Justice minister Lucy Frazer has defended the role of call centres in the justice system during the committee stage of the Courts and Tribunals (Judiciary and Functions of Staff) Bill.
The government majority on the committee meant that all the amendments put forward by the Labour Party were rejected, including one that would have given people subject to decisions under powers delegated to court staff a statutory right to judicial reconsideration, rather than leaving it to the rules committees to decide.
Ms Frazer, a barrister, said the bill was trying to ensure that judges were “deployed in the most effective way” and that “jobs are appropriate for those who carry them out”.
She said it was “self-evidently wrong” for Labour MP Yasmin Qureshi, also a barrister, to suggest that only people who were legally qualified understood justice, since “a large part of our criminal justice system” was delivered by volunteer magistrates.
“She also suggested that call centres are having a detrimental impact on justice.
“Our call centres are actually improving justice, because, as can be seen from the take-up rate, people are speaking to someone who can answer their concerns much more speedily.
“The satisfaction of people ringing up is improved as the pick-up time is improved, because it is now dedicated people picking up the phone, rather than people in courts, who have a large number of things to do.”
Tabling an amendment which would have limited authorised staff to solicitors, barristers or chartered legal executives with at least three years’ post-qualification experience, Ms Qureshi said: “I have, of course, the utmost regard and respect for our judiciary, but I believe that, in the procedure committees, financial constraints and pressures sometime come into play in trying to speed things up through the courts system.
“The ethos is that a case should be dealt with very quickly—there is nothing wrong with that—and that there should be minimal interactions between lawyers in the court process.
“When the procedure committees make certain rules, such as defining who the authorised person is, what is wrong with Parliament saying that the starting point should be that those authorised persons must have been legally qualified for at least three years?”
Ms Frazer responded that the amendment would “set the bar for qualification prohibitively high and rule out a large proportion of Her Majesty’s Court and Tribunals Service staff giving legal advice or exercising judicial functions, even though they may have been doing either or both for a number of years”.
Further amendments which would have required statutory instruments delegating powers to authorised staff to be subject to the affirmative procedure in parliament, and the impact of the delegation of judicial functions to be reviewed within three years were also rejected.
The bill now moves on to its report stage.