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Institute of Legal Executives Order 1998

10.11 p.m.

Lord Hardie rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 12th March be approved [27th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, this order contains rights of audience in England and Wales. Historically, rights of audience have been the preserve

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of barristers and to a lesser extent solicitors; but this order will extend rights of audience to a third category: legal executives.

The draft instrument was laid before the House on 12th March of this year. By this order the Institute of Legal Executives will become the first new authorised body for the purposes of Section 27 of the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990. The 1990 Act established a framework for the granting of rights of audience and the right to conduct litigation. The institute will join the General Council of the Bar and the Law Society as bodies authorised under the Act to grant right of audience to its members. This order will enable the institute to grant rights of audience before a court to suitably qualified fellows of the institute through the issue of separate rights of audience certificates for civil proceedings, matrimonial proceedings and coroners' courts proceedings.

The authorisation of the institute so that it may grant rights of audience to its members has been welcomed by those who have considered the application. It will extend rights of audience as was allowed under the 1990 Act, but the procedures under that Act have proved to be too cumbersome and susceptible to delays so that rights of audience generally have not been extended as widely as had been envisaged.

The Government are committed to reforming these procedures and will announce their proposals in due course. The order is limited to the Institute of Legal Executives and to the rights of audience which its fellows may acquire. When qualified, fellows of the institute will have the right to appear in five different categories of court proceedings: first, in open court in county courts on matters which are within the normal jurisdiction of a district judge; secondly, in family and related proceedings within the normal jurisdiction of district judges in the county courts and before magistrates in family proceedings courts; thirdly, before justices in magistrates' courts in relation to all matters originating by complaint or application, including application under the licensing and betting and gaming legislation, but excluding any complaint or application affecting the liberty of the subject; fourthly, the four specified tribunals under the direct supervision of the Council on Tribunals where the tribunal rules provide for a non-discretionary right of audience to be available to barristers and solicitors; and, finally, in coroners' courts in respect of all matters determined by those courts. Legal executives may now appear in certain proceedings either where there is no restriction on representation or with the leave of the court or tribunal concerned, but by this order fellows of the institute will be able to appear as of right in the proceedings that I have outlined.

One consequence of the success of this application is that we propose that those fellows who become authorised advocates should become subject to the Legal Services Ombudsman.

The support and advice of the ombudsman will be important in seeking to ensure that standards of service by fellows of the institute are maintained. A separate order to that effect has been laid before both Houses.

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The application by the institute under the 1990 Act was approved by the Lord Chancellor and the designated judges in November 1997. The decision marked an important development in the widening of rights of audience initiated by the Act.

However, it is unfortunate that the procedures under the 1990 Act are so labyrinthine and slow. The institute's application was first started in November 1993 and will not be concluded until later this month. It is the Government's intention to improve that approval process, and our proposals will ensure that applications such as that can be processed expeditiously in future.

Fellows of the Institute of Legal Executives already play an important role in the legal process, and the success of its application will ensure an even greater contribution in the future. As such, I commend this instrument to the House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft Order laid before the House on 12th March be approved--[27th Report from the Joint Committee].--(Lord Hardie.)

Lord Kingsland: My Lords, this Motion is welcomed and supported by Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition. The Courts and Legal Services Act 1990 was of course an Act introduced and passed through your Lordships' House by the previous government. We therefore welcome any dispassionate and objective improvements that might be made to that Act should it be found to fall short of the highest standards in any way.

I noted what the noble and learned Lord said about labyrinthine procedures and the need to introduce more expeditious ways of granting approval under Sections 27 and 29 of that Act. Can he give us any indication of the direction that any alternative procedures are likely to take?

Lord Hardie: My Lords, I am not in a position to give any details of the proposals at the moment. The Government will announce their proposals for approval access in due course. All that I can say is that it is intended that the proposals will make it simpler for existing rights to be extended and for others to acquire rights in the future. I am happy to write to the noble Lord once I have more detailed information.

Lord Kingsland: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for his reply. I am much obliged to him for the information that he has given me.

Lord Hardie: My Lords, approval of the instrument will lead to an important increase in the number of people qualified to appear before courts and tribunals. It also marks an important stage in the process of legal executives towards their more general recognition as an independent and separate branch of the profession. I commend the order to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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Road Traffic (New Drivers) (Northern Ireland) Order 1997

10.18 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Dubs) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 11th December 1997 be approved.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, road safety is an important issue which concerns all of us. It affects us personally, our families, our friends and the entire community. While the United Kingdom has one of the best road safety records in the European Union, the Government believe that more needs to be done to reduce deaths and serious injuries on our roads. I regret to say that the road casualty rate in Northern Ireland continues to be the worst in the United Kingdom. During 1996 road traffic accident deaths per 100,000 population were 24 per cent. higher in Northern Ireland and 38 per cent. higher per 10,000 vehicles registered.

Also during that year total casualties were 50 per cent. higher per 100,000 population and 71 per cent. higher per 10,000 vehicles registered. This year to date 43 people have been killed on Northern Ireland's roads compared to 41 in 1997. On a more positive note, in relation to meeting our target of a one third reduction in road deaths and serious injuries by the year 2000, the 1997 figures show that a 28 per cent. reduction has been achieved. However, unless more road safety measures are implemented, a continued reduction in road accident casualties may not be secured.

To tackle this problem, a range of new measures has been introduced in line with similar arrangements elsewhere in the UK. The most recent of these has been the introduction of penalty points for serious driving offences, the use of camera technology for speeding offences and a new mandatory extended driving test for those convicted of dangerous driving.

The order before us today is a further part of this increased effort and is aimed at inexperienced newly-qualified drivers. This order seeks to introduce new provisions into Northern Ireland's road traffic laws and is based on the Road Traffic (New Drivers) Act 1995 which came into force in Great Britain in June 1997.

It builds on the penalty points scheme which came into operation in Northern Ireland on 1st October 1997 by introducing procedures whereby newly qualified drivers would revert to learner status and have to re-take their driving test if they reach a total of six or more penalty points within two years of passing their first driving test. Examples of offences for which penalty points are allocated include, careless and inconsiderate driving, 3 to 9 points; speeding, 3 to 6 points; traffic light offences, 3 points.

Perhaps I may summarise the key provisions of the order. First, it sets a two year probationary period from the date a person passes his or her first driving test. This could be any test conducted under the laws of Northern Ireland, Great Britain, the Isle of Man, any of the Channel Islands or Gibraltar. It could also be a test

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conducted under the laws of any other EEA state; that is, EU member states plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.

Secondly, it requires the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland (in effect, Driver and Vehicle Licensing Northern Ireland) to revoke the full licence (or, if the provisional licence and test certificate have not been exchanged for a full licence, to revoke the test certificate) where the accumulated penalty points total reaches six or more during the probationary period.

Thirdly, it prohibits the issue of a further full licence until the driver passes a further driving test. However, once a further test has been passed the driver becomes eligible for a licence equivalent to the one which was revoked. This means that one re-test will restore all previous driving entitlements irrespective of the class of vehicle used for the purposes of the re-test.

Fourthly, penalty points which lead to the revocation of a licence under this order would still remain on the licence record so if that driver accumulates further points he or she would, if the total reaches 12 within a three year period, be subject to disqualification from driving. Accordingly, one re-test only would apply under this order. Also, where a driver appeals the conviction or endorsement which brought his or her total number of penalty points to six or more, the revoked licence would be restored, without a re-test, pending appeal.

Finally, the order modifies Northern Ireland's restricted driver provisions. As these provisions are unique to Northern Ireland, I shall explain these changes in some detail. Since 1968, the law in Northern Ireland has required newly qualified drivers to display "R" plates on any vehicle they are driving and they are restricted to a maximum speed of 45 mph. These restrictions apply for a period of 12 months after passing a driving test. In calculating the 12 month period of restriction, any period of disqualification is ignored so that the restricted period will not end until the driver has completed a full 12 months' driving experience under restriction.

This order would make two significant modifications to the restricted driver provisions. The first concerns the existing law which requires courts, when ordering a restricted driver to be disqualified from driving, to order a further 12 month restriction after the disqualification ends. Also, if not disqualifying a restricted driver on conviction of certain offences (such as speeding or careless driving) courts are at present required to order a further period of restriction of between three and 12 months. This order would remove the duty on courts to order such additional restricted periods. However, calculation of the initial restricted period would continue as before and periods of disqualification would not count as part of the 12 month restricted period.

The second modification is that the restricted provisions would no longer apply after a driver has been re-tested.

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The proposal is that they will apply only after the initial driving tests in category A and B vehicles; that is, motorcycles and cars. We believe that with the increased penalties proposed by this order, there is no need for powers to extend restricted periods beyond 12 months.

The provisions of the new drivers order would not apply to a driver who has passed his first driving test before the order comes into force. However, for those drivers to whom the order does apply, the six or more points total will be calculated in accordance with the current provisions of the Road Traffic Offenders (Northern Ireland) Order 1996. That means that any points accrued within the three-year period preceding the latest offence will be counted and that would, therefore, include any points acquired as a learner driver prior to this order coming into effect.

The draft order was circulated to more than 200 individuals and bodies and some 20 responses were received. Overall, they indicate a general acceptance and welcome for its provisions.

Lack of experience, often allied to over-confidence and sometimes irresponsible attitudes, is a major contributory factor in road crashes. In 1997, over 16 per cent. of fatal road crashes in Northern Ireland for which drivers were responsible were caused by drivers with less than two years' driving experience. The purpose of this order is to promote good driving practices and responsible attitudes by encouraging inexperienced, newly-qualified drivers to observe the law.

Your Lordships will be interested to know that over 60 per cent. of driving tests conducted in Northern Ireland in 1997 were taken by young persons under the age of 21 years. Obtaining a driving licence is a major event in the lives of many young people. We believe that the threat of loss of that licence will act as a significant deterrent to bad driving and will contribute to reducing road casualties in Northern Ireland. I commend the order to the House.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 11th December 1997 be approved.--(Lord Dubs.)

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