Structural changes from autumn?

policy definition

It is not yet the middle of August and the football season has already begun – another illustration that “summer’s lease hath all too short a date.” An ever-earlier transition to autumn, then, and no doubt Christmas decorations will be on sale widely before September ends.

At the same time, some critical issues in the civil justice environment will emerge or resume after the summer break. This post seeks to look at some of the potential structural changes that may alter the delivery of civil justice in England & Wales, perhaps significantly and irrevocably. How these develop and interact is far from clear at present, so this piece is intended to serve as a thought-provoking overview rather than a detailed insight.

We shall resume regular blog posts in the first half of September, following a short break.

Some drivers for reform may seem a little in the background but they will move front and center over the next few months. Taken together, the impact on cost, access to justice and claims behavior could be significant. Key matters that will move forward in autumn 2015 include:

  • the further court fee increases recently proposed by the MoJ
  • consultation closes on 15 September
  • the programme of court closures – 16% of hearing rooms in the court estate, affecting up to one in four hearing venues – which seems to have gone relatively unnoticed to date
  • consultation closes on 8 October
  • the recommendation from the Civil Justice Council back in February 2015 for the Government to set up “HM Court Online”
  • which the new Secretary of State for Justice (Michael Gove) supported fully in his first speech in the role
  • the Civil Courts Structure Review which is headed by Lord Justice Briggs and which will cover “how best to deliver civil justice in England and Wales in a modern age of information technology … and in addition to look at the overall structure of civil justice”
  • an interim report is due by the end of 2015

Perhaps more important than any of these is the impact of the Government’s next spending review on the Ministry of Justice’s budget. If, as has been reported, the Chancellor is asking departments which are not protected – such as Justice – to model cost savings of 25% and 40%, how would service delivery under these constraints be affected? What might the adverse impacts on the courts’ administrative service and on access to justice more generally, be? The Treasury has asked for submissions on spending review proposals by 4 September. Detailed budgets and spending for departments will be announced on 25 November, following a period of what the Treasury coyly refers to as “Ministerial discussions about departmental settlements.” Others might use less elegant phrases, such as ‘financial horse-trading across Whitehall’. Michael Gove recently referred to the spending review constraints as “the biggest problem that I face” but he also noted that “I have to play my part in making sure that we can continue to reduce the deficit, so there may be some very difficult decisions that we will have to take.” Expect clearer indications about these decisions and the other matters throughout the autumn.

About the Author

akAlistair Kinley is BLM’s Director of Policy & Government Affairs.

Alistair is responsible for BLM’s engagement with government departments and regulators on policy and public affairs issues and consultations affecting the firm and its customers. He coordinated BLM’s market-facing activities in connection with the Insurance Act 2015 and the consultations which preceded its publication and introduction in Parliament.

He is a member of the Civil Justice Council (CJC), a regular speaker and experienced commentator on legal and procedural reforms and was a contributing editor to the Law Society’s Litigation Funding Handbook (September 2014).

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