HC Deb 21 May 1982 vol 24 cc612-5
Mr. Dewar

I beg to move amendment No. 28 in page 77, line 44, at beginning insert 'Subject to sub-paragraph (1A) below,'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 29, in page 77, line 47, leave out 'the superior' and insert 'a'.

No. 30, in page 77, line 48, at end insert— '(1A) A certificate issued by a superior court shall be registered in a superior court and a certificate issued by an inferior court shall be registered in an inferior court'.

No. 31, in page 78, line 3, at end insert— 'Inferior court" means in Scotland, a Sheriff Court and in England and Wales or Northern Ireland, any court, other than the High Court, having jurisdiction to hear and determine civil causes'.

No. 32, in page 78, line 5, leave out 'superior'.

No. 33, in schedule 7, page 80, line 31, at beginning insert— 'Subject to sub-paragraph (1A) below,'.

No. 34, in page 80, line 33, leave out `the superior' and insert 'a'.

No. 35, in page 80, line 35, at end insert— '(1A) A certificate issued by a superior court shall be registered in a superior court and a certificate issued by an inferior court shall be registered in an inferior court.'.

No. 36, in page 80, line 38, at end insert— Inferior court" means in Scotland, a Sheriff Court, and in England and Wales or Northern Ireland, any court other than the High Court, having jurisdiction to hear and determine civil causes.'.

No. 37, in page 80, line 47, leave out 'superior'.

No. 38, in page 81, line 3, leave out 'the superior' and insert 'a'.

Mr. Dewar

The House may be relieved to know that these amendments can be dealt with considerably more briefly than the previous group. It is common ground that they do not raise matters of principle. They are concerned with administrative convenience and the efficiency of the system.

I am speaking from a Scottish point of view, although the amendments may have wider implications. Any decree from Scotland but within the rest of the United Kingdom or the EEC must be recorded in Scotland for enforcement. As the Bill is presently drawn, that must be done through the Court of Session. Lawyers in Scotland and the Law Society of Scotland have taken exception to that exclusive right. The amendments would ensure that if the decree is obtained in a superior court, it must come back to the Court of Session, but if it is obtained in an inferior court of whatever country it can return for enforcement to the relevant sheriff court. It is a simple matter. Everyone can make up their minds quickly on the Scottish merits, but the Minister may say that there are wider implications.

I shall be selfish and deal with the Scottish scene, which I know. We must consider a number of interests. The solicitor's trade is not necessarily the most important, but it must be given due consideration for the efficiency of the system. There is the expense and convenience of those litigating, those who are pursued and those who have a decree and wish to enforce it. It would be more convenient for all parties if the sheriff court, which is sited in the area where the arrest and enforcement will ultimately take place, were used.

The Minister has previously argued that there is no great inconvenience in centralisation in Edinburgh. There are not that many decrees. The Court of Session has the expertise and it is almost a service to unfortunate country sheriff clerks who may suddenly get a Belgian decree through the post and exclaim "Cripes, what's this?" I am not impressed with such arguments. Under the judgments extension legislation that has operated for about 100 years, sheriff clerks have coped with such problems, which have not given rise to complaint.

Let us not take anything too outré or unlikely, but assume that a person living in Aberdeen wished to litigate and discovers that the only jurisdiction in which he can found is in England. The defender may carry on business in Manchester. It is not an article 14 consumer action, so there is no possibility of founding on contract. He goes to a solicitor in Aberdeen who instructs a solicitor in Manchester. He, in turn, raises the necessary action in the English courts and gets decree. That is unavoidably complicated. Presumably he sends the decree back to the solicitor in Aberdeen, who sends it to Edinburgh to be checked and recorded in the Court of Session, presumably employing Edinburgh solicitors for the purpose. The documents are ultimately returned to Aberdeen. Assuming that the goods against which diligence is to be done are in Aberdeen, at the end of the long and complicated train, sheriff officers will be unleashed in Aberdeen.

That is a paper chase. On balance of convenience—I can do nothing to get rid of the Aberdeen, Manchester and back to Scotland trail—let us at least make the process a triangle and not something geometrically more complicated, with documents travelling to and from Edinburgh with the consequent delay and expense.

I am prepared to listen to arguments about the amendments affecting England and opposition there, but if I were deciding a system for Scotland and looking at the convenience of the legal system there, I have no doubt that I should work on the basis of the amendments, not the Bill. There is a case to be answered. The argument strongly favours my proposal. I hope that at this late stage the hon. Gentleman will consider the amendments sympathetically.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

The amendments would, in effect, retain the existing system for registration of judgments within the United Kingdom as it applies to money judgments, and extend it to non-money judgments, by requiring that judgments originating in an inferior court in one part of the United Kingdom should be registered in another part only in an inferior court. Similarly, superior court judgments could only be registered in the appropriate superior court. The Bill, on the other hand, presently provides for a unified system of registration of judgments through the superior courts.

As the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) said, this is a question not of principle, but rather of what on balance would be the most convenient system. We have taken the view, supported in Scotland by the Maxwell committee—and, it is fair to say, without opposition in any part of the United Kingdom other than that from the Law Society of Scotland—that, on balance, the advantages of a unified system of registration through the superior courts are decisive.

Judgments under the 1968 convention—other than maintenance judgments, for which there is a special regime—will, whatever their origin, be registered in the superior courts. That is required under article 32, as the hon. Member will be aware. Foreign judgments for enforcement under the Foreign Judgments (Reciprocal Enforcement) Act 1933, which in future will have the possibility of being judgments of inferior courts, are already enforced by registration in the superior court.

Further, within the United Kingdom there is being introduced for the first time a system of registration of non-money judgments which may well give rise to more complex problems than do money judgments. For money judgments, a very simple registration procedure is envisaged which could be operated directly by solicitors or by the parties, so that there would be no substantial inconvenience in having to deal with a superior court rather than a local court.

If the hon. Gentleman remains concerned about the matter, I invite him to study what the Maxwell committee said in paragraphs 15.63 to 15.66. He will see spelt out an extremely simple procedure for the registration of judgments. As envisaged there, it would not involve an elaborate procedure of passing the judgments necessarily through to an Edinburgh solicitor or to counsel before it could be done. It is very simple and straightforward. The real complication might arise with non-money judgments. I think that the hon. Gentleman would recognise that in those circumstances simply to translate what the English court says into Scottish legal jargon might be desirable. It would be useful to have a centre of expertise in translating some of the more obscure terms of English law into the clarity of thought that is part of the Scottish legal system.

Finally, as the hon. Gentleman is aware, comparatively few judgments, whether from other parts of the United Kingdom or from outwith the United Kingdom, are sought to be registered. In 1979, for example, the sheriff courts dealt with only 91 applications relating to the Inferior Courts Judgments Extension Act 1982. That total includes judgments from other parts of the United Kingdom received for registration and Scottish judgments sought to be enforced elsewhere in the United Kingdom. It seems desirable in the circumstances, both on grounds of efficiency and as being most helpful to applicants, to concentrate expertise in the registration of all foreign judgments in one place.

The Government's view is that the provisions of the Bill, as it stands, are to be preferred to those contained in the amendments.

Mr. Dewar

I had not expected any other answer from a well-briefed Minister, but the hon. Gentleman put it across, as always, with delicacy, and softened the blow as best he could. I hope that he will look sympathetically at any administrative rules covering the recommendations of the Maxwell committee, because there is a danger, despite the good will at his level, that the matter could become a little over-complicated and fouled up with administration.

I hold to my point and the Minister holds to his, but he is the Minister. The best that I can do in the circumstances, with what good order I can manage, is to leave others to judge the arguments. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn

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