Judicial Review and Courts Bill 2021-22 was introduced in the House on July 21, 2021. Second reading was held on October 26, 2021.
The bill would reform the rules affecting judicial reviews and make changes to the justice system, including allowing remote access to investigations.
The bill was considered by a Public Bills Committee in 11 sessions between November 2 and November 18, 2021. The committee heard testimony from expert witnesses for the first two sessions and from stakeholders externals submitted written evidence. It is expected to have report stage in the House of Commons on January 25, 2022.
The bill, together with its explanatory notes and an overview of its parliamentary development, is available on the Parliament’s website. General documents are available on GOV.UK. The full political background to the bill as it has been presented is set out in the Library Briefing, Judicial Review and Courts Bill 2021-22.
Government amendments in committee
The only amendments accepted by the Committee were relatively minor changes to two of the criminal procedure clauses (and a related timetable).
The Committee accepted some minor government changes to Section 7 and Schedule 2, to correct drafting errors (these are not covered in this document). The Committee also accepted several government amendments to Article 9 (on hearings in the absence of the defendant):
- A group of government amendments have extended the scope of Article 9 to cover plea before venue hearings (when a defendant gives an indication of plea in a magistrate’s court) as well as award hearings (when the case is sent back to the magistrates or the Crown Court to continue). It was to remove what Justice Minister James Cartlidge described as “a legislative roadblock”.
- Another government amendment dealt with what the minister called a “drafting error”. It removed the requirement for a legal representative to be present at a hearing which takes place in the absence of the defendant, due to the disorderly behavior of the defendant. This requirement does not appear in the existing legislation which the government intended to reproduce in Article 9, and its inclusion in Article 9 was a mistake.
Other big topics of debate
A judicial review
The two clauses in the judicial review portion of the bill were approved by the public bills committee without amendment.
The opposition tabled a number of amendments to clauses 1 and 2. These sought to ensure that the courts retained discretion as to whether or not to use the new remedies provided by the bill; at to delete the power to limit the retroactive effect of annulment decisions; and to limit the rule that decisions of the Upper Tribunal cannot be reviewed, among others.
The opposition also insisted on clauses 1 and 2 for a partial vote (on whether the clause should remain part of the bill (PDF)), without success.
The opposition tabled several amendments to the criminal procedure clauses, with the overriding aim of introducing more procedural safeguards for defendants and removing children from the scope of the proposed new procedures. The opposition voted on four of these amendments, each without success. The opposition also pressed clauses 3, 6, 8 and 13 to divide them into parts, again without success.
The main debate regarding the online procedure concerned the legal safeguards for those who would have difficulty in initiating legal proceedings by digital means. The debate also focused on the proposed size and composition of the Online Rules Committee. No amendments were put to the vote.
The clauses of the bill relating to the labor courts have not been the subject of any significant debate and have not been modified.
The Opposition tabled amendments to Section 37 aimed, among other things, at introducing safeguards relating to the proposed extension of when a coroner could end a death inquest, if the cause of death becomes clear.
Other opposition amendments were tabled to clauses 38 and 39 aimed at ensuring family agreement and participation and transparency regarding proposals allowing for non-contentious inquiries to be held in writing and the use of audio links or video during investigations.
New clauses were also filed that would have increased the availability of legal aid for those involved in investigations.
There were divisions on several of the amendments and a new article, and a partial division on Article 39, all of which were rejected by the government.
Local justice areas
The Committee considered an opposition amendment to Article 42, which would have required the government to consult affected stakeholders before abolishing local justice areas (jurisdictional boundaries between magistrates’ courts (PDF)). The amendment was withdrawn after debate.
Other government amendments for report stage
The government introduced a number of report stage amendments to clarify provisions of the bill or change terminology.
The new section 1 and a series of consequential amendments would facilitate the government’s proposal to increase the sentencing powers of the magistrates’ courts.
The government has announced its intention to increase the maximum sentence that can be imposed by a magistrate’s court for an offense from six months to 12 months, which it says is needed to deal with the backlog of cases. during the pandemic. The government said it would do this by bringing into force a provision which was in section 154 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 and is now in Part 5 of Schedule 22 of the Criminal Justice Act 2020 sentencing.
The government’s amendments to the bill would allow it to reduce the maximum sentence a magistrate court could impose in the future to 6 months, and then increase it again to 12 months by regulation. The government has described this as putting a ‘stop switch’ into the law so it can quickly halt measures if necessary.