Civil Courts Structure Review: Interim Report
Lord Justice Briggs has been asked to undertake an urgent review of the structure of the civil courts, to accompany the court reform programme currently being undertaken by the Ministry of Justice. He has recently (12 Jan 2016) published an interim report.
It is clearly work in progress, in that it poses rather more questions than makes provisional recommendations as to what changes should be made. However, the following key issues are identified:
- Prepare the civil judiciary to play their part in the management of the HMCTS reforms from April 2016, including Judicial College training and staff to support the leadership judges.
- As soon as possible design the structure and software which will be needed for the re-organised courts, particularly the Online Court.
- Ease the burden on the Court of Appeal.
On on-line Courts, his provisional view is that
- There is a clear and pressing need to create an Online Court for claims up to £25,000 designed for the first time to give litigants effective access to justice without having to incur the disproportionate cost of using lawyers.
- There will be three stages: Stage 1- a largely automated, inter-active online process for the identification of the issues and the provision of documentary evidence; Stage 2 – conciliation and case management, by case officers; Stage 3 resolution by judges.
- The court will use documents on screen, telephone, video or face to face meetings to meet the needs of each case.
He raises a number of further questions, e.g. whether the on-line court should use the current Civil Procedure Rules, or work to new bespoke rules.
On the role of Case Officers, his provisional view is that some of the existing judges’ more routine and non-contentious work should be transferred to Case Officers supervised by judges. Parties should have the right to have a Case Officer’s decision reconsidered by a judge.
He then asks questions about how case officers should undertake their work: by mediating? or by written early neutral evaluation? He also asks what qualifications case officers should have.
He wants to see more civil work being dealt with in the regions outside London, and the development of expertise in dealing with civil cases in more centres outside London.
These issues are summarised in the Press Release, available at https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/civil-courts-structure-review/civil-courts-structure-review-ccsr-interim-report-published/press-summary-of-the-ccsr-interim-report-from-lord-justice-briggs/
The full report is downloadable through links at that page.
Interesting footnote: In line with his on-line vision for the Courts, Lord Justice Briggs is refusing to accept any written submissions on paper – all comments and ideas have to be submitted on-line.