation. This is the second such statement.

During the period 1 August 2008 to 31 July 2009 inclusive, the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland issued 13 certificates. This is fewer than the 29 certificates issued during the first year of operation of the system, but indicates that there are still a number of cases in which the Director of Public Prosecutions was satisfied that the administration of justice might be impaired if the trial were to be conducted with a jury.

There will be a review of the non-jury trial system, including a full public consultation, before it next falls to be renewed in July 2011.

Transport

Powered Mobility Scooters and Powered Wheelchairs

I am announcing today the publication of the consultation on proposed changes to the laws governing the use of powered mobility vehicles and powered wheelchairs (referred to as “invalid carriages” in legislation). Copies of the consultation and impact assessment have been placed in the Libraries of the House.

The primary legislation governing mobility vehicles is the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 (section 20). The Use of Invalid Carriages on Highways Regulations 1970 introduced the requirements for a powered invalid carriage with a speed not exceeding 4 mph (a class 2 vehicle is primarily for use on the pavement). The Use of Invalid Carriages on Highways Regulations 1988 brought in additional requirements for a class 3 vehicle which can travel up to 8 mph on the road but must be limited to 4 mph on pavements.

A review of class 2 and class 3 vehicles was carried out on behalf of the Department for Transport in 2005. It estimated that there were between 70,000 and 100,000 vehicles in use. More recent information from the national travel survey, however, suggests that there may now be up to 330,000 people who have access to a mobility vehicle. The review also made some key recommendations: that vehicle users should have third-party insurance; that a simple fitness to drive assessment be developed; and that vehicle users should receive more advice and training in the use of mobility vehicles.

The 12-week consultation seeks views on a series of possible changes to existing legislation. The proposed changes are largely designed to make mobility vehicles safer when they are used on the footway and on the carriageway, and to improve redress when, very occasionally their use injures people. The main areas that the consultation addresses are: the legal classification; design standards, including the permitted unladen weights limits and safety features; possible reforms relating to vehicle users, including better information provision, training and fitness to drive, insurance and the registration of mobility vehicles.