There has long been a desire to see more female and black and minority ethnic (BAME) people appointed to the judiciary. The present Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas has promoted a number of initiatives designed to build on work already started by the Judicial Appointments Commission.
In April 2017, the Judicial Diversity Committee of the Judges’ Council published its latest report on progress together with – for the first time – an Action Plan for activities to be undertaken in 2017-2018.
The headline objectives of the Committee are set out in the report as follows:
In the next 12 months, we will –
continue our dialogue with BAME lawyers better to understand the barriers they face and identify what more the judiciary can do to support them;
work with the Law Society, Bar Council and CILEx to ensure that we are doing all we can to reach the broadest range of talent;
encourage more networking among the existing courts and tribunals judiciary;
run more workshops to support a greater number of candidates from under-represented groups to prepare for the selection process;
further develop our communications to potential candidates and those who have an interest in judicial diversity; and
improve the monitoring and evaluation of our initiatives.
While these aims may seem little bland, detailed reading of the report reveals that there is intended to be an extensive programme of workshops, mentoring, outreach and other initiative designed to encourage those from groups currently under-represented in the judiciary to think about law and a judicial career.
The report also provides a link to a number of judges talking about their experience in becoming a judge – designed to inspire others to contemplate following their path. See https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/about-the-judiciary/judges-career-paths/videos-judges-talk-about-their-judicial-careers/
In November 2015, the Government announced that it planned to increase the small claims limit for personal injuries to £5000. Following a consultation on making reforms to soft tissue injury claims (often referred to as whiplash injury) the Government has now (March 2017) decided that while Road Traffic Accident claims for less than £5000 should stay in the small claims track, the small claims limit for other personal injury claims should become £2000. It plans that these new limits should be in effect by October 2018.
The Government is also intending to ban the settlement of whiplash claims unless medical evidence is provided of the alleged injury.
From June 2017, ‘The Business and Property Courts’ will be the new name for England and Wales’ international dispute resolution jurisdictions and will act as a single umbrella for business specialist courts across England and Wales.
This is rather more than a simple re-branding. The main objective of the new arrangements is that it will enable appropriately qualified judges to be deployed more flexibly so that their expertise can be used in whatever forum it is needed.
Business and Property Courts brings under a single umbrella the following existing courts and lists:
- The Commercial Court (covering all its existing subject areas of shipping, sale of goods, insurance and reinsurance etc.)
- The Admiralty Court.
- The Mercantile Court.
- The Technology and Construction Court (covering all its traditional areas of major technology and construction cases).
- The Financial List (covering banking and financial markets).
- The Companies and Insolvency Court.
- The Patents Court.
- The Intellectual Property and Enterprise Court (the “IPEC”).
- The Competition List.
Other courts and lists will be added in future to include the existing business and property cases in the Chancery Division.
There will also be Business and Property Courts in Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Bristol and in Cardiff, with expansions to Newcastle and Liverpool likely in the future.
Although the framework will be new, existing practices and procedures will be retained, at least for the time being.
For some time the Government (under pressure from the Insurance industry) has been concerned about the numbers of claims and the aggregate amount of those claims for minor injuries arising from Road Traffic Accidents.
Between November 2016 and January 2017 the Government consulted on a package of measures to tackle the continuing high number and cost of whiplash claims and their impact on motor insurance premiums.
The Government’s concern was that the volume of road traffic accident related personal injury claims has remained static over the last three years and is over fifty per cent higher than 10 years ago (460,000 claims registered in 2005/06 28 compared with 770,000 in 2015/16) despite a reduction in the number of road traffic accidents reported to the police and improvements in vehicle safety, for example better head restraints.
It was noted that similar improvements in vehicle safety in other jurisdictions have led to a reduction in both the number of claims and motor insurance premiums.
The Government’s view is that the continuing high number of low value claims increases the cost of motor insurance premiums, paid by motorists in England and Wales. The Government has set out its view that the level of compensation paid to claimants for these claims is also out of proportion to the level of injury suffered. It has therefore decided to introduce measures to disincentivise minor, exaggerated and fraudulent claims.
Part 5 addresses this matter.
Clause 62 enables the Lord Chancellor to specify in regulations, in the form of a tariff, the damages that a court may award for pain, suffering and loss of amenity (“PSLA”) for relevant whiplash injuries sustained in road traffic accidents, in those cases where the duration of the injury does not exceed or is not expected to exceed two years. The tariff will provide for an ascending scale of fixed sum payments with the relevant tariff for a particular case identified by reference to the severity of the injury. Regulations may specify different sums for different descriptions of injury.
There will be power to deviate from the tariff in exceptional circumstances.
Clause 64 bans regulated persons (basically solicitors and barristers, legal executives and alternative business structures) from making or accepting a payment in settlement, or inviting, or offering to settle an RTA related whiplash claim without appropriate medical evidence.
Whether these changes will actually lead to any reduction in insurance costs is currently hard to determine, particularly given other recently announced changes that may result in a general increase in awards of damages for personal injury.