The final report of Lord Justice Briggs' LJ's Civil Courts Structure Review was published on 27 July 2016. Lord Justice Briggs identifies five main weaknesses of the civil courts structure, namely:
- Lack of adequate access to justice due to excessive costs expenditure / risk and the "lawyerish culture and procedure of the civil courts".He recommends the introduction of an online court by 2020 for claims up to Ł25,000 and extension of fixed costs.
- Inefficiencies from the "continuing tyranny of paper" coupled with the use of obsolete and inadequate IT facilities in most of the civil courts.To resolve this, Briggs proposes the "digitisation of all the processes" of the civil courts which will eventually be paperless.
- Court of Appeal delays.Lord Justice Briggs regards the combination of current reforms and meticulous managementdischarge by the court's judges of an exceptionally heavy workload without undue distraction in the form of leadership and administrative responsibilities"as the means to resolve this problem.
- Under-investment in civil justice in the regions.Briggs recommends that regional resolution of specialist High Court cases be strengthened, based upon teams of a minimum of three senior Circuit Judges in each centre and increasing the number of these judges for whom civil work constitutes the majority of their judicial practice.Moreover, all Circuit and District judges' practices should consist of at least 40% civil work.
- Weaknesses in the processes of enforcement.To resolve this, Briggs proposes a unification of the processes of enforcement of civil judgments within a single court.Failing this, the "centralisation, rationalisation, harmonisation and digitisation" of the processes of enforcement.
New format bill of costs
A decision is awaited concerning the new bill of costs format, currently being piloted (under Practice Direction 51L), and when use of this will become mandatory in the Senior Courts Costs Office (SCCO). The CPRC, at its October 2015 meeting, stated that more information was required before a decision could be made about making use of the new format mandatory and agreed to an extension of the voluntary pilot until October 2016.
In his keynote address at the Law Society's Civil Litigation Conference on 21 April 2016, Lord Justice Jackson referred to the criticisms received of the draft proposed new format, which included comments that the proposed bill is too complex to work with, too time-consuming to transfer work done before J-codes into the new format; too expensive to implement and too prescriptive in using J-codes. He recommended that the proposed version of the bill be adopted as the new bill format, but with references to the J-Codes removed so that practitioners may prepare the bill in any manner of their choosing, whether with the assistance of J-Codes or by hand.
The Insurance Act 2015
The Insurance Act 2015 received Royal Assent on 12 February 2015 and came into force on 12 August 2016. It will apply to (re)insurance contracts made after that date which are subject to the laws of England and Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland. The 2015 Act includes amendments to the Third Parties (Rights against Insurers) Act 2010, which enabled that Act to come into force on 1 August 2016.
British Bill of Rights
The Ministry of Justice confirmed last year that it will introduce proposals for a British Bill of Rights to replace the Human Rights Act 1998. A 12-week consultation is awaited. The 2016 Queen's Speech confirmed that introducing a Bill of Rights is one of the government's legislative priorities for the 2016-17 parliamentary session. The House of Lords European Union Committee published a report in May 2016 on the EU and UK Bill of Rights. The report urges the Government to give careful consideration to introducing the Bill of Rights, stating, "Taken individually, the views expressed by witnesses to this inquiry raise serious questions over the feasibility and value of a British Bill of Rights of the sort described by the Secretary of State; taken together, they make a forceful case for the Government to think again before continuing with this policy."
NB: Although the Human Rights Act 1998 partially enacts provisions of the European Convention of Human Rights (an instrument of the Council of Europe, rather than the European Union), the UK's decision to withdraw from the European Union, may nevertheless have an impact upon whether or not a British Bill of Rights is taken forward.
Launch of arbitration scheme for legal claims against the press
A year-long arbitration pilot scheme to provide a cost-effective, straightforward and quick method of solving legal disputes between claimants and participating members of the press commenced on the 26th July 2016. It is a voluntary scheme where both parties agree to binding arbitration overseen by specialist barristers recruited by CEDR to act as arbitrators. Types of claims that may be resolved are those relating to libel, slander, misuse of private information, breach of confidence, malicious falsehood, harassment and data protection.
New insolvency rules
The Insolvency Rules 2016 are expected to be laid before Parliament in October 2016, and are expected to come into force in April 2017. The principal aims of the IR 2016 include:
- Consolidating existing rules and their amendments into a single set of rules;
- Modernising and simplify the language and making it gender neutral;
- Incorporating various changes in the law which [unclear] intended to reduce the burden of red tape; and
- New provisions to simplify insolvency procedures and reduce the costs incurred in insolvency assignments.
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