The end of the year always presents an opportunity to reflect on ‘the year that was’ and to look forward to the year ahead.
With the end of 2016 fast approaching, the publication of the annual Lord Chief Justice’s Report (the Report) on 2 November 2016 presented a timely reminder of the changes to the judicial system that have been – or are in the process of being – implemented, and those that are on the horizon.
The full report can be viewed here but of particular interest to litigators will be the following:
The Modernisation programme
This ongoing initiative follows the Government’s commitment in the 2015 Autumn Statement to invest more than £700m in modernising the Courts and Tribunals and the Report states that, “The programme is intended to achieve the most radical reform since 1873”. The three main elements to the programme are:
- “Digitisation and the use of state-of-the-art IT for all procedures and hearings”;
- “Simplification of processes and procedures”; and
- “Modernisation of the estate, so that buildings are used jointly by courts and tribunals more efficiently, are fit for purpose and support new ways of working”.
The Briggs Civil Courts Structure Review
One of the recommendations of the Briggs Review was the creation of an online Court, which we reported on in a recent blog post, which you can read here.
Other recommendations from the Briggs Review that are also being considered include the use of case officers to “relieve judges of lighter duties” and a new Procedural Code to govern transfers between the High Court and the County Court.
Control of litigation costs and disclosure
The Report states that, “Controlling the costs of civil litigation continues to be a concern…the cost of disclosure greatly impacts the overall cost of litigation, especially in the context of big commercial cases” – which is surely a comment that rings true with many litigants.
Whilst no firm proposals are in place to address this issue, the Report confirms that the judiciary is working with Counsel and partners in law firms to consider its approach, which includes an exploration of the use of predictive-coding and possible amendments to CPR 31.
The Court of Appeal
The Report observes that, “The increase in work (and pressure) on the Court of Appeal’s Civil Division has also been a marked feature of this year and, seemingly, is part of a relentless trend.” We addressed the pressures the Court of Appeal has been under in a recent blog post, which you can read here.
Various processes have therefore been put in place from October 2016 in an attempt to reduce the backlog, including:
- Dealing with more permission applications on a final basis on paper, rather than at an oral hearing;
- Increasing the number of cases that are heard by two judges (as opposed to the usual three), with the result that more cases can be heard overall; and
- The streamlining of Court processes.
Obviously it is far too early to tell whether these measures will have the required effect and we therefore await updates during the course of 2017 with interest.
These are interesting times for the justice system and we will keep you updated with how the various initiatives are progressing as and when the information becomes available.
In the meantime, we would be interested in your thoughts on the above proposals: what sort of impact do you see them having on our justice system?