The online procedure bill that never was

In my earlier chapter on the Prisons and Courts Bill, I noted that the entire bill lapsed when Theresa May took her ill-fated decision to hold a general election in June 2017.

A few provisions were rescued and found their way into the Courts and Tribunals (Judiciary and Functions of Staff) Act 2018, discussed in a previous chapter. In the late spring of 2019, finding it had parliamentary time on its hands despite — or perhaps because of — the Brexit crisis, the government quietly launched the Courts and Tribunals (Online Procedure) Bill1 to reinstate a few more of the clauses that had been lost almost two years earlier.

The new bill would have established a new committee to make rules for online courts and tribunals. Its provisions were based on clauses 37 to 45 of the 2017 bill, though there would have been drafting improvements. A new rules committee was thought necessary to ensure “simplicity and economy in the rules”, as Sir Terence Etherton put it.2

The 2019 bill also lapsed when parliament was prorogued in October of that year. It was not included in the legislative programme announced shortly afterwards or in the second Queen’s Speech in December 2019. But nobody seemed too worried. As the Master of the Rolls explained, “rules for the Online Civil Money Claims pilots are currently being made by the Civil Procedure Rules Committee, which has ably adapted and learned how to make rules for a digital system”.

If the government could not manage to set up a new rules committee, the judges would simply make do without it.