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Senior judges confirm backing for Briggs reforms to civil courts

The senior judiciary has confirmed its support of the recommendations made by Lord Justice Briggs for the reform of the civil courts.

Endorsing the final report of the Civil Courts Structure Review, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd and The Master of the Rolls, Sir Terence Etherton, said: “The review covers important ground, and while the Online Court caught the headlines, there are 62 recommendations in the report which merit equal attention. The judiciary will continue to work with the Government and HMCTS to develop further the conclusions Lord Justice Briggs reached, and bring them to fruition alongside wider court modernisation.

“The justice system is undergoing a long overdue improvement programme. The judiciary is involved and informing every aspect of this. Lord Justice Briggs’ major review will ensure that the overall system for civil justice is improved for its users in a coherent as well as comprehensive manner. A team of civil judges has been established to lead on this work within the judiciary.”

Lord Justice Briggs called in his final report for an online court for money claims up to £25,000. Other key recommendations addressed:

  • Case Officers – a senior body of court lawyers and other officials should be tasked with assisting with certain functions currently carried out by judges, such as paperwork and uncontentious matters. They would be trained and supervised by judges, and decisions would be subject to reconsideration by judges on request by a party.
  • Enforcement of Judgments and Orders – there should be a single court as the default court for the enforcement of the judgments and orders of all the civil courts (including the new Online Court). Lord Justice Briggs’ report said this should be the County Court, but there would “need to be a permeable membrane allowing appropriate enforcement issues to be transferred to the High Court, and special provision for the enforcement of arbitration awards, in accordance with current practice and procedure”. All enforcement procedures would be digitised, centralised and rationalised.
  • Mediation/ADR – the report called for the re-establishment of a court-based out of hours private mediation service in County Court hearing centres prepared to participate, along the lines of the service which existed prior to the establishment and then termination of the National Mediation Helpline. 
  • Deployment of Judges – the principle should be that no case is too big to be resolved in the regions. “The current acute shortage of Circuit judges specialising in civil work in the County Court needs an urgent remedy,” the report said.
  • Number of Courts and Future of the Divisions – there should be no general unification of the civil courts, Lord Justice Briggs said. The time had come for a decision about the future of the High Court’s Divisions, he added, but that was beyond the scope of the current review.
  • District Registries and Regional High Court Trial Centres – the concept of the District Registry as a place for the issue of High Court proceedings will eventually be replaced by a single Portal for the issue of all civil proceedings, and should then be abolished.
  • Routes of Appeal – there should in due course be a review of the question whether the recent reforms to the procedure of the Court of Appeal should be extended to cover appeals to the High Court and to Circuit Judges in the County Court, based upon better time and motion evidence than is currently available, and in the light of experience of the reforms in the Court of Appeal.
  • Boundaries between jurisdictions – the Family Court should be given a shared jurisdiction (with the Chancery Division and the County Court) for dealing with Inheritance Act and disputes about co-ownership of homes. Lord Justice Briggs’ report added that there continued to be a case for convergence between the Employment Tribunal (and Employment Appeal Tribunal) and the civil courts, but the detail was a matter beyond the scope of this review.

The report can be viewed here.