Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Posts Tagged ‘civil court reform

Review of the structure of the civil courts

leave a comment »

The review of the structure of the civil courts, undertaken at great speed and efficiency by Lord Justice Briggs, was published on 27 July 2016.

Although commissioned by the Lord Chief Justice and the Master of the Rolls rather than by Government Ministers, there are strong reasons to believe that its recommendations will be taken forward by Government. The one uncertainty is how far the new Lord Chancellor and Secretary of Justice, Lynne Truss MP, will focus on an initiative originally supported by her predecessor, Michael Gove MP.

The recommendation that has grabbed most public attention so far relates to the recommendation for The Online Court. 

This would be a new court, designed to be used by people with minimum assistance from lawyers, with its own set of user-friendly rules. It is anticipated that it will eventually become the compulsory forum for resolving cases within its jurisdiction. It should start by  dealing with straightforward money claims valued at up to £25,000.

The review makes recommendations about how to help people who need assistance with online systems.

It is also provided that complex and important cases, even of low monetary value, should be able to be transferred upwards to higher courts.

Briggs also recommends important changes to who should be undertaking the work of the courts. Judicial resources should be made more readily available by the creation of Case Officers.

These would be a senior body of court lawyers and other officials who can assist with certain functions currently carried out by judges, such as paperwork and uncontentious matters. They would be trained and  supervised by judges. Their decisions would be subject to reconsideration by judges on request by a party. They would operate independently of government when exercising their functions.

Thirdly Briggs deals with the thorny problem of the Enforcement of Judgments and Orders.

He recommends that there should be a single court as the default court for the enforcement of the judgments and orders of all the civil courts (including the new Online Court). This should be the County Court, but there would need to be a permeable membrane allowing appropriate enforcement issues to be transferred to the High Court, and special provision for the enforcement of arbitration awards, in accordance with current practice and procedure.

He wants to see all enforcement procedures being digitised, centralised and rationalised.

Fourth, Briggs is keen to promote Mediation/ADR.

This has been on the agenda for years. In this context he recommends the re-establishment of a court-based out of hours private mediation service in County Court hearing centres prepared to participate, along the lines of the service which existed prior to the establishment and then termination of the National Mediation Helpline. My view is that all county court hearing centres should be required to offer this; but Briggs clearly felt this was a step too far at this stage.

Future issues

Briggs also sets out a number of proposals for further restructuring of the civil courts. These include:

  1. a review of High Court divisions;
  2. a single portal for the issue of all civil proceedings, leading to the eventual abolition of District Registries;
  3. a review of whether procedural changes in the Court of Appeal should be applied to appeals to the High Court and to Circuit Judges in the County Court;
  4. the possible convergence of Employment tribunals and the Employment Appeal tribunal with the county court;
  5. he would like to see the Family Court being given a shared jurisdiction (with the Chancery Division and the County Court) for dealing with Inheritance Act disputes and disputes  about the co-ownership of homes.

Announcements about the Government’s response to these recommendations and how they fit into the current programme of reform of the court estate will be noted here in due course.

Detail about the Briggs review can be found at https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/civil-courts-structure-review/civil-courts-structure-review-ccsr-final-report-published/civil-courts-structure-review-final-report-press-notice/

Civil Courts Structure Review: Interim Report

leave a comment »

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:

Urgent Priorities

  • 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.

 

 

Written by lwtmp

January 21, 2016 at 12:23 pm

Reviewing the structure of the civil justice system

leave a comment »

An essential part of the HMCTS reform programme involves deciding how best to deliver civil justice in England and Wales in a modern age of information technology.

The Lord Chief Justice and the Master of the Rolls, as Head of Civil Justice, have recently asked Lord Justice Briggs to carry out an urgent review of the structure of the courts which deliver civil justice. His work is designed to ensure that the structure of the court system aligns with the reform programme and in addition to look at the overall structure of civil justice. He has also been asked to look at the relationship of those courts with the Family Court and with  tribunals.

This aim is to assist HMCTS by ensuring that the reform programme comes up with a service which makes best use of the large capital investment proposed and provides a modern, efficient and accessible civil dispute resolution service for all.

An interim report is scheduled for December 2015.

The announcement is at https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/announcements/message-from-the-lord-chief-justice-and-the-master-of-the-rolls-civil-courts-structure-review/

Written by lwtmp

July 31, 2015 at 2:47 pm