Ministers say fundamental changes to the court system – due for debate today – will create a more straightforward and efficient justice system.
The Prisons and Courts Bill is due to be debated in the House of Commons for the first time this afternoon, with MPs expected to approve the legislation.
The bill sets out plans for online courts, more video and telephone conferences and ultimately the removal of many civil and criminal cases from the traditional courtroom setting.
The legislation, accompanied by a research briefing, also includes plans to create a tariff system for damages payments for soft tissue injuries and to ban insurers from making settlement offers before claimants have had a medical.
Justice minister Sir Oliver Heald said the bill will improve the experience of court users and cement the UK’s reputation for global legal excellence.
‘We want courts that are efficient and fit-for-purpose, with facilities across the entire estate that are modern, user-friendly, and work in favour of our hard-working and dedicated judges and magistrates,’ he added.
The government said that video booths would installed in courts across England and Wales to allow members of the media and public to observe virtual hearings from court buildings anywhere in the court.
Lists and results of cases that have taken place online will be available digitally.
It is estimated that 60,000 more pre-trial hearings in the magistrates’ court, 17,000 more contested bail hearings, and 30,000 more pre-trial hearings in the Crown court will all be done remotely each year.
The bill is likely to see around 420,000 summary and triable either way offences progressed without the need for administrative hearings, and the need for indictable only offences to have a ‘first appearance’ in the magistrates’ court will be removed.
The government continues to insist the proposed whiplash reforms included in the bill will save motorists £40 a year on average in their car insurance costs.
The Association of Personal Injury Lawyers said proposed compensation levels are set at ‘derisory’ levels and warned the new claims process will put off people with genuine injuries from making a claim.
‘Insurers have a past history for promising lower premiums, as a result of personal injury reform,’ said APIL president Neil Sugarman.
‘It would be wholly irresponsible for the personal injury reforms in the Prisons and Courts Bill to be allowed to pass unchallenged by MPs.’