Reform of civil courts – Final report published

27 July 2016

Today Lord Justice Briggs’ final report following his Civil Courts Structural Review was published. Key points include the abolition of High Court District Registries, the creation of a new, separately run Online Court for most money claims below £25,000, and an urgently needed increase in the numbers of County Court judges able to handle complex civil cases diverted from overworked London courts to the regions.

The review was commissioned by the Lord Chief Justice and the Master of the Rolls in July 2015 to coincide with a programme for reform of the courts by Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) and looking at civil court structures and judicial processes more generally.

The final report follows an extensive series of meetings with judges, practitioners, stakeholders and users of the civil courts, and a series of detailed written and oral submissions following the publication of the review’s interim report in January 2016. East Anglian Chambers was amongst the many individuals, organisations and representative bodies submitting such written responses.

The review makes a series of recommendations intended to inform the current programme of wider court modernisation being undertaken by HMCTS.

Of particular relevance locally, at para 8.63.3 Lord Justice Briggs notes that 86% of the workload of the County Court (measured in days) is discharged by DJs or DDJs, and only 14% by CJs, their deputies and Recorders. This reflects anecdotal evidence that, save in certain exceptional areas, almost all of the Fast Track trials are conducted by DJs, and an increasing number of Multi-track trials are also directed to be heard by DJs on a case by case basis.

He goes on (at 8.65) to observe that the acute shortage of Circuit Judges at the County Court level is one of the reasons why too many cases are transferred up to London on the basis that the local court lacks the requisite civil expertise. It is also a main reason why too many cases are issued in London, and in the High Court rather than the County Court, in the first place, due to a perception that the requisite expertise is only to be found there. At 8.66 he comments that now, in
sharp contrast with family cases, the overwhelming majority of the County Court workload is discharged by the most junior available level of judge, and in too many cases by deputies rather than salaried DJs.

In signing off his final report, Lord Justice Briggs comments:

“It is for others to decide which of the above recommendations should be implemented, and by what means. In my view, if they are all substantially implemented, then the essentially high quality of the civil justice service provided by the courts of England and Wales will be greatly extended to a silent community to whom it is currently largely inaccessible, and both restored and protected against the weaknesses and threats which currently affect it.”

To download and read a copy of the Final Report click here.

To read the official press notice click here.

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