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Changes afoot in the Civil Court System

October 13th, 2016

Trainee Solicitor, Abeer Sharma, outlines the 4 key proposals of our Civil Courts to “transform” our Justice System.

The court system has been in a state of flux since the turn of the decade and there are further changes afoot. The Lord Chancellor, The Lord Chief Justice and the Senior President of Tribunals have released a paper entitled “Transforming Our Justice System” outlining various intended reforms. The mission statement is to:

“modernise and upgrade our justice system so that it works even better for everyone, from judges and legal professionals, to witnesses, litigants and the vulnerable victims of crime “.

Some of the most interesting reforms relate to those in the civil courts. The English civil courts are much vaunted all over the world and draw in billions of pounds in revenue from international parties, who frequently agree when contracting with one another that English law will be the applicable jurisdiction in the event of a dispute.  Nonetheless, the civil system has its faults and it is accepted that more needs to be done to preserve the gold-plated status of the English courts. There are 4 key proposals aimed at the civil courts to look at in more detail:

Greater emphasis on Alternative Dispute Resolution (“ADR”)

The intention is clear- the courts want to encourage as little litigation as possible and for ADR to be on the table as a method of resolving a dispute at the earliest possible opportunity. It is planned that ADR will be cheaper and swifter than at the current time. The paper also iterates the need to give parties more choice in selecting a method of ADR that is tailored to their dispute on its facts. Whether Negotiation, Conciliation, Mediation or a tailored hearing, disputes will hopefully be dealt with sooner and with less stress involved for all.

Faster process, further digitisation

Anyone who has dealt with the civil courts will know that the system is not renowned for its speed and technological advancement. Proposals in this paper seek this change forever. A particular bold plan is for all civil money claims (80% of claims lodged in the county courts and the High Court) to be automated and digitised by 2020. Paper is to be phased out with a growing use of technology to speed up the process of issuing documentation and handling the progress of cases. There are also likely to be more online hearings where a matter is not as complex and does not require a face to face hearing.

Extending the powers of the High Court

Rather bizarrely, in the situation of a debt recovery it is only possible for a creditor to obtain an Attachment of Earnings order against a debtor in the County Court. This is to change; the High Court will have the power to make this order and provide fixed tables of deductions in order that both creditors and debtors know the score with regards to repayments.

Extending the scope of fixed recoverable costs

Fixed recoverable costs is certain to be the most contentious proposed reform. Plans to introduce fixed costs in Clinical Negligence cases this year were put on the back-burner, but fixed recoverable costs for civil cases up to the value of £250,000 remains a burning ambition. The idea is justified on the basis of proportionality and reducing litigation. Lawyers point out that determining costs purely on monetary value pays no heed to the amount of work required nor the complexity of each case on its merits. Whatever the eventual outcome, it is certainly worth watching this space closely where fixed recoverable costs are concerned.

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