Transforming our justice system: fixed costs to expand and civil litigation heading online

Welcome back to the blog and good bye – temporarily – to MPs as the first set of post-Brexit party conferences kicks off. The last day before a recess often sees notable Departmental activity and yesterday the Ministry of Justice published both a statement and a consultation entitled ‘Transforming our justice system’. This is an important development because the paper reinforces the Government’s commitments to:

  • moving civil disputes online (building from the Briggs review)
  • introducing more widespread ADR techniques
  • using case officers (not judges) to triage claims, and
  • extending fixed recoverable costs beyond the limited field of lower value personal injury claims.

The MoJ paper says very directly that the Government is “keen to extend the fixed recoverable costs regime to as many civil cases as possible” and that the senior judiciary will work up options for consultation.

What the paper does not do is ask specific questions about the detail of any of these measures. Those will surely follow relatively quickly given that the five week consultation period here, which ends on 27 October, is unusually brief.

I would expect costs proposals would be sponsored by the Civil Justice Council and they could possibly emerge before the year end. Engagement about the structure and procedures for the online civil court is likely to take a little longer, but the MoJ’s material should be taken as strong confirmation that this project will be taken forward in the medium term.

Even if there are no questions on civil justice issues to respond to just yet, the consultation paper and joint statement are essential reading and serve as a clear outline of measures that should follow later in 2016/17.


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).

Court & procedural reform to gather momentum in 2016 – and definitely not just for small claims

paperwork handover

The noise associated with the Government’s proposal to increase the small claims limit for injury cases to £5,000 may have drowned out another equally important announcement in the Autumn Statement: that some £700 million has been allocated to the MoJ to bring the court service up to date. A short summary was posted on The Policy Blog at the end of November.

This initiative is absolutely not about securing more IT spend so that courts can do more of the things they do now but more efficiently, nor is it just about arranging more video-conferences and attendances. It is a quite fundamental rethink of accessing the courts digitally, how they are structured and how cases and evidence are managed.

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“… snowdrifts of paper held in place by delicate pink ribbons”

On 23 June 2015 Michael Gove, the new Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, gave his first speech since his appointment following the general election in May. Its prosaic title “What does a one nation justice policy look like?” underplays both the eloquence of his defence of the rule of law and the potential ambit of reforms to deliver civil justice online.

The first of these may be a shrewd move by Mr Gove to make friends in the legal sector at an early stage in his tenure. The second may mark the start of a serious move towards virtual delivery of significant parts of civil dispute resolution, thus avoiding the snowdrifts of paper and pink ribbons.

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