HC Deb 18 July 1991 vol 195 cc527-8

'. In relation to any proceedings before the sheriff under any provision of this Act, the power conferred on the Court of Session by section 32 of the Sheriff Courts (Scotland) Act 1971 (power of Court of Session to regulate civil procedure in sheriff court) shall extend to the making of rules permitting a party to such proceedings, in such circumstances as may be specified in the rules, to be represented by a person who is neither an advocate nor a solicitor.'.—[The Solicitor-General.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

The Solicitor-General

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to take Government amendments Nos. 87 and 88.

The Solicitor-General

Clause 45 currently enables any person authorised by the Secretary of State to have a right of audience and a right to conduct litigation before a magistrates court in connection with any proceedings under the Bill. The House will recall that the Under-Secretary of State for Social Security, my hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack), said in Committee that we had given further thought to the Scottish position.

The new clause makes analogous provisions for Scotland in relation to civil proceedings before the sheriff, and amendments Nos. 87 and 88 make the necessary consequential amendments to the provisions in clause 53.

In Scotland civil proceedings in the sheriff court are regulated by court procedural rules made under section 32 of the Sheriff Courts (Scotland) Act 1971. Such rules, after appropriate consultation and discussion, are formulated by an independent body known as the Sheriff Court Rules Council and, if approved, are ultimately made by the Court of Session. The new clause extends that power to allow parties to specified civil proceedings in the sheriff court to be represented by a lay person. The new clause is clearly sensible and I commend it to the House.

Dr. Godman

I have one anxiety about new clause 7, which refers specifically to section 32 of the Sheriff Courts (Scotland) Act 1971. That section refers to the power of the Court of Session to regulate civil procedures. It begins by stating: Subject to the provisions of this section, the Court of Session may by act of sederunt regulate and prescribe the procedure and practice to be followed in any civil proceedings". That refers to an ordinance which allows the Court of Session to regulate its procedures by way of an Act dating back to 1540.

Sheriffs in Scotland are willing to deal in their courts with professionals who are not solicitors and advocates in, for example, proof cases brought from a children's panel. The sheriff will meet social workers and others in his or her court, and I see no difficulty arising about that.

The new clause refers to people being represented by a person who is neither an advocate nor a solicitor. I hope that that would not prevent such a person, when appearing in the sheriff court, from applying for legal aid. There will be cases involving children and their carers in which a non-professional would not be appropriate and an advocate would need to be employed. I am anxious that the Legal Aid Board in Scotland does not refuse such applications because of the wording of the new clause—[Interruption.] I hope that Conservative Members will take this seriously because it is an important matter. I want an assurance that the Legal Aid Board will not try to save money because of the wording of the new clause which, apart from that concern, I regard as a reasonable provision.

The Solicitor-General

I listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman's remarks. He pointed out that some provisions are ancient. A happier feature of a civilised society is that provisions that have been standing since, say, 1540 have been so standing because they were sensible even then and have stood the test of time.

The hon. Gentleman's main question referred to what the Legal Aid Board might or might not do in relation to certain applications. He will know that, in certain circumstances, legal aid in the form, for example, of advice by way of representation—for somebody who might need representation because he or she had failed to comply with a liability order or something of the sort—might be forthcoming from the board or the court. It would not be wise for me to give undertakings off the cuff, but I promise to look into what the hon. Gentleman said and write to him with an explanation of the likely practicalities.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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