28 January, 2016
Lord Justice Briggs has published an interim report following his initial review into the future structure of the Civil Courts. The report is intended to accompany the HMCTS court reform programme currently being undertaken by the Ministry of Justice.
The central assumption of the report is that in the near future the Courts will become paperless, although it is recognised that to do so there will have to be a 'substantial, difficult and probably a painful transitional period'. Lord Briggs acknowledges the move away from paper is unlikely to be completed in under four years.
The report primarily identifies that there is a clear and pressing need for an Online Court. It is anticipated that an Online Court will be used for the resolution of relatively simple and modest value disputes up to £25,000. In its early stages the Online Court will be confined to the resolution of money claims.
It is intended that the Online Court will be designed for use without lawyers. Cases would progress through three stages: firstly, a mainly automated process by which litigants will be assisted in identifying their case online; secondly, a mix of conciliation and case management by case officers conducted partly online and partly by telephone but not face to face; and thirdly, determination by judges but with no default assumption that there must be a traditional trial.
Whilst the report goes into much detail, Lord Justice Briggs crucially highlights a number of urgent priorities at the conclusion of his review:
Written responses to the interim report are invited by the end of February and it is anticipated that Lord Justice Briggs will complete his review by the end of July 2016.
The report gives a series of mainly provisional views and raises more questions than it answers. For instance, whether PI claims will be excluded from the Online Court is undecided and will inevitably be a contentious issue. At this stage, Lord Briggs appears to favour excluding PI cases on the basis that injured claimants need to have lawyers to level the playing field. In addition, the portal already exists which produces a high level of settlements and a simple Part 8 process is in place for deciding issues of quantum where liability is admitted. Although, it is suggested that if the government presses ahead with its plans to increase the small claims track limit, the online court may apply to those personal injury cases valued up to £5000.
For further information on this matter contact Sarah Wilkinson