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Courts Act 2003


The criminal courts

164.The Government recognised in the White Paper, Justice for All, that the benefits the Auld Review identified from a fully unified criminal court could be realised through closer alignment of the criminal courts. This could be achieved without a complete re-ordering of the courts system or the introduction of an “intermediate tier”.

165.The White Paper announced that the Government would legislate to bring the magistrates’ courts and the Crown Court closer together and that these courts, when exercising their criminal jurisdiction, would be known as “the criminal courts”. This part of the Act addresses this change.

Practice directions

166.The Heads of Division (the Lord Chief Justice, Master of the Rolls, President of the Family Division and Vice-Chancellor) have power under the High Court’s inherent jurisdiction to make directions as to practice and procedure. Section 74A of the County Courts Act (CCA 1984) gives the Lord Chancellor overall control over practice directions to be followed in county courts. He, and any person authorised by him, may make directions as to the practice and procedure of county courts. But there is no statutory provision about practice directions for magistrates’ courts. This Act will allow the Lord Chief Justice, with the concurrence of the Lord Chancellor, to make directions as to the practice and procedure of the criminal courts. It will also provide statutory authority for the President of the Family Division, with the concurrence of the Lord Chancellor, to be able to issue practice directions in her own name which are binding on the magistrates' courts and county courts when hearing family proceedings.

Criminal Procedure Rule Committee

167.The creation of the Criminal Procedure Rule Committee (Crim PRC) will establish one forum for the development of rules, to determine the practices and procedures to be used in all criminal courts in England and Wales. The Committee will be responsible for introducing consistency in procedures. Having consulted beforehand, the Committee will meet to discuss proposals and consider drafted rules.

168.There are currently two Committees with different purposes and differing powers – the Magistrates’ Courts’ Rule Committee (under s144 of the MCA 1980) and the Crown Court Rule Committee (under ss84 and 86 of the SCA 1981). They each deal with rules concerning criminal and civil business. Neither Committee has over-arching responsibility for ensuring consistency across the courts. They rarely meet, usually working via correspondence.

169.The CrimPRC will take on responsibilities currently exercised by the Magistrates’ Courts’ Rule Committee and the Crown Court Rule Committee, insofar as they relate to rules of criminal practice and procedure.

Family Procedure Rules and Directions

170.The Auld Review did not address directly the potential implications for the family jurisdiction of any reorganisation of the criminal courts. However, it is inevitable that any alterations to the criminal jurisdiction will impact on the family jurisdiction as the administration, judiciary, court staff and estate are closely inter-related. Relevant proposals were included in the White Paper.

171.These sections closely mirror the changes that are being proposed in relation to both criminal and civil rules of court. The aim of the sections is to ensure that there is clarity and consistency of approach, and common standards, across the whole of the family jurisdiction.

Civil Procedure Rule Committee

172.The Act will provide for changes to be made to the composition of the Civil PRC; and for the Lord Chancellor to alter the rules made by the Committee.

173.The changes to the composition of the Civil PRC are to reflect the new statutory basis for the posts of Head and Deputy Head of Civil Justice. This will allow greater flexibility in the senior judicial membership of the Committee, and to ensure that the Committee has members with experience of the trial process at each level of the civil justice system.

174.The Lord Chancellor is to have the power to alter the rules made by the Committee after consultation with the Committee. The power to alter rules is not a new power, but is a power that is being restored. Prior to the creation of the Civil PRC the Supreme Court Rule Committee made rules for the Supreme Court and these required the agreement of the Lord Chancellor. The Lord Chancellor had the power to allow, disallow or alter rules made by the County Courts Rule Committee. This power dates back to at least section 164 of the County Courts Act 1888. Altered rules will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure in Parliament.

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