Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

New Victims’ Commissioner appointed

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In June 2019, Dame Vera Baird replaced Baroness Newlove as the Victim’s Commissioner. Her appointment is for 3 years.

See https://www.gov.uk/government/news/dame-vera-baird-appointed-as-new-victims-commissioner

Written by lwtmp

September 16, 2019 at 12:10 pm

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On-line courts come a stage closer: Bill to establish new On-line Procedure Committee

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May 1st 2019 saw an important stage reached in the process of creating more on-line procedures to deal with family, civil justice and tribunals proceedings. The Courts and Tribunals (Online Procedure) Bill was introduced to House of Lords where it had its first reading.

The Bill, when enacted, will provide for the creation of a new judicially led procedure committee. It will develop special rules to ensure that on-line procedures are easy to use and accessible to the public.

This builds on new processes already introduced such as divorce online and money claims online.

A press announcement is at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/even-more-people-set-to-benefit-from-online-court-reform

 

 

 

Changing the grounds for divorce – new legislation proposed

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Family lawyers have long argued that the current law of divorce, which requires parties to prove that a marriage has broken down irretrievably and force spouses to provide evidence of ‘unreasonable behaviour’ or years of separation – even in cases where a couple has made a mutual decision to part ways – often exacerbates conflict, rather than reduces it. Although very few divorces are contested by the parties, this practice is known to be misused by abusers choosing to contest a divorce purely to continue their coercive and controlling behaviour.

Following a consultation, in April 2019, the Government announced that it would bring forward a Bill, which if enacted, would change the law.

The key features of the proposed legislation are :

  • the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage will become the sole ground for divorce;
  • instead of a requirement to provide evidence of a ‘fact’ around behaviour or separation, there will be a requirement to provide a statement of irretrievable breakdown;
  • the two-stage legal process, currently referred to as decree nisi and decree absolute, will be retained;
  • couples will have the option of a making joint application for divorce, alongside  the option (existing) for one party to initiate the process;
  • the ability to contest a divorce will go;
  • a minimum timeframe of 6 months, from petition stage to final divorce (20 weeks from petition stage to decree nisi; 6 weeks from decree nisi to decree absolute), will be introduced.

Proposals for reforming divorce law are always controversial. Critics argue that making it too easy to get a divorce will undermine the institution of marriage. But those who currently deal with divorce on a daily basis see the emotional harm that current arrangements can bring and have broadly welcomed the new proposals.

The Bill will be introduced ‘when parliamentary time permits’.

Further information is at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-divorce-law-to-end-the-blame-game which gives links to the consultation on which these proposals are based.

 

 

 

 

Written by lwtmp

May 1, 2019 at 11:39 am

Encouraging Judicial Diversity

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In April 2019, the Judicial Diversity Forum launched a new initiative designed to encourage talented lawyers from the Black and Ethnic Minority community to think about applying to become a judge. The first part of this programme is a series of YouTube videos – which can be watched by anyone interest. A further part of the programme – judge-led discussion group courses – will launch later in 2019.

This is the first joint initiative of the Judicial Diversity Forum, which is made up of the Judiciary, Ministry of Justice (MoJ), Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC), The Bar Council, The Law Society of England and Wales and the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx). Forum members are committed to delivering actions that attract applicants for judicial roles from all backgrounds to achieve a more diverse judiciary.

PAJE offers participants from all legal backgrounds the opportunity to develop their understanding of the role and skills required of a judge, through a series of digital resources including 10 short online videos and four podcasts, developed by the Judicial College, which show judges talking about their work and the Judiciary.

These digital resources cover a number of topics such as judgecraft, decision-making, judicial ethics, resilience and equality and diversity.

For further information see https://www.judiciary.uk/about-the-judiciary/who-are-the-judiciary/diversity/pre-application-judicial-education-programme-paje/

The YouTube videos may be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCi3XytDJY8a3I9_vL7A_5SQ
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How to develop the use of Alternative Dispute Resolution – Civil Justice Council report

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In December 2018, the Civil Justice Council (CJC) endorsed a report from a Working Group chaired by William Wood QC on how the use of ADR might be further encouraged.

The report concludes that it does not currently think that  the use of ADR should be made compulsory – a conclusion that some will find disappointing. But the Working Party argues that there is still work to be done to prepare the ground for the possible introduction of compulsion at some future date.

There are three general matters which the Working Party argues should form the basis for a strategy for the development of ADR:

  • The awareness of ADR, both in the general public and in the professions and on the Bench;
  • The availability of ADR, both in terms of funding and logistics and in terms of quality and regulation of the professionals involved;
  • The encouragement of ADR by the Government and Courts.

These are very similar to the issues which the ADR Sub-Committee of the CJC (which I used to chair) identified over 10 years ago.

But the latest report adopts a positive attitude arguing that

  1. Citizens must be aware that when civil disputes arise there are alternatives to the present choice of capitulation or litigation.
  2. Citizens must be aware that those alternatives include approaches involving neutral third parties to assist settlement.
  3. Those neutrals must be available in a practical and affordable form and operate in accordance with transparent standards of practice such that there is confidence in their training, their competence and their integrity.
  4. Far from being a sign of weakness the use of and the offer of the use of such techniques is wise, culturally normal and indeed would be expected by the Court.
  5. The Court should promote the use of ADR techniques to the extent that they would impose cost sanctions on those who did not agree to take reasonable steps toward settlement and reasonable steps towards the use of ADR. (The Parties would always be free to settle or not and the Court would never sanction a failure to do so.)

The Working Party says that increasing public awareness of ADR is the most difficult challenge. It concludes:

  • The promotion of ADR must be seen as part of the wider challenge of public legal education;
  • Initiatives such as peer mediation in schools and colleges and the annual Mediation Awareness Week should be applauded.
  • There must be a more complete embrace of ADR in law faculties and professional training and disciplinary codes.
  • There should be greater coordination between the different ADR areas, including restorative, family, civil, workplace and community, to provide a single “voice of mediation”.
  • A new website (perhaps to be called “Alternatives”)  should be created as a central online hub for information about ADR to include videos of the different types of ADR techniques being demonstrated;.
  • The ADR community must continue to push, as we know it has tried to do for many years, for references to ADR into the broadcast media and into social media.

On availability of ADR:, the Working Party concludes:

  • There is a need to ensure the availability of judges for Judicial Early Neutral Evaluation particularly at the fast track level. (We encourage the Financial Dispute Resolution approach – used in family disputes – in low value cases).
  • The small claims mediation scheme should be fully resourced so that it can fulfil its potential.
  • The Civil Mediation Council should consider the accreditation of cheaper more proportionate forms of mediation such as 3 hour telephone mediations.
  • The CMC should look carefully at emulating the regulatory approach of the Family Mediation Council.
  • The role of the case officer under the online court system is crucial as is the importance of appropriate recruitment and training.
  • Steps should be taken to promote standards for Online Dispute Resolution as a necessary step towards its further promotion and acceptance.

As regards Court/Government encouragement of ADR, the Working Party concludes, among other things, that:

  • There should be a review of the operation of the Consumer ADR and ODR Regulations to ensure that the existing rules are complied with and careful thought should be given to their further reinforcement;
  • The Rules and the case law have to date been too generous to those who ignore ADR and in our unanimous view under‐estimate the potential benefits of ADR. The present ethos is most clearly embodied in the Halsey guidelines but its approach is embedded in the rules and the court machinery as a whole. These require review.
  • Court documents, protocols, guidance material for litigants and case management should all express a presumption that ADR should be attempted at an appropriate stage on the route through to trial.
  • The terms of the claim document (potentially also the Defence document) should include a requirement to certify attempts to contact the other party and achieve settlement.
  • There should be earlier and more stringent encouragement of ADR in case management: there should be a perception that formal ADR must be attempted before a trial can be made available; we should explore the possibility of applying sanctions for unreasonable conduct that make sense at the interim stage.

The Working Party also states that it has been keen to identify an acceptable mechanism under which a mediation could be triggered without the intervention of the Court. It thinks the British Columbia Notice to Mediate procedure is the most promising option for a first step in this direction.

Where these proposals will go next are very hard to say.

It would be good to see the development of the proposed website. This might be achieveable pretty quickly and at modest cost.

It seems to me that the highly critical references to the Halsey decision – which have been a real drag on positive developments in practice – amount to a clear invitation for the issue to be revisited in the courts, assuming that a suitable case can be found.

When I chaired the ADR sub-Committee, a specific issue was what was the attitude of the judiciary to ADR, and whether or not it was right for them to participate in, for example, Early Neutral Evaluation. This is likely to need further work and training for judges to gain the confidence and experience to undertake this work.

The calls for public legal education sound fine – but can they be made effective without funding?

Notwithstanding these reservations, ADR remains an issue which remains important in the developement of civil justice practice and procedure.

The report can be accessed at https://www.judiciary.uk/announcements/new-report-on-alternative-dispute-resolution/

 

 

 

Consultation on extending Fixed Recoverable Costs

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Historically the civil justice system in England and Wales has operated under a ‘loser pays’ model, whereby the unsuccessful party to litigation covers the costs of the successful party. This can lead to high costs for the unsuccessful party.

In recent years, increasing consideration has been given to the idea that the costs paid by the loser should be fixed. Fixed Recoverable Costs (FRC) prescribe the amount that the winner can claim back from a losing party in civil litigation. These legal costs are set in advance by reference to grids of costs. Thus FRC have the advantage of giving both parties certainty as to the maximum amount they may have to pay if they are unsuccessful in their case. FRC can also ensure that the costs of cases are proportionate to the sum in issue.

FRC currently operate in most low value personal injury cases. The government and senior judiciary announced their support for extending FRC in November 2016, and Sir Rupert Jackson, then a judge of the Court of Appeal, was commissioned by the senior judiciary to develop proposals. Sir Rupert’s report, which was published in July 2017, follows on from his major report of 2010 looking at civil costs more widely, which led to significant reforms to controlling costs, including ‘no win, no fee’ reforms in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO).

Sir Rupert’s July 2017 supplementary report which focuses on the extension of FRC, completes his recommendations. (See this blog, 29 September 2017) The Government has now decided that the time is now right to consider the extension of FRC to more cases, on the lines recommended by Sir Rupert.

The Government is not planning to take forward all Sir Rupert’s recommendations. This Consultation focusses on three specific matters:

  1. Extending FRC to cases valued up to £25,000 in damages in the fast track. (This principle has already been adopted for Clinical Negligence claims);
  2. A new process and FRC for Noise Induced Hearing Loss;
  3. Expanding the fast track to include the simple ‘intermediate’ cases valued £25,000–£100,000 in damages.

The Consultation runs until 28 June 2019.

For details go to https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/fixed-recoverable-costs-consultation/

Courts and Tribunals (Judiciary and Functions of Staff) Act 2018

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In June 2018, I noted the arrived of the Courts and Tribunals (Judiciary and Functions of Staff) Bill. It has now completed its Parliamentary process and became law at the end of 2018.

The aims of the legislation remain unchanged. The Act contains measures that are essential to enabling the judiciary to respond to the changing demands of a reformed courts and tribunals system and delivering better services to users.

The Act also introduces much greater flexibility to the deployment of judges. It  also frees up judges’ time to focus on more complex matters by allowing suitably qualified and experienced court and tribunal staff to be authorised to handle uncontroversial, straightforward matters under judicial supervision.

The measures in the Act will also increase the efficiency of the courts and tribunals.

For further details see https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/courts-and-tribunals-judiciary-and-functions-of-staff-bill

 

 

Written by lwtmp

March 16, 2019 at 10:28 am