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House of Commons Hansard
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24 January 2017
Volume 620
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11. What progress the Government have made on modernising the courts system. [908349]

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The Government’s reforms will modernise the courts and tribunals system and improve the experience of everyone who comes into contact with it, particularly victims and witnesses, but we need to make sure that the provision of legal support is also updated to reflect the new way the justice system will work. We will work closely with the legal sector, victims and witnesses and others to review across the board the types of support needed in a modernised justice system and produce a Green Paper in the spring of 2018.

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Technology can mean that courthouses that were little used and have closed can still allow constituents to get access to justice. Can the Minister confirm that Skegness courthouse is going to receive the kind of technology solution that will allow my constituents still to get access to justice, and that that will not come at a cost to the local police?

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We are working with local interested parties to establish a video link facility for Skegness. That will allow victims and witnesses to give evidence without travelling to Boston.

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Yesterday, the British-Irish Parliamentary Association heard how well the Garda and the Police Service of Northern Ireland are working together. When we leave the EU, however, it looks as if we will become associate members of Europol, and the Schengen information system is another item that we need to keep together. Will the Minister ensure that we are in either the same place or a better place?

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I think that the hon. Gentleman also meant to refer to the modernisation of the courts system—purely an error of omission from the hon. Gentleman.

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I would like to see the modernisation of the courts system.

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Excellent. I would be happy to discuss the issue with the hon. Gentleman or indeed to pass his remarks to the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU to make him aware of the hon. Gentleman’s concerns.

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23. Over the last couple of years, three magistrates courts have been closed in Gloucestershire, the probation service has been divided and the Crown court in Gloucester and the magistrates court in Cheltenham continue to leak, while disabled access to both is poor. The Minister has been sympathetic to those issues. Can he confirm today that action will be taken on the physical condition of the courts and that an assessment will be made of the rehabilitation company’s work? [908362]

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Yes. I had a very useful meeting with my hon. Friend, and I can certainly confirm both the points he makes. I am particularly keen to get that skylight fixed for him. I am working hard on that.

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In his reply to the question from the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Matt Warman), the Minister referred to modernising the tribunal system. Does he agree that part of that modernisation should be getting rid of employment tribunal fees, the introduction of which has led to a cut in the number of employment tribunal cases by two thirds and a cut of more than 80% in sex discrimination cases? Can the Minister announce today that those fees will indeed be abolished as part of access to justice and modernising the system?

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As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have been reviewing employment tribunal fees, and I can say that the publication of that review is imminent. Having said that, there is a difference of opinion across the Chamber on this matter. We think it right that individuals should contribute to the costs of the tribunals. It is also worth bearing in mind that ACAS has increased its workload in employment cases from about 23,000 cases a year—the number it used to conciliate—to 92,000 cases now. The result has been a very large increase in the number of cases that do not then proceed to the tribunal.

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21. Does the Minister agree that, if the UK is to remain at the forefront of legal services worldwide and if the sector is to continue as an engine for jobs and growth, it is vital that our courts system is modern, flexible and fit for the 21st century? [908360]

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I do agree. We have the best legal system in the world, but we also need to have the most modern one. Getting as many things out of court that do not need to be there, applying the full force of judge and courtroom for the most difficult and complex issues, stripping away unnecessary hearings, redundant paper forms and duplication are all important. I can report that, while two hearings ago, there was a saving of a Shard-load of paper as a result of these reports, that has now gone up to three Shard-loads, so we have saved a pile of paper as high as the Burj Khalifa, the largest building in the world.

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What a well-informed fellow the right hon. and learned Gentleman is.

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The new chairman of the Bar Council, Andrew Langdon QC, has warned people not to rely too heavily on the delivery of justice online. Yesterday the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, complained that facilities in his courts were a disgrace,

“prone to the link”

—the video link—

“failing and with desperately poor sound and picture quality”.

His own court, Court 33, has no such facilities and no video links. Does the Minister understand that some cases are not suitable for video links, and is he prepared to properly resource the ones that are?

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It is important for the courts to have the facilities that they need, which is the reason for our modernisation programme. As for the concern expressed about open justice, everything will work on the basis that people are able to see what is happening in a virtual hearing, so there will not be any secret justice.