HL Deb 24 October 1990 vol 522 cc1344-5

8 Clause 5, page 7, line 34, leave out 'lead' and insert `adduce'.

9 Page 7, line 39, leave out 'leading' and insert 'adducing'.

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 8 and 9 en bloc. I speak at the same time to Amendments Nos. 14 to 16 and Amendment No. 27. With the exception of Amendment No. 16, these are drafting amendments.

Amendments Nos 8 and 9 concern Clause 5 (witness statements). In the other place it was suggested that the word "adducing" should replace the word "leading" which appears in Clause 5 in relation to evidence, and which might be ambiguous in view of the common meaning of the term "leading evidence". The point was referred to the draftsman, who agreed that the substitution was wise.

Amendments Nos. 14 to 16 concern Clause 9 (representation in certain county court proceedings). Amendment No. 14 is a drafting addition designed to make it clear that the order removing any restriction on rights of audience for particular classes of county court proceedings may be limited in its application to particular sub-classes. My intention has always been that, for example, an order deregulating rights of audience in relation to proceedings for debt under subsection (2)(a) should be capable of being limited so that it applies only to debts below a certain sum. This is particularly necessary in view of my plans to use powers under Clause 1 to abolish the county court limit, which could result in very substantial cases being heard in the county courts.

Amendment No. 15 simply deletes paragraphs (b) and (c) of Clause 9(3) which, as a result of other consequential amendments, serve no further purpose.

Amendment No. 16 is a substantive amendment which allows county court judges to disqualify persons who have misled the court, or otherwise demonstrated that they are unsuitable to exercise rights of audience or rights to conduct litigation, from taking advantage of any deregulation under Clause 9. The purpose of this amendment is to meet the anxieties expressed in this House that the clause did not adequately protect litigants in small county court cases against people who misuse the new right to offer their services as lay representatives. That was an anxiety expressed by, among others, my noble and learned friends the Master of the Rolls and Lord Ackner.

Clause 9 allows the Lord Chancellor to remove any restriction whatever on rights of audience in various specified classes of case in the county courts—principally debt, housing and small claims. This follows a recommendation of the Civil Justice Review.

The purpose of this clause is to allow litigants the freedom to choose the representative of their choice. It is not my intention here to set any standards of competence but to make it possible to disqualify people who have demonstrated that they are unsuitable to exercise these rights by having misled the court or otherwise misused their rights.

Amendment No. 27 alters the drafting of Section 75(3)(d) of the County Courts Act 1984, which deals with the power of the county court rules to prescribe cases in which functions may be allocated to judges, registrars and other officers.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 8 and 9 en bloc —(The Lord Chancellor.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.