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Competition Appeal Tribunal (Coronavirus) (Recording and Broadcasting) Order 2020

Volume 804: debated on Wednesday 15 July 2020

Motion to Approve

Moved by

That the draft Order laid before the House on 22 June be approved.

Relevant document: 21st Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

My Lords, the statutory instrument before us grants the Competition Appeal Tribunal a temporary exception to Section 41 of the Criminal Justice Act and Section 9 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981, allowing it to broadcast hearings to members of the public via either video or audio link. This draft order is to be made under Section 32 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013, with the concurrence of the Lord Chief Justice.

For noble Lords who are not familiar with the Competition Appeal Tribunal, more generally known as the CAT, it is a specialist tribunal whose principal functions are to hear and decide appeals of decisions by the Competition and Markets Authority and other economic regulators concerning infringement of UK and EU competition law, and appeals to regulatory decisions in the utility sector. The CAT is sponsored by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy but as the power to make the order is conferred on the Lord Chancellor it has been drafted, and laid before Parliament, by the Ministry of Justice.

As noble Lords will be aware, the pandemic means that courts and tribunals throughout this country must adhere to public health measures. To ensure the continued administration of justice throughout this crisis, the Government introduced the Coronavirus Act 2020, which made provisions to allow courts and tribunals to conduct hearings via electronic means, including recording and broadcasting hearings to members of the public. However, given the urgency and speed at which these measures were introduced, the Coronavirus Act 2020 did not make provisions for the CAT but only for the tribunals within the unified tribunal system. The CAT is therefore currently unable to broadcast hearings to members of the public.

The CAT’s rules of procedure state that hearings must be carried out in public, subject to some limited exceptions. The amendments made by this draft order will allow the public to observe hearings remotely, thereby reducing the risk of infection and ensuring the core principles of open and transparent justice are maintained. I conclude by confirming that the draft order is a temporary amendment and it will expire on 25 March 2022, coinciding with the expiration of the Coronavirus Act 2020. I beg to move.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his clear exposition. The Competition Appeal Tribunal may well be more prominent in the near future, for two reasons. First, if we are facing the economic slump that is predicted due to the pandemic, we are likely to see a number of firms go to the wall unless merged with larger organisations. This may well lead to interventions by the Competition and Markets Authority on the issue of unfair competition or dominance of markets. As the noble and learned Lord said a moment ago, appeals from the rulings of the CMA go to the Competition Appeal Tribunal. Secondly, when we finally leave the European Union at the end of the transitional period, in January, the tribunal will lose jurisdiction over cases involving the two competition articles of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union: article 101, on anti-competitive agreements; and article 102, dealing with abuses of a dominant market position. The tribunal will lose the right to refer issues for a ruling by the European Court of Justice.

Nevertheless, British companies or individuals whose activities may affect trade within the EU will still remain subject to European competition law. This will include such sectors as agriculture, fisheries and transport. I assume that any conflicts or problems will be litigated in Europe. I fear this will lead to a loss of our leadership role in developing competition law, not only in Europe but in the world. The tribunal’s excellent president, Sir Peter Roth, has contributed much to spreading principles of competition law derived in this country at forums and seminars worldwide.

The nature of the issues litigated in the tribunal is broad. The tribunal is a specialist judicial body with cross-disciplinary expertise in law, economics, business and accountancy. That is reflected in the composition of the hearings, where two members with diverse backgrounds—in business and academia—sit with a High Court judge as chairman.

Its function is to hear and decide cases involving competition and economic regulatory issues. It deals with some 25 to 30 cases a year, some of which are multifaceted and complex, and others much simpler. The consequences for a firm can be drastic: fines of up to £44 million have been imposed. For the individual it can lead to director disqualification, claims for damages or even criminal proceedings. Many cases require quick decisions: when the viability of a business is at stake, delays may be disastrous. This is recognised by the fast-track procedures within the tribunal’s rules.

I have outlined its scope to indicate that it is obviously highly desirable, on the principle of open justice, that the tribunal sits in public. That is fully recognised. The circumstances in which it can sit without the presence of the public or press are even more limited than in the jurisdiction of the Upper Tribunal or First-tier Tribunal. Indeed, it is expressly against the rules of the CAT to sit in private, save in exceptional circumstances. However, the pandemic has meant that hearings have been restricted to parties who are specifically invited to attend a virtual hearing—we are used to that. This is obviously highly unsatisfactory and could lead to legal challenge.

This statutory instrument is limited in scope and in time. We welcome it as it will allow tribunal cases to be heard in the most open and transparent way possible and will facilitate public access and scrutiny. We give it our full support.

My Lords, I support the making of the order, but I have a couple of questions for my noble and learned friend the Minister for clarification.

We are advised in the Explanatory Memorandum that it is reasonably common for larger cases heard by the Competition Appeal Tribunal to attract 100 or more attendees, including multiple parties to the appeal as well as members of the public and journalists. It is welcome, therefore, that the statutory instrument ensures that the tribunal will be able to revert to its usual practice of allowing public access to proceedings, rather than operating on a closed basis of remote hearings using video-link arrangements. Can my noble and learned friend say how this new system differs from the cloud video platform which is being rolled out by Her Majesty’s Courts & Tribunals Service to all Crown Courts in England and Wales, and why it is considered superior to that?

Articles 5 to 7 of the regulations make provision about when recording is to be permitted in the Competition Appeal Tribunal. Who will actually decide the terms of the contract with the broadcaster? Will it be BEIS, as the parent government department, or the tribunal itself? Will those terms ensure that the system is guaranteed to be available at a time required by the tribunal and for a period of time determined by the tribunal chair?

I ask because of the difficulties faced by this House, on occasion, with the availability of the broadcast system through which the public can see our work. The broadcasters are working very hard indeed to ensure that our proceedings are both seen and heard. However, our system has shown how vital it is to ensure that contracts provide for open-ended access to broadcasting.

Monday’s proceedings on the Business and Planning Bill are a case in point. The House had expected to sit until 9.30 pm but was permitted to go beyond that time. By 10.30 pm, we had still not reached the halfway point in the groups of amendments to be debated that day, but the broadcast period was abruptly suspended in the middle of somebody’s speech because the time permitted under the agreement with the broadcasters had expired. It meant that the rest of the debate was postponed to yesterday, and therefore reduced the amount of time available for the Agriculture Bill. As an ex-Chief Whip, my sympathy clearly lies with the current Chief Whip, who is trying his best to ensure that legislation gets debated but can also be passed in time.

Paragraph 10.1 of the Explanatory Memorandum states that there has not been

“any formal consultation in light of the urgency with which it needed to be made and its temporary nature”.

That is entirely understandable. However, does my noble and learned friend think that it would be right to discuss with the tribunal whether it might be useful to convene its user group, after three months or so, to hear from it about the efficacy of the system? The tribunal’s website states:

“The User Group meets twice a year to discuss points relating to the practical operation of the Tribunal.”

However, it does not appear to have met since October 2016. I hope that that is merely a reflection of a failure to update the website and the minutes on it, rather than a reflection of the tribunal’s failure to convene members of the group for well over three years.

I look forward to the responses of my noble and learned friend.

My Lords, I too support this order—how could I not do so?

As the Minister will recall, I took what was then seen as the revolutionary step of promoting the filming and broadcasting of proceedings in the Scottish courts when I was the Lord President. That was in 1992, no less than 28 years ago. I was helped by the fact that there was then—and I believe still is—no statutory prohibition against these things in Scotland. Therefore, it was entirely up to me to decide whether it should be permitted.

I was just as much in favour of the live broadcasting of proceedings in the Supreme Court when the Law Lords moved there from this House in 2009. The success of that venture can be seen every day when that court is in session by logging on to its website. I recall watching the Minister himself presenting an argument, with his usual skill, on behalf of the Government in the Supreme Court on more than one occasion, and enjoying the way the court responded to what he was saying just as much as he did.

The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, was there on my screen when the court was sitting virtually earlier this week. I hope that the noble and learned Lord and the noble Lord will forgive me for saying that these performances are not among the most entertaining things one can watch online. But there is no doubt as to their educational value, and their value in making court proceedings more accessible to the public. Technology has advanced hugely since my first venture 28 years ago, and so has the acceptability of this use of it among judges as well as the public.

Nevertheless, it took me some time to work out why this order was being made. The Explanatory Notes were not very informative. I wondered whether there was something especially compelling about proceedings in the Competition Appeal Tribunal that made broadcasting them especially desirable. I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for his explanation, which I had eventually worked out for myself: that the purpose of the order is to fill in a gap left open by the Coronavirus Act 2020, which permitted during the present crisis, when public access to proceedings is severely limited, the recording and broadcasting of proceedings before various courts and tribunals, but not this one. It is obviously right that this tribunal should not be left out.

However, I have two questions for the Minister, which I hope he may be able to answer in writing if he cannot do so now. First, how much use has been made so far of the freedom to record and broadcast that is now available in courts and other tribunals? Secondly, is thought being given to making this relaxation of the prohibitions a permanent feature of the way we make our proceedings available to the public? After all, in most cases room for the public in courts and tribunals is fairly limited, and travel to these courts is restricted. The limits of that freedom have been carefully spelled out in Articles 6 to 8 of this order, following the wording of the Coronavirus Act itself. The interests of justice are preserved, and there really is no risk that the freedom will be abused.

My Lords, it is always a joy to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, and today to hear of his trailblazing role, of which I was not aware, in digital transparency both in Scotland and in the Supreme Court.

This is a sensible order, which I support. It was an anomaly that CAT hearings were closed to the public and this will remedy it. It is a Covid-related provision and it expires on 25 March 2022—a slightly depressing prospect that we are planning for the impact of the disease to go on that long. My noble, learned and distinguished friend is in distinguished legal company today, and I look forward to his response. I certainly support the comments made by my noble friend Lady Anelay, and in particular her perceptive advice on the management agreements with broadcasters. I know that with sport back on our screens, broadcasters are back in demand.

I take this opportunity to ask for an update on competition matters and any plans the Government have for changing the competition appeal arrangements. I know there is concern that they allow companies with deep pockets to spin cases out, but, as discussed in last year’s insightful debate on competition on 8 May, I am not convinced of the case for change, except in so far as this is needed for Brexit reasons. I have been struck by how competition is omnipresent in so much of regulatory life; now, for example, even the PRA is doing a review. With my wide experience of regulating and being regulated, issues with tech giants are best dealt with by proper application of the merger rules and in the forthcoming online harms Bill, which I look forward to seeing. I am not convinced that any extra powers should be granted to existing regulators.

I am, however, sure that there is always room for improved efficiency in the Courts Service. I was always struck by how the—to some dreaded—European Court of Justice in Luxembourg used paper to reduce the length of expensive oral hearings. Covid-19—today’s issue—has inspired efficiency through the use of digital, document websites and video, and I am sure that some of that change can be permanent.

I appreciate that the CAT has a low throughput, but I would be interested to hear from my noble and learned friend how the backlogs elsewhere in the justice system are being dealt with and whether there are any problems in the Competition and Markets Authority.

The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, has withdrawn, so I call the next speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering.

My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend for bringing this order before us this afternoon. On the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, I understood that agreement is to be reached on what form arbitration on competition and other matters will take after the transition period has ended. Can my noble and learned friend update the House this afternoon on where we stand on competition and other laws arising in tribunals where the case is pleading the EU law under which the competition agreement was entered into? To which chamber will the referral be made?

The next question is not dissimilar, but slightly different, to that raised by my noble friend Lady Anelay, who asked about broadcasting restrictions. We have capacity in your Lordships’ House for a maximum of 50 Members. What is the maximum in any hearing of a tribunal before the Competition Appeal Tribunal, and how many can attend remotely? There might be appeals regarding the outstanding refunds of airline passenger tickets following multiple cancellations, owing to coronavirus and passengers being unable to complete their journey. Obviously, at the moment it is very difficult for airlines to make good those refunds until we all start flying again.

Looking ahead, when does my noble and learned friend expect the Competition Appeal Tribunal to start meeting as normal? If for any reason these arrangements have to remain in place, will he return to the House to extend the life of this order? The Explanatory Memorandum refers to 10 new locations. Are they just for CATs or for all courts and tribunals? With that, and subject to what I am sure will be my noble and learned friend’s reasonable answers, I very much welcome the order before us.

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering. I thank the Minister for his detailed explanation of this statutory instrument. I agree that this anomaly in the coronavirus legislation had to be corrected to make provision for these hearings in the CAT. I note that the 21st report of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee provided a short account of this draft statutory instrument, effectively stating that closed hearings are

“contrary to CAT’s Rules of Procedure”—

an issue that the Minister raised in his introduction.

I have several questions which focus on that issue, and one outside it. Coming from Northern Ireland, I realise that this legislation does not cover the competences of the devolved institutions. Perhaps the Minister could say what arrangements are being made for such tribunal hearings in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Can the Minister say whether there are cases outstanding because of the need to regularise the situation, or are we approving this statutory instrument retrospectively? If cases are outstanding, how many and for how long?

If coronavirus disappears, will this legislation, which will remain on the statute book until 25 March 2022 as provided for in the sunset clause, be brought back earlier for amendment or deletion, or is there a likelihood in the “new normal”, with digitisation, of recording and broadcasting being continued?

Like the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, I was wondering about capacity issues in respect of broad- casting. Will it be able to take more than 50 participants? Many competition cases have lots of people who are deeply interested in them.

How many cases were held in closed proceedings contrary to CAT rules and procedures, which require hearings to be held in public, but could not have happened in public because they did not meet the current legislative requirements until after the approval of this SI today?

I took note of what the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, said about the economic slump that will probably result from the Covid pandemic, which could lead to many cases of unfair competition and mergers and amalgamations. Will the competition tribunal have the capacity to deal with such issues? If the Minister cannot answer my questions today, perhaps he could write to me at a later date.

My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. It is hard to argue against this measure. It makes sense to widen access to the courts in this way, particularly at a time when we have a huge backlog of cases across the board.

However, there are a number of issues that we need to think about. The problem with a crisis such as the one we are in is that the measures we adopt in an emergency become longer-term without the usual process of thinking through how we use video and such measures in our courts generally, as well as in these kinds of cases specifically. I raised in a previous debate issues relating to terrorism and video. I would like to hear from my noble friend the Minister how the use of data from feeds will be governed and what ethical frameworks are in place both in this context as well as more generally in an age where one could take the data from courts and train AI based on the outcomes of those cases to spot who is guilty and who is not just from facial movements, which might ultimately deny fair trials and access to natural justice if a future Government decided to use that data. It is important that we know what we are getting ourselves into as we widen the use of this technology in these environments.

I have heard reports about people who are vulnerable who are caught up in cases, particularly in more serious criminal cases, where violence or intimidation is involved. They may struggle to use video in order to operate well in court. Often, facial expressions from their lawyers can provide reassurance. A lot of the things that are not possible in a Zoom format meeting—as we all know—are crucial to enabling somebody to handle emotionally the unfamiliar environment of a court. Whistleblowers and others may be vulnerable in such cases. They may find themselves very alone and very nervous as they give their testimony. I would like to hear from the Minister what safeguards are in place to counterbalance the lack of that reassurance and emotional, social contact in such situations. Will cases where there is a risk of this be given priority over those which are more straightforward and where the performance of somebody testifying over video with a lack of support around them is less important?

It is wise to move forward with this measure, but it would be unwise to leave unanswered these questions and others that have been raised in this debate just because we are in the middle of an emergency.

My Lords, I welcome this order as a way of ensuring that proceedings of the CAT continue to be in public given that the usual public access is constrained by the Covid-19 crisis.

As the Minister has explained, the provisions of the Coronavirus Act provided for broadcasting of a wide variety of court and tribunal proceedings, which has arguably been successful. This SI rightly addresses the anomaly that has been pointed out that proceedings of the CAT are not covered by this legislation. So, at present, hearings of the CAT are proceeding remotely but effectively on a closed basis, which, the Minister seemed to agree, is in breach of Rule 99(1) of the CAT rules to the effect that every hearing should be public except where confidential information is being considered. That breach could, theoretically at least, open the system to challenge.

However, in my view, the arrangements set out in the SI should not be restricted to the currency of this crisis but should become a permanent and expected feature of the CAT subject to the safeguards in this order. Indeed, I would go further. On 8 June, we debated the broadcasting of sentencing remarks in criminal cases and of Court of Appeal hearings in family cases. Along with many noble Lords, I expressed my long-held view that broadcasting of court proceedings should be substantially extended on the ground that open justice is generally better justice.

The same principle applies to tribunals just as it does to court proceedings, and I would argue that broadcasting should be permissible unless there is a countervailing interest to the contrary, whether to protect necessary privacy or legitimate confidentiality, to meet genuine concerns for the protection of witnesses, jurors or others, or otherwise in the interests of justice.

The CAT’s hearings are of widespread and legitimate public interest, as my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford pointed out. Its more important cases often attract the attendance of 100 or more people, from the parties, the press and the public, as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, reminded us. Its cases include appeals from decisions of the Competition and Markets Authority and from regulators, particularly in the telecoms, utilities and transport sectors. The CAT also has an important review function in respect of Ministers’ decisions covering wide areas of the economy. By way of example, recent cases have included disputes concerning the merger of Sainsbury’s and Asda, and the sale of a significant share- holding in Lebedev Holdings Limited to International Media Company.

Of course, CAT hearings are in general already public, and the CAT goes to considerable lengths to make its proceedings accessible by publishing transcripts of hearings on its website. However, the availability of broadcasting technology, particularly over the internet, has the potential to make the processes of justice far more accessible to the public and far better understood—points strongly made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, who has been a trailblazer in this area.

I regard the safeguards set out in this SI as admirably succinct and sufficient to protect the interests of justice. The requirements for permission, the assurance that copyright will remain with the tribunal and the limits on what may be recorded will enable recordings to be appropriately controlled and monitored, and the tribunals can be relied on to ensure that they are. Of particular interest in this order is that witness evidence may be recorded and broadcast. Although I entirely accept that in many cases witnesses need protection from excessive publicity, I do not see why that should be the case in most CAT proceedings. That goes particularly for expert witnesses. In my view, these arrangements can be expected to work in the wider public interest and in the long term.

We have been reminded that the expiry of the order is 25 March 2022, when the Coronavirus Act expires. By then, we will have had a good opportunity to consider the impact of broadcasting of CAT hearings. My hope is that the legislation restricting their broadcasting, along with the restrictions on broadcasting of court and tribunal proceedings in general, can at that stage be thoroughly overhauled to ensure that much more open justice is achieved.

My Lords, the Coronavirus Act 2020 made provisions for the use of video and audio technology in courts and some tribunals. However, these do not apply to the Competition Appeal Tribunal. As a result, remote CAT hearings using videolink arrangements are effectively operating on a closed basis, with access available only by invitation to the parties and other persons who have been notified. This is contrary to CAT’s rule of procedure number 99, which requires hearings to be in public. These hearings therefore run the risk of challenge because they have not been conducted according to the rules. The order removes that risk by granting the CAT temporary power to broadcast its proceedings. The order applies to England and Wales and will expire on 25 March 2022, as we have heard—the same day as the Coronavirus Act expires.

This has been an interesting debate and I thank the Minister for his clear exposition of the reason for the order. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas, spoke very clearly about the threat of a loss of leadership by British courts in competition law because of our withdrawal from the EU. He outlined the wide scope of the tribunals and that there is a large interest by specialist groups that can lead to up to 100 people wanting to view and be attendees at court hearings. He also made the interesting point that the CAT’s workload is likely to increase because of coronavirus, leading to more mergers and issues to do with competition.

The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, also supported the order. She raised an interesting question about how this differs from CVP, which currently operates in the criminal courts. I remind noble Lords that I sit as a magistrate in London, so I use CVP quite often, but in the family courts we use a mixture of technologies, including Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams, and we will be using CVP in the very near future. So a variety of technologies are available. Can the Minister say anything about the appropriateness of having the flexibility to use the most appropriate technology? It differs for different legal encounters, if I can put it like that.

We heard about the trailblazing role of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, in the Scottish courts. He and a number of noble Lords asked about the potential permanence of these types of arrangements. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Marks, made a very interesting point when he summed up that this should be used as an opportunity for a wider review of giving better access to justice in our courts system up and down the country.

The noble Lord, Lord Wei, raised a number of interesting points. He asked who would own the feeds and the information. My understanding is that the copyright holder will be the tribunal itself. He also raised questions about using computer technology to look at facial expressions, and raised concerns about emotionally vulnerable people appearing at these hearings. I am very concerned about this in my work in the family court. It might not be so relevant in the CAT, but it is certainly a very relevant question in the family court. We have to consider the appropriateness of giving judgments to people who are remote. They might be alone when we reach decisions in the family court. So it is a very relevant question in the judicial environment in which I operate.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, also asked interesting questions about what the parallel arrangements in Scotland and Northern Ireland would be and whether they would be retrospective and start from the same point that the Coronavirus Act started in early March.

This has been an interesting debate. Some real questions have been raised and there are some real opportunities for further reform in the coming years. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

My Lords, I am grateful for the contributions to the debate and shall address some of the points raised. My noble friend Lady Anelay of St Johns asked a number of questions. The first was about the numbers who can attend these hearings. In some instances quite a large number may attend, and it will be for the CAT itself to determine what broadcaster and what technology it chooses to employ. There are a variety, but it cannot be said that it will stick only to one—for example, only to CVP, if it chooses that. If there are limitations from the technology, they will be addressed so that appearances and attendance can be expanded if demand outstrips supply. She also raised the question of consulting user groups. Indeed, there is great merit in that, and I am aware that the High Court has had regular communication with those who use the court, to develop and improve the systems it has in place. I have no doubt that the CAT will want to employ a similar approach.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, referred to his directions in 1992 with regard to the Court of Session and the High Court in Scotland, which I recollect. He was quite right to observe that there is no statutory prohibition on broadcasting in that way in Scotland. That brings me on to a point also made by the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick. The CAT is a UK tribunal. It may sit, for example, in Edinburgh or Belfast, although generally it will sit in London. This SI is directed at legislation that extends only to England and Wales, and it is not necessary, therefore, to extend legislation in those other parts of the United Kingdom. Of course, a similar position applies in respect of the United Kingdom Supreme Court, which has its own provisions on broadcasting and, from time to time, sits in Edinburgh, in Belfast and, indeed, in Cardiff. I hope that helps to explain the position there.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, posed two questions. The first was about the extent of the use of this sort of remote technology in our courts and tribunals. It is too early to give precise figures, but in general it has been successfully deployed and has therefore made it possible for us to conduct hearings during this period of the pandemic with greater ease. As for whether these provisions should be made permanent, a point raised not only by the noble and learned Lord, but also by the noble Lords, Lord Marks and Lord Ponsonby, no doubt that is a matter that will be under consideration. I am aware that some of the senior judiciary, certainly, are very enthusiastic about these changes becoming permanent as we go forward, at least in some parts of the justice system.

My noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe asked for an update on competition law and the role of the CAT. That is an area for BEIS rather than the Ministry of Justice, so I would be slow to make any comment, except to say that the Government have committed to consult on the reform proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Tyrie, on the competition regime as a whole. No doubt that will come forward in due course. I hope that also meets the point raised by my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering about what the position will be after the transition period. We will look at the reform proposals. The position with the EU will of course be the subject of negotiation, and I can say no more than that. As to when we will return to normal, as it was termed by my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, the position is that this SI, like the Coronavirus Act 2020, will expire in March 2022. We hope, of course, that it may be possible to address matters of normality long before then, but we will have to wait and see.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, also asked about numbers of outstanding cases. At present the CAT has about 61 cases outstanding. During the period before the SI became available, the CAT conducted four hearings via videoconferencing, but they were compliant with the requirements of the CAT, because they were held in public by inviting journalists to attend and inviting others who wished to attend to register an interest so that they could do so. Of course, that was a demanding and cumbersome procedure, and it will be far easier if we can simply proceed on the basis of the provisions in this SI, which will come into force on the day after the SI is approved.

My noble friend Lord Wei raised a number of points. The first was about data, also addressed by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby. He also asked about witnesses and vulnerable people giving evidence. In the context of the CAT, it is unusual for oral evidence to be given by witnesses but, where it is given, they tend to be expert witnesses, whether economists, accountants or others, so the issue of vulnerability that he touched on, and which is very real in the context of other proceedings —for example, family and criminal proceedings—does not arise in quite the same way in this circumstance. I hope I have gone some way to address the questions raised by noble Lords. In these circumstances, I commend this draft instrument to the House.

Motion agreed.

Sitting suspended.