Sharon Auton, who leads the TSP Dispute Resolution team discusses the future for the Civil Courts.
Lord Justice Briggs published his Final Report on the Civil Courts Structure Review on 27 July 2016. The main features of this report are:-
The creation of an Online Solutions Court for the resolution of disputes up to £25,000
The Online Solutions Court will be made compulsory subject to the power to transfer cases out to a higher court on the grounds of complexity or public importance. There would be 3 stages to this process:-
1) The claim form and evidence which would be uploaded to the Court.
2) A conciliation stage, handled by a “case officer”.
3) Determination stage by a judge, either at a face to face trial, video or telephone hearing or determination on the documents.
The use of ‘case officers’ to assist judges in dealing with routine work
Case officers will assist judges in dealing with some routine work and dealing with stage 2 of the Online Court, similar to the arrangements in some Tribunals. Case officers will be independent of government and the responsibility of Lord Chief Justice rather than the Lord Chancellor and would be required to have a certain level of legal qualification and experience.
The County Court would be used as the default court for the enforcement of all civil judgments and orders across the country
The report recommended that the procedures and processes for the enforcement of judgments and orders should be unified and dealt with by a single court. He recommended that the County Court should be used for this purpose, as opposed to the High Court. If the unification of the enforcement process is not possible the second best solution would be to achieve as much of the desired outcome as possible by the centralisation, rationalisation, harmonisation and digitisation of enforcement processes.
The threshold below which a claim cannot be issued in the High Court to be increased to £250,000 initially, then £500,000, with no distinction for Personal Injuries claims as at present
In order to increase the capacity of the County Court and relieve the pressure on the High Court, which may in turn relieve some pressure on the Court of Appeal, Lord Justice Briggs recommended the following adjustments to the restrictions on the County Court jurisdiction:
- Remove in its entirety the £350,000 restriction for trusts and estates work
- Remove in its entirety the £30,000 restriction for probate work
- Increase the current £100,000 threshold (£50,000 for Personal Injuries claims) below which claims cannot be issued in the High Court, to £250,000 for all claims (including Personal Injuries), with a view to raising it to £500,000 in the future
Lord Justice Briggs recommended a substantial widening in the scope for making different types of conciliation available within stage 2 of the process of the court, to include online dispute resolution, telephone and face to face mediation, and judicial early neutral evaluation. He recommended that the low cost out-of-hours mediation service which was formally provided in many County Court hearing centres, but which was recently abandoned, be re-introduced.
As Lord Justice Briggs stated in his conclusion, it will now be for others to decide which of his recommendations should be implemented, and by what means.
Sharon can be contacted on 01206 217043 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org