Reform of Civil Justice (2)
On the same day that the Government announced how it would amend rules on costs, it also announced that it is consulting on important changes to the organisation and practice of the civil courts. At the heart of the new proposals, there is greater emphasis on fixed costs in litigation; more extensive use of mediation; better use of court buildings (including closure of many courts); increased use of the small claims track; ensuring that only very high value civil cases can be started in the High Court; and creating more flexibility in the ways in which cases are handled in county courts. There are also proposals relating to better enforcement of decisions.
According to the Consultation Paper , the Government’s proposals are based around the following principles:
Proportionality – that disputes should be resolved in the most appropriate forum, so that processes and costs are commensurate with the complexity of the issues involved.
Personal Responsibility – that wherever possible citizens should take responsibility for resolving their own disputes, with the courts being focused on adjudicating particularly complex or legal issues.
Streamlined Procedures – that procedures should be citizen and business friendly with services focussed on the provision of timely justice.
Transparency – to ensure that there is clear information on the dispute resolution options open to citizens so that they can take action early, make informed decisions and more readily access the most appropriate services
To achieve these objectives, the paper proposes:
- Introducing a simplified claims procedure on a fixed costs basis, similar to that for road traffic accidents under £10,000, for more types of personal injury claim; exploring the possibility of extending the framework of such a scheme to cover low value clinical negligence claims; and examining the option of extending the upper limit of those simplified claims procedures to £25,000 or £50,000;
- Introducing a dispute management process and fixed recoverable costs by specific case types up to £100,000;
- Increasing the upper jurisdiction threshold for small claims (excluding personal injury and housing disrepair) from £5,000 to £10,000, £15,000 or £25,000;
- Requiring all cases below the small claims limit to have attempted settlement by mediation, before being considered for a hearing;
- Introducing mediation information/assessment sessions for claims above the small claims limit;
- Encouraging greater use of online dispute-resolution services;
- Providing a simpler and more effective enforcement regime; and testing the public appetite for further enforcement reforms and jurisdictional changes;
- Introducing a number of jurisdictional changes in the civil courts, including the introduction of a single county court jurisdiction for England & Wales.
Alongside these proposals, the Government says it is improving the information offered to members of the public through enhanced online content available through Directgov, the Government’s central website for the citizen. New content is designed to inform the public about the full range of civil dispute resolution options available to them, including mediation, use of Ombudsmen, industry arbitration schemes and where appropriate, use of statutory regulators.
It also aims to demystify the court process itself, rendering it more navigable to the public, and provide upfront information and warnings about the time and costs involved in pursuing a path of what could be protracted litigation.
This new resource also includes a series of short audio-visual clips, which explain what happens at a court hearing; what happens at mediation; and what may happen as a result of a judgment being enforced. They also include short pieces to camera which help to explain the benefits of mediation over litigation, as well as testimonies from members of the public who have used the mediation process.
Full details are in http://www.justice.gov.uk/consultations/solving-disputes-county-court.htm
The consultation runs until the end of June 2011.