Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Posts Tagged ‘civil justice system

Review of the structure of the civil courts

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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/

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Civil Courts Structure Review: Interim Report

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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

Protecting Intellectual property rights: the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court

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The UK economy depends heavily on innovation – in products, design, brands. All these key economic activities are underpinned by intellectual property rights. It is essential that those who create, research and design new things and ideas are able to protect the intellectual property they have created.

There is a lot of law which is designed to do just that. But the effect of the law is undermined if those who want to assert their intellectual property rights against those who want to deny them their rights cannot do so effectively.

Of course the traditional forum for the assertion of such rights is the Court. But as is well known, going to court is an extremely expensive business. Individuals and small and medium businesses may just not be able to afford to litigate, however meritorious their case and however unmeritorious their opponents might be.

Some years ago, a first attempt to make some forms of IP litigation more affordable was put in place with the introduction in 1990 of the Patents County Court (PCC). It had a ‘special jurisdiction’ to hear proceedings related to patents and registered designs, and the ‘ordinary jurisdiction’of a County Court to hear tortious actions, such as copyright infringement, trade mark infringement, and passing off claims (though initially not all IP matters, such as certain trade mark and designs issues),

But it never worked particularly effectively and did not attract much business.In particular, the PCC was perceived as featuring a number of major ‘procedural shortcomings’ which affected its ability to hear low value claims:

  • The PCC ‘lacked any mechanisms for controlling what parties filed in a case or for keeping cases moving’
  • The PCC lacked the ability to place limits on the value of a case brought before it.
  • From 1999 onwards, the Civil Procedure Rules applied equally to the PCC and the High Court.

The cumulative effect of these three shortcomings was that litigation could be under­taken at the PCC and the High Court with the same procedures and at the same price. This was perceived as blurring the lines between the types of cases heard at the PCC and the High Court which did little to encourage SMEs to enforce their IP rights at the court.

Further as noted above, the PCC was split between ‘special’ and ’ordinary’ jurisdictions. Among other things, this split restricted to some extent the types of remedies that were available in certain cases, such as asset freezing orders and orders for search and seizure.
From 2010, a programme of reform has been put in place, designed to make it easier in particular for SMEs to access the court. The principal changes have been:
  • Procedural change,with  the introduction of active case management (ACM), early identification of the issues by the judge,and a limit on the time to be taken at trial;
  • Cap on recoverable costs: set at £50,000;
  • Cap of £500,000 damages recoverable in cases before the PCC;
  • The introduction of a small claims track to hear copyright, trade marks and passing off, databases, breach of confidence, and unregistered designs matters, but not cases concerning patents, registered designs and plant variety rights.

Finally, in October 2013, the Intellectual Property Enterprise court (IPEC) was created as a specialist court operating within the Chancery Division of the High Court of England and Wales. In accordance with CPR part 63 and Practice Direction (PD) 63 the IPEC can hear cases concerning patents, designs (registered/unregistered, UK/Community), trade marks (UK/Community),passing off, copyright, database right, other rights conferred by the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 and actions for breach of confidence. It took over the work of the Patents County Court, which was abolished.

A recent research report suggests that these changes – particular on the control of costs and the increase in case management – have been effective in encouraging more SMEs to bring cases to the IPEC and have also increased the willingness of parties to proceedings to negotiate settlements to their disputes.

The researchers found:

the cumulative effect of the IPEC reforms 2010-2013 has been highly significant – in addition to an increase in the numbers of filed cases at the IPEC, the creation of the streamlined IPEC MT and SCT for litigating disputes has led to an overall increase in the amount of IP disputes that occur more generally i.e. pre-filing. In other
words, now that IP holders have the ability to utilize the IPEC – a litigation forum that caps costs and damages, and makes use of ACM (and includes the SCT option) – IP holders are more confident about entering into disputes with potential infringers, where previously they would have not felt confident enough to do so.
The information in this blog item is derived from the evaluation report commissioned by the Intellectual Property Office, and written by Christian Helmers,Yassine Lefouili and Luke McDonagh. It was published on the England and Wales Judiciary website, and is downloadable at  https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/447710/Evaluation_of_the_Reforms_of_the_Intellectual_Property_Enterprise_Court_2010-2013.pdf
See also Angela Fox (2014): Intellectual Property Enterprise Court: Practice and Procedure, Sweet and Maxwell, London.

The specialist financial list of England and Wales: diagram – launch of website

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The following diagram can be seen at https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/you-and-the-judiciary/going-to-court/high-court/

It gives more information about how the recently announced specialist financial list will be structured within the High Court of England and Wales. Go to the website and click on each of the headings for more information.

The creation of this new list raises, in my mind, a more general question – should specialist facilities be available only for the rich litigating over large sums of money. Other areas are arguably worthy of similar treatment  – e.g. housing. Given the investment in new technologies it might also be argued that access to specialist judges would not necessarily need to be in specific court buildings; they could be asked to deal with cases on-line via video links, for example. This may be an issue for Lord Justice Briggs to consider

Written by lwtmp

August 1, 2015 at 1:38 pm

Reviewing the structure of the civil justice system

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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

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.