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The Courts and Tribunals (Online Procedure) Bill (the Online Procedure Bill) was introduced by the Government in the House of Lords on 1 May 2019. It received its Lords Third Reading on 2 July 2019 and was introduced into the House of Commons on 3 July 2019. The debate on its Second Reading in the Commons is expected to take place on 16 July 2019.

The Bill reintroduces proposals that initially formed part of Part 2 of the Prison and Courts Bill in the 2016-17 Parliamentary session. The passage of that Bill was prevented by the dissolution of the last Parliament for an early general election in 2017.[1]

The proposals to make greater use of technology and online proceedings emerged from the Briggs Review, which reported in 2015 and 2016 into reform of civil court structure. This Bill’s provisions provide significant flexibility to provide electronic alternatives to both in-person and on-papers civil and family court and tribunal proceedings. They would also enable electronic proceedings to become the default, or even the only, option in most cases for proceedings should regulations and procedure rules so-specify.

The Bill itself has three main practical effects.

  • Firstly, it confers regulation-making powers on Ministers, subject to the affirmative procedure. Appropriate ministers can designate certain types of court or tribunal proceedings as ones which may or must be conducted by electronic means, subject to the Online Procedure Rules.
  • Secondly, it establishes the Online Procedure Rule Committee (OPRC) and defines that body’s powers to make Online Procedure Rules (OPRs).
  • Thirdly, the Bill determines the membership rules and appointments process for the OPRC.

Several Government amendments were made during the Lords Report and Third Reading stages. Three issues received particularly close attention:

  • the role of the Lord Chief Justice/Senior President of Tribunals when Ministers proposed to make regulations or issue directions;
  • the extent to which individuals would be compelled to use electronic means and the level of support they would receive to do so; and
  • the composition of the Online Procedure Rule Committee.

[1]    Commons Library Briefing Paper, The Prisons and Courts Bill, 17/7907, 16 March 2017

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