HC Deb 18 December 1995 vol 268 cc1217-8
28. Mr. Mudie

To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what is the average notice given for Court of Appeal hearings. [4663]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Mr. Jonathan Evans)

Cases in the Court of Appeal are dealt with individually and the period of notice depends upon the circumstances and the urgency of the case. The convenience of the parties is taken into account as far as is practicable.

Mr. Mudie

The Minister will be aware that fewer than five days' notice is given for many cases that are heard in the criminal division of the Court of Appeal. He will also be aware that, as a result of that short notice, too many people facing imprisonment have their cases heard without sufficient time to obtain any professional legal representation. Does the Minister agree that that is a totally unacceptable way of dispensing justice? Will he inform the House what steps he will take to ensure that individuals facing an appeal or possible imprisonment have sufficient time to arrange their representation?

Mr. Evans

I am rather surprised to hear the hon. Gentleman complain about the speed of justice in the criminal division of the Appeal Court, as it is more usual to hear complaints about delays in justice in the civil division of that court. I know that the Master of the Rolls pays great attention to that problem and the Government have sought to resolve it by providing more judges.

In the context of appearances before the criminal division, the Government generally believe that justice should proceed speedily, but I am happy to examine any circumstances in which it is claimed that it has been dispensed so speedily that justice has been denied. However, I am very surprised to hear a complaint that appeal hearings are occurring too quickly; I usually hear complaints to the contrary.

Mr. Alex Carlile

In welcoming the hon. Gentleman to his new ministerial appointment, I ask him to consider allowing further hearings of the Court of Appeal criminal division to take place in the regions. He knows that the court has sat in Cardiff in the past. I suspecthouses—I urge this view on himhouses—that the process could be more speedy if hearings were to take place in places such as Cardiff and Manchester.

Mr. Evans

I thank the hon. and learned Gentleman for his welcome, which he delivered with characteristic sincerity and generosity. I am very much aware of the experience of the criminal division of the Court of Appeal sitting in Cardiff. As the hon. and learned Gentleman will know, I was in practice in that city at the time and I was concerned with one of the cases that came before the court. Since taking up my present appointment, I have considered that possibility. The advice I have received so far is that it is not likely to lead to speedier justice, and may even create a delay. However, I shall continue to keep the matter under review. If the particular difficulties that have been highlighted can be overcome, we should work towards the Court of Appeal sitting in other parts of the country from time to time.

Sir Ivan Lawrence

I welcome the speed of cases reaching the Court of Appeal, but is not one of the major reasons why cases are not reaching the civil division of the Court of Appeal that too many judges are now preoccupied with judicial review? Is that not causing a problem with the judiciary that will shortly become a problem for anyone running a Department that is challenged at every turn by a number of judicial reviews? Is it not time that close attention was paid not to abolishing judicial reviews, which fulfil a necessary and important function, but to curbing some of the enthusiasm that is grinding into the ground the operation of Government and the courts?

Mr. Evans

I have noted my hon. and learned Friend's views on the operation of the judicial review, but it is primarily the work load in the civil courts that has led to such a substantial increase. I have discerned an increase of some 61 per cent. in the work load of the civil division of the Court of Appeal since 1991. Furthermore, more judges have been appointed. Since 1993, we have had five additional Appeal Court judges, but that has not made a significant contribution towards reducing the backlog, which is increasing.

The Government have taken additional steps. My hon. and learned Friend probably knows that fixed time limits have been introduced in respect of oral arguments in the civil division of the court. I am sure that hon. and learned Members will be delighted to learn that lawyers have been taken on to ensure that appeals that reach the civil division are ready. It is totally unacceptable for a case to come before the civil division of the Court of Appeal with some requisite paperwork missing so that the hearing has to be aborted.

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