Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Archive for the ‘Chapter 8’ Category

Equal treatment: Guidance from the Judicial College

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It should go without saying that, particularly in the legal arena, those who take part in proceedings before courts and tribunals need to feel that they have been treated equally.

This is, of course, easier said than done, as David Lammy’s report on the Criminal Justice System, published in 2017 showed. (See this blog 29 Sept 2017). But for many years first the Judicial Studies Board and now the Judicial College have offered guidance to judges (and by extension to others involved in the justice system) about the best ways to try to ensure that people are treated fairly.

Much of this focusses on the language that judges and others involved in the justice system use generally (for example in relation to litigants in person) and in relation to those from specific sectors of society, who may be defined by their religion, their ethnicity, their sexual orientation, mental or physical disabilities, their gender.

In February 2018, the Judicial College published an on-line updated revision to its ‘Equal Treatment Bench Book’. Bench books were originally devised as a handy guide to key issues which could sit on the judge’s desk, available for him to refer to it that seemed necessary.

I am not sure whether this particular Bench Book can be used in this way. For one thing, it is very long – well over 400 pages. And the issues raised are such that I would have thought judges would need to have considered them before a case or other proceedings have started. (It would not be desirable for a judge to stop in the middle of a sentence in order to look up how a particular person should be addressed.)

But I don’t agree, as some comments in the press have suggested, that the Equal Treatment Bench Book is an example of political correctness gone mad. It seems to me to be an honourable attempt to raise questions and address issues that arise in practice but that many judges may not have thought about before. (Indeed, I think there are some parts of the book that would be of interest to a wider readership.)

I set out the link to the text here, and invite readers to take a look at the Book and come to their own view on its value.

See https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/equal-treatment-bench-book-february-v6-2018.pdf

 

 

 

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Written by lwtmp

April 4, 2018 at 3:19 pm

Practitioners and academics: new alliances

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In my book Introduction to the English Legal System, I argue that legal academics play an important role in the development of our understanding of the law and that their role should be given more recognition than it sometimes has had in the past. (See Chapter 9, section 9.10).

Recently, however, my interest has been stimulated by stories in the professional legal press concerning a rather different collaboration between the world of legal practice and the academic world.

A number of firms, particularly those engaged in personal injury litigation, have been working with academic statisticians  and ‘decision scientists’ to try to understand what are the variables that are in play when litigation is under consideration and thus trying to understand better the risks of taking particular cases on and to predict better the potential outcome of issues that are being litigated. This may help practitioners to decide whether a case should settle, or be fought through to trial.

The firms concerned think this may be beneficial both for small value large volume groups of claims, as well as high value claims. One finding that has emerged from this work is that the models that are being used  suggest that the upper level of the Judicial College Guidelines on damages for different types of injury is almost irrelevant in most cases.

It is possible that this approach might also be used by the Courts and Tribunals service to analyse cases that pass through the courts. It might help, for example, in making determinations on which cases might be suitable for the small claims track or the fast track in the allocation of civil disputes in the county court – a possibility hinted at by Sir Ernest Ryder in a recent speech where he said:

Digitisation will, if we are sensible, provide us with the opportunity to gather data on the operation of our justice systems in ways that we have often been unable to before. It provides us with the opportunity to make our justice systems more adaptive; but again, only after proper scrutiny and discussion.

It seems to me that these initiatives will grow in number in the near future. What will be needed is proper evaluation of these tools to see whether they do in fact assist in both legal and judicial practice, and how they might be developed.

For press reports on these initiatives see https://www.legalfutures.co.uk/latest-news/hodge-jones-allen-embraces-predictive-modelling-pi-work; and https://www.legalfutures.co.uk/latest-news/leading-law-firm-joins-forces-lse-professors-find-ways-predict-litigation.

Sir Ernest Ryder’s speech is at https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/ryder-spt-open-justice-luxembourg-feb-2018.pdf

 

Reshaping the Court estate: a further consultation

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The programme of transformation of the justice system depends on the closure of a significant number of existing court buildings and reinvestment of the savings of running costs and the capital receipts from buildings that have been disposed of in a smaller but more efficient court estate.

In January 2018, Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service published a Consultation Paper setting out the basic principles on which detailed plans are now being developed. At the same time there were 5 more specific papers setting our proposals for closing courts in a number of areas, including Cambridge, the Thames Valley, London and Lancashire. There is nothing particularly new in this paper, though it does give interesting accounts of a number of initiatives currently on-going to deliver new ways of working in courts and tribunals.

The key aims are that there should be

  • more videolinks and virtual hearings;
  • digital service delivery, with a major reduction in the use of paper files;
  • flexible opening hours;
  • improved service delivery with much more work being undertaken online.

The number of court buildings will be reduced from around 530 buildings (a decade ago) to a total of 239 buildings in 2018. It is accepted that this will lead to some increase in travel time to reach those buildings, but the vast majority will still, according to HMCTS figures, still be within 2 hours travelling distance. As much work will in future be delivered without the need for lawyers and parties to be present in court, it is argued that this will further mitigate any inconvenience. What will be important will be to ensure that cases listed for a particular day are actually dealt with on that day.

The Consultation Paper reminds readers that the transformation policy is designed

  • to enable existing and new buildings to be much more flexible in the ways in which they can be used;
  • to ensure better public facilities – e.g. waiting rooms, rooms for clients to consult with their advisers;
  • to ensure that the vulnerable are able to feel confident about using court facilities;
  • to include of modern ICT to enable more work to be done online
  • to support the needs of all the professionals who use the courts;
  • to move towards an estate that provides dedicated hearing centres, while seeking
    opportunities to concentrate back office functions in a smaller number of centres where they can be carried out most efficiently.

There will be resistance to some of these ideas. For example, the Bar has already argued against more flexible opening hours. It is said that this could be discriminatory against women barristers who may find it hard to take cases outside traditional working hours. While this is an issue that must be addressed, such arguments fail to acknowledge the fact historically the Court Service has only paid lip-service to the idea of delivering a service to court users. Many parties to litigation may find it more convenient to attend hearings outside of 10-4, Mondays to Fridays. The transformation programme provides a challenge to those who work in the courts to consider how they can deliver the service that clients want, when they want it.

The Consultation runs until 29 March 2018. The documentation can be found at https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/transforming-court-tribunal-estate/

 

Written by lwtmp

January 19, 2018 at 12:18 pm

Transforming our Justice System: Transformation – Courts and Tribunals 2022

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Despite the loss of the Prisons and Courts Bill 2017 at the General Election, held in June 2017, work on the Transforming our Justice System programme continues apace. (For those aspects of the reforms which need legislation, a replacement bill is expected shortly.)

Keeping up to date with the progress that has been made is hard, as most of the changes do not hit the headlines in the media. (About the only issue which has been subject to any public discussion has been criticism from the Bar about a pilot trialling the use of courts for longer periods during the day. The criticism focussed almost entirely on the inconvenience this would cause to barristers – no mention of the possibility that the public might prefer court hearings outside the traditional 10-4 Monday-Friday time frame.)

Specific developments can be noted by keeping an eye on Press Releases from the Ministry of Justice. A recent example is the announcement of the opening of the first two Courts and Tribunals Service Centres in Birmingham and Stoke on Trent

See https://www.gov.uk/government/news/first-courts-tribunals-service-centres-launched

A more rolling source of news can be found in the extremely interesting blog relating to the transformation programme – now called Transformation: Courts and Tribunals 2022. This provides news about the new services that are being developed for modernising the courts and tribunals system, both giving  accounts of what is currently on going and also what is planned.

The link to the blog is at https://insidehmcts.blog.gov.uk/category/transformation-courts-and-tribunals-2022/

It is possible to sign up to an email notification service so that you are told when a new blog entry is published.

 

 

Employment Tribunals fees: payback scheme

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In R (on the application of UNISON) (Appellant) v Lord Chancellor (Respondent) [2017] UKSC 51 (noted in this blog on 1 October 2017) the Supreme Court held that the fees being charged for taking cases to Employment Tribunals were so high that they were effectively barring access to justice. In consequence the Court ruled that the fee scheme  was unlawful. The Government has now announced arrangements for the refunding of those fees. Stage 1 of the refund scheme became operative on 20 October 2017.

It is clear that the Government plan to introduce a revised scheme which they hope will meet the Supreme Court’s objections.

For the announcement see https://www.gov.uk/government/news/opening-stage-of-employment-tribunal-fee-refund-scheme-launched

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by lwtmp

October 30, 2017 at 5:11 pm

Next steps for ADR?

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In October 2017, the Civil Justice Council published an important consultation paper on the future of ADR.

The paper noted:

The stage has been reached where in various categories of dispute in England and Wales (notably family and employment) the parties are actually required to take steps directed solely to exploring settlement. Nobody in these systems is required to settle, but they are required to commit time and often money to exploring the possibility.
The Courts and rule makers in the non‐family civil justice system in England and Wales have been less forceful. The encouragement of ADR is currently achieved by:
(a) exhortations to try to  settle and to use ADR in Court forms and documents;
(b) links and signposts to sources of information about ADR
(c) tick‐box requirements that clients have, for example, been advised of the need to settle if possible and of the availability at ADR

(d) costs sanctions being imposed after judgment in the relatively rare cases in which one party can establish that his opponent has unreasonably refused or failed to mediate.
(e) the Courts’ acknowledgement that litigation lawyers are now under a professional obligation to advise their clients of the availability and advantages of ADR.
Almost all of these measures are well crafted and well thought out. But in our view the system as a whole is not working….
The Paper then goes on to ask whether the time has come for a different approach.
While noting that online dispute resolution may offer effective ways to resolve disputes, the Paper acknowledges that at present we simply do not know what that new system will look like.
Thus the basic proposition in the Paper is that:
the Court should promote the use of ADR more actively at and around the allocation and directions stage. We think that the threat of costs sanctions at the end of the day is helpful but that the court should be more interventionist at an earlier stage when the  decisions about ADR are actually being taken. We think there should be a presumption that in most cases if parties have not been able to settle a case by the directions stage they should be required to bring forward proposals for engaging in some form of ADR.
Some of us, a minority, would go further and introduce ADR either as a condition of access to the Court in the first place or later as a condition of progress beyond the Case Management Conference…
Overall we draw attention to the fundamental problem of the failure so far to make

ADR familiar to the public and culturally normal. Meeting this wider challenge will
ultimately be more important than any tuning of the rules of civil procedure.
I have long been a supporter of the use of ADR in civil proceedings. Indeed, many years ago I chaired a sub-committee of the Civil Justice Council that considered ways to promote the use of ADR. In welcoming the new paper I make the following suggestions:
1 To be successful, the judiciary must be supportive of the idea of promoting the use of ADR. If they are not supportive, then they will be less interventionist than the paper is suggesting they should be.
2 The judiciary need training in what ADR actually is and how it can be used as a dispute resolution tool. We ran an experimental workshop in which judges took part in role play exercises using ADR techniques. Having a ‘feel’ for the power of ADR in helping parties reach agreements should overcome judicial scepticism – if such still exists – about its value.
3 I think that consideration be given to rebranding Courts as Court and Dispute-Resolution Centre – which happens in some other countries. This sends the clear message that ADR is not something separate from the courts but integral to the Courts’ function.
4. It might be possible that a cadre of judiciary could train as ADR providers and undertake some mediations. (They could not of course hear cases that failed to settle.) But parties might be more willing to accept a process led by a judge rather than someone outside the Court structure.

The Consultation runs until mid-December 2017. The Interim Paper is at https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/interim-report-future-role-of-adr-in-civil-justice-20171017.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

Written by lwtmp

October 19, 2017 at 3:05 pm

Employment Tribunal fees: back to the drawing board

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Until the coming into force of the Employment Tribunals and the Employment Appeal Tribunal Fees Order 2013,  a claimant could bring and pursue proceedings in an Employment Tribunal (ET) and appeal to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) without paying any fee.
The Order created a somewhat complex fee tariff in which different fees were paid, depending on the type of action being brought before the tribunal. In addition, a fee had to be paid at the start of proceedings, another when the case went to a hearing. Poor claimants who fell below defined income and capital limits could get their fees remitted.
The Government’s objective in imposing the fees were said to be
(i) Financial: to transfer a proportion of the costs of the ETs to users (where they
can afford to pay);
(ii) Behavioural: to encourage people to use alternative services to help resolve
their disputes; and
(iii) Justice: to protect access to justice.getting a better balance between what the taxpayer funds and what the litigant funds.

An official review of the impact of the fee changes, published in January 2017 concluded that, broadly, these objectives had been achieved. (See this blog, February 2017)

The Supreme Court has, however, come to a quite different conclusion. In R (on the application of UNISON) (Appellant) v Lord Chancellor (Respondent) [2017] UKSC 51, the Court concluded unanimously that the Fees Order was ultra vires (that is to say that the Lord Chancellor did not have the power to make the order) and so quashed it.

There are at least three reasons why the judgements in this case are particularly interesting.

First, in most cases where the validity of a Statutory Instrument is challenged in the courts, the argument turns on fairly precise questions of statutory interpretation – were the rule-making powers in an Act of Parliament sufficient to give the relevant Minister the power to make the order being challenged?

In this case a much broader, constitutional approach was adopted. The essence of the argument was that the impact of the Order was so dramatic (the numbers of cases coming to both the ET and the EAT had fallen dramatically since the introduction of the fees) that they had the effect of denying potential claimants access to justice.Lord Reed, in the principal judgement, refers back to a number of historic legal texts, including Magna Carta, to conclude that it is a constitutional principle recognised in common law, that people should have access to justice.

Second, the judgement relies heavily on a number of empirical studies to show that the effect of impact of the fees rules was quite disproportionate. Using hypothetical examples, the Justices conclude that ordinary people on average earnings would have to forgo weeks if not months of expenditure on anything other than the most basic necessities to save the money needed to pay the relevant fees. The Court decided that the fees thus imposed a quite disproportionate burden on those who might have an arguable case to take to the ET or EAT. Certainly the cosy conclusions of the impact review, mentioned at the start of this note, were totally rejected by the Supreme Court

Finally, Lord Reed makes a number of  interesting and important observations about the rule of law and the functions of courts and tribunals in supporting the rule of law. (See in particular paras 66-85 of the judgement). Here I set out brief extracts from the judgement:

The importance of the rule of law is not always understood. Indications of a lack
of understanding include the assumption that the administration of justice is merely a public service like any other, that courts and tribunals are providers of services to
the “users” who appear before them, and that the provision of those services is of
value only to the users themselves and to those who are remunerated for their
participation in the proceedings. [There is an] assumption that the consumption of ET and EAT services without full cost recovery results in a loss to society, since “ET and EAT use does not lead to gains to society that exceed the sum of the gains to
consumers and producers of these services”.
[However] …the idea that bringing a claim before a court or a tribunal is a purely private activity, and the related idea that such claims provide no broader social benefit, are demonstrably untenable….
Courts exist in order to ensure that the laws made by Parliament, and the common law created by the courts themselves, are applied and enforced. That role includes ensuring that the executive branch of government carries out its functions in accordance with the law. In order for the courts to perform that role, people must in principle have unimpeded access to them. Without such access, laws are liable to become a dead letter, the work done by Parliament may be rendered nugatory, and the democratic election of Members of Parliament may become a meaningless charade. That is why the courts do not merely provide a public service like any other.
Every day in the courts and tribunals of this country, the names of people who brought cases in the past live on as shorthand for the legal rules and principles which their cases established. Their cases form the basis of the advice given to those whose cases are now before the courts, or who need to be advised as to the basis on which their claim might fairly be settled, or who need to be advised that their case is hopeless. The written case lodged on behalf of the Lord Chancellor in this appeal itself cites over 60 cases, each of which bears the name of the individual involved, and each of which is relied on as establishing a legal proposition. The Lord Chancellor’s own use of these materials refutes the idea that taxpayers derive no benefit from the cases brought by other people….
But the value to society of the right of access to the courts is not confined to cases in which the courts decide questions of general importance. People and businesses need to know, on the one hand, that they will be able to enforce their rights if they have to do so, and, on the other hand, that if they fail to meet their obligations, there is likely to be a remedy against them. It is that knowledge which underpins everyday economic and social relations….
When Parliament passes laws creating employment rights, for example, it does so not merely in order to confer benefits on individual employees, but because it has decided that it is in the public interest that those rights should be given effect. It does not envisage that every case of a breach of those rights will result in a claim before an ET. But the possibility of claims being brought by employees whose rights are infringed must exist, if employment relationships are to be based on respect for those rights. Equally, although it is often desirable that claims arising out of alleged
breaches of employment rights should be resolved by negotiation or mediation,
those procedures can only work fairly and properly if they are backed up by the
knowledge on both sides that a fair and just system of adjudication will be available
if they fail. Otherwise, the party in the stronger bargaining position will always prevail….
The Justices accepted that a system of fees that had the objectives set out above – of reducing the cost to the tax payer, encouraging settlement and deterring weak cases – were quite lawful. But they concluded that in this case the fees structure had gone too far. In addition they noted that the practical outcome of the fees imposed by the order was to result in a significant reduction in the money being paid into the system by parties to proceedings. In short, the price for access being charged was too high for the Government to be able to achieve its principal objective of increasing revenue into the court/tribunal system.
It seems clear to me that the Government will not abandon its fees policy – either in relation to ETs and EATs, or indeed to other parts of the courts and tribunals system where fees are imposed. But those devising future schemes will have to take into account considerations that go well beyond those that were initially taken into accounts by Ministers and their civil servant advisers.
The full text of the judgement is at https://www.supremecourt.uk/cases/docs/uksc-2015-0233-judgment.pdf
The press summary is at https://www.supremecourt.uk/cases/docs/uksc-2015-0233-press-summary.pdf