Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Posts Tagged ‘Civil Justice Council

Transforming the English Legal System: Civil Justice

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The Consultation Paper Transforming our Justice System sets out proposals for reform of the civil justice system that build on work undertaken earlier in 2016 by the Civil Justice Council, JUSTICE and Lord Justice Briggs – all of which have been noted in this blog.
The principal features of what is now proposed are:

 

i. Introducing a new online process for resolving claims: In line with plans across all jurisdictions, we will move more cases away from physical court rooms. Building on Lord Justice Briggs’ proposals in his Civil Court Structures Review we will create a new process to resolve many disputes entirely online, using innovative technology and specialist case officers to progress routine cases through the system and reserving judicial time for the most complex cases. We will create a new, streamlined Rules Committee to design this new system and keep the processes simple. When hearings are required, they may be held over thetelephone or video conference, focusing court resources on the most complex and difficult cases. This will mean that cases should reach a quicker resolution.

ii. Encouraging parties to resolve disputes themselves where possible: We will
increase signposting to mediation and alternative dispute resolution services to
help people avoid court for minor disputes that would be better handled privately,
without needing the court to intervene.
iii. Extending the fixed recoverable costs regime: Fixed recoverable costs are legal
costs which can be recovered from the losing side by the successful party to a
claim, at a prescribed rate. (For civil claims, these are set out in the Civil
Procedure Rules). We will build on measures introduced in the last Parliament for
low value personal injury claims, to limit the level of legal costs recoverable.
These measures provide transparency and certainty for all parties and are
designed to ensure that the amount of legal work done is proportionate to the
value of the claim. We are keen to extend the fixed recoverable costs regime to
as many civil cases as possible. The senior judiciary will be developing proposals
on which we will then consult.
iv. Civil enforcement: We will give the [county court] powers to issue attachment of
earnings orders to the High Court to create a simpler, more consistent approach
to enforcement, and make sure more people can get the money they are owed.
We will also commence the fixed deductions scheme (fixed table) provisions in
the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 in the County Court and
introduce fixed tables in the High Court, providing transparency and certainty of
the rate of deductions from debtors’ earnings to pay back their creditors.
v. Replacing statutory declarations in county court proceedings with a witness
statement verified by a statement of truth: We will replace outdated and currently
inconsistent procedures, which are inconvenient for people to use and resource
intensive to administer, with a more modern digital approach but keeping strong
penalties where a statement of truth is found to be false.

See chapter 3 in https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/transforming-our-courts-and-tribunals/supporting_documents/consultationpaper.pdf

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Litigants in person: a problem for the civil justice system or a catalyst for change?

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Over three years ago, in this blog, I drew attention to a report of a committee of the Civil Justice Council chaired by Robin (now Mr Justice) Knowles on how the courts might deal with increasing numbers of litigants in person appearing in the civil courts.

Since that time, a number of further publications have appear indicating the concerns that the judiciary and the legal profession have in dealing with litigants in person (LiP).

For example, in October 2013, the Judiciary published their Handbook for litigants in person. Written by a team of county court judges, led by  HHJ Edward Bailey, this is a 170 page document giving guidance to the LiP on the different elements that make up the civil justice system and the different stages that a case may need to undergo for a dispute to be resolved. The Master of the Rolls, Lord Dyson, in a foreword wrote that the handbook

will, I am sure, play an important role in rendering the civil litigation process less daunting and more accessible for those litigants who represent themselves. In that regard it will play an important part in helping to maintain our commitment to access to justice as a right available to all.

I confess I have my doubts. By comparison with, for example, legal textbooks on civil procedure, the document is a relatively easy read – but that said for the non-professionally qualified person, I think it is pretty hard going. It would be interesting to know how many people have in fact been able to prepare themselves for an unrepresented trial by taking the advice set out in the handbook.

More recently in June 2015 the legal professions have published Litigants in person: new guidelines for lawyers,
a document which – in effect – reminds professionally qualified lawyers that they owe a duty to the court – not to make the case for the unrepresented party but at least not to take advantage of the fact that their opponent is unrepresented.

Concern about the rise in the numbers of LiPs has, of course, arisen because reductions in the amounts of legal aid for representation in court has reduced the numbers of cases in which parties can be professionally represented. And, in that context, both the judiciary and the legal professions efforts to make things a bit clearer for LiPs is to be welcomed.

But I think there are more fundamental questions which these publications do not address. In particular, there is an assumption that the current practice and procedure of the civil justice system is the right one, and that therefore the remedy is to give the LiP the skills to comply with current practices and procedures.

But what if the current practices and procedures, though ideal for lawyers and judges who are used to them, are not actually the most sensible or effective?

There are plenty of alternatives which might be thought about:

  • for example, tribunals in the main adopt procedures which are determined by the chair of the Tribunal;
  • the Financial Services Ombudsman use trained staff to assist those customers who are complaining about the service received from banks or other financial institutions to put their complaints into writing
  • other systems, such as Tenancy Deposit disputes use an electronic portal to ensure that the key documentation and evidence is available for the dispute resolver to deal with the case.

The Leggatt Review of Tribunals, published way back in 2001, talked of the tribunal having ‘an enabling role’. This did not mean that tribunal judges were biassed in favour of one party rather than another; rather the system should be designed to ensure that the unrepresented knew what information would be likely to be relevant.

The recent JUSTICE report, Civil Justice in an Age of Austerity began to make some rather more fundamental questions about whether the current practices and procedures of the civil justice system are sustainable. In that context, the ‘problem’ of LiPs raises questions that handbooks and guidelines – however well-intentioned – are unlikely to address.

To read the Judiciary Handbook go to https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/publications/handbook-litigants-person-civil-221013/

To read the legal professional guidance go to http://www.lawsociety.org.uk/Support-services/Advice/Articles/Litigants-in-person-new-guidelines-for-lawyers-June-2015/

Written by lwtmp

July 3, 2015 at 2:39 pm

Reforming the Civil Justice system

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There have recently been two reports making proposals for reform of the civil justice system.
In the first, published in February 2015, a committee of the Civil Justice Council, chaired by Professor Richard Susskind made proposals for the development of online dispute resolution (ODR)

In summary the report calls for radical change in the way that the court system of England and Wales handles low value civil claims. We strongly advocate the introduction of online dispute resolution (ODR). The committee argued, in outline:

  • For low value claims, we are concerned that our current court system is too costly, too slow, and
    too complex, especially for litigants in person.
  • To overcome these problems, our main recommendation is that HM Courts & Tribunals Service
    should establish a new, Internet-based court service, known as HM Online Court (HMOC).
  • On HMOC, members of the Judiciary would decide cases on an online basis, interacting
    electronically with parties. Earlier resolution of disputes on HMOC would also be achieved –
    through the work of individuals we call ‘facilitators’.
  • We predict two major benefits would flow from HMOC – an increase in access to justice (a
    more affordable and user-friendly service) and substantial savings in the cost of the court system.
  • ODR is not science fiction. We present a series of case studies from around the world that clearly
    demonstrate its potential.
  • We argue that to improve access to justice, it is vital not just to have better methods of resolving
    disputes but also to have effective ways of avoiding and containing disputes. ODR can help here.
  • The technology underpinning ODR is evolving rapidly. We make a series of predictions about
    the likely capabilities of later generations of ODR system.
  • Our Group would be pleased to work closely with HMCTS in a new phase of work, that should
    focus on piloting the proposals in this report.

Their report is available at https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/reviews/online-dispute-resolution/odr-report-february-2015/

More recently JUSTICE has published an important report – Civil Justice in an Age of Austerity. A Committee, chaired by retired Court of Appeal Judge Sir Stanley Burnton, argues that the age of austerity should also be seen as ‘an age of opportunity’ to change the way the civil justice system operates.

It supports the proposals for ODR made by the Civil Justice Group (above) but goes further proposing that the courts take more responsibility for ‘triaging’ cases – with court officials playing a more proactive role in helping parties to disputes to resolve their problems themselves, leaving judges to deal with the most complex cases. It also argues for better information about legal rights and obligations.

The JUSTICE report is available at http://justice.org.uk/delivering-justice-in-an-age-of-austerity-report-launch/

Given the General Election, it will be some time before policy initiatives – if any – emerge from Government. But they show that there are influential figures in the legal system anxious to promote greater efficiency and a clearer user focus on the work of the courts.

 

Unlikely revolutionaries? The changing face of civil justice

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One of the consequences of the planned cutbacks in legal aid is that the senior judiciary have become increasingly concerned about the ‘problem’ of litigants in person – people who want to take a case to court, but who cannot afford a professionally qualified lawyer to represent them. They fear that more and more people will want to represent themselves in court and that cases will take longer. These fears have been used by both practitioners and the judiciary to argue that cuts to legal aid should not be as great as the government would like. The problem with these arguments is that there seems no realistic prospect that the cuts in legal aid will be reversed. A more sensible approach, therefore, might be to get people in the system to do some serious thinking about how civil justice might be delivered differently.

It was in this context that  a working group set up by the Civil Justice Council, chaired by Robin Knowles QC, was asked:

(1) To consider what steps could be taken to improve access to justice for litigants in person.
(2) To consider what steps could be taken to prepare for the possibility that the number of litigants in person will increase materially.
(3) To focus on steps that would not require material additional financial resources.
(4) To consider the possibilities for further development of pro bono advice and assistance for litigants in person.

In other words, like it or not, they were told to assume that funding for legal aid would not increase.

In its report, published in November 2011, the Working Group does not welcome the proposed cuts to legal aid; far from it. But they argue that there will be an increase in the numbers of the self-represented, and that much more should be done to make it easier for them to use the courts. Adopting the language of the Leggatt Review of Tribunals, they observe that users of the court system – by which they mean members of the public, not lawyers or judges – should be taken into account much more consciously than has been the case in the past. (There are areas of the legal system where parties routinely represent themselves; social security tribunals – which hear hundreds of thousands of cases a year, rarely with representation – is the prime example.)

To achieve this, the Working Group makes a substantial number of recommendations, both short-term and longer-term. They focus on the importance of making processes simpler; making information easier to understand; giving advice to judges and court staff on how to assist the self-representing litigant; devising a code of practice to prevent professional advocates taking advantage of the self-represented litigant. They also give strong backing to the promotion of public legal education designed to make information about rights and entitlements, and also about court procedures more readily available.

The tone of the the Working Group is not, in fact, a revolutionary one; many of the proposals are sensible and with the appropriate leadership and championning might offer some assistance to those with legal rights to assert but who cannot afford lawyers to assert those rights.

But underlying the report, unacknowledged, is a pretty big question: is the current model of adversarial justice ever going to be able to deliver proportionate justice to the ordinary person who wants to use the law to assert his or her legal rights?

It is not clear how the Government is going to respond to the report; but it merits much more public attention than has so far been paid to it.

To read the report go to http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/about-the-judiciary/advisory-bodies/cjc/self-represented-litigants.htm

Written by lwtmp

March 2, 2012 at 3:15 pm