LORD CHIEF JUSTICE'S REPORT 2015: CIVIL WORK
The Lord Chief Justice’s Report 2015 covers a number of issues. Of particular interest to civil practitioners.
- The Briggs Review is summarised.
There is an emphasis on control of litigation costs and court fees
“The Jackson review reforms have now bedded down. It appears that there is an improvement in costs management by judges and in costs behaviour by parties. There was sustained emphasis on the need for proportionality between the costs of a case in relation to the value of the claim. However, costs issues continued to be the subject of dispute between parties, and to generate litigation in their own right.
The judiciary has constantly pressed for the widespread adoption of fixed recoverable costs. This was one of the core recommendations in the Jackson review’s final report, but its application has thus far been restricted to a small number of areas of litigation (such as road traffic accidents). The judiciary strongly supports the application of fixed recoverable costs across the range of fast track cases, and in the lower reaches of the multi-track. This would help to ensure that litigation costs are reasonable, proportionate and that all parties can proceed with greater certainty. The judiciary hopes that the Government will give this proposal favourable consideration.
Court fees are another aspect of the cost of litigation. The judiciary made extensive submissions in relation to the succession of significant fee increases which have been proposed and largely implemented. Civil justice was the main focus for large increases in fees (particularly a fee based on 5% of the value of a claim, up to £10,000 at present, although the Government is consulting on a cap of fees of “at least” £20,000). The impact of these fee increases is still being assessed by the Ministry of Justice but the judiciary, whilst accepting the decision.”
BACKLOG IN THE COURT OF APPEAL
“The increase in work and pressure on the Court of Appeal Civil Division was a marked feature of the past year. It has been part of a relentless trend. Applications for Permission to Appeal increased by 50% in the past five years. The number of court hearings also rose. Judicial resources have not changed in this period, and increasing administrative and leadership demands have been placed on the senior judges of the Court of Appeal. In July 2015 the Master of the Rolls issued a revised practice note, the effect of which was to acknowledge the delays in appeal hearings arising from the increased workload. The judiciary is considering a number of proposals to reduce waiting times and improve efficiency, such as changing the routes of appeal from some lower courts to the High Court, seeking legislative change to rationalise the tests for permission to appeal and improving processes and reforming the administration.”
“In October 2015, the judiciary established the Financial List, with the support of the Lord Chancellor, the Bank of England, financial institutions and the professions, for the better resolution of high-value complex financial cases by docketing them to a single expert judge.7 An important feature was the provision of a test case procedure. The judiciary is very grateful to the Financial Markets Law Committee for the considerable assistance it provided.
At the same time, the Shorter and More Flexible Trial Procedure pilot was introduced to find practical solutions for reducing the estimated length of a trial in order to reduce cost, achieve an earlier trial date and judgment. It responds to court users’ requests for greater choice and flexibility with regards to procedure when issuing cases. These reforms are being supported by an IT system that permits online filing and electronic document management on any day and time throughout the year, from anywhere in the world. In addition the Chancery Division implemented fixed end trial procedures so that trials must be completed by a given date.”
THE RIGHT LEVEL OF JUDGE
“In both the Chancery Division and Queen’s Bench Division there has been an increase in the amount of work which must be done by High Court judges (together with the increase in appeal work likely from the alternation of routes of appeal). Steps were taken to address this by listing cases before a High Court judge only where this was essential. The judiciary is pursuing a policy (highlighted in the Chancery Modernisation Review) that cases be heard by the right level of judge, that appropriate work be passed to the county court at Central London or for trial by Circuit Judges sitting as Deputy Judges of the High Court, that the jurisdiction of Chancery Masters be widened so that they hear more cases and that the listing procedure and support staff of the Queen’s Bench Masters are improved. Another key part of these reforms was the success of the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court (which hears cases up to a value of £500,000), which continued to increase its workload; between 1 April 2014 and 31 March 2015, more than 240 cases were issued in the multi-track alone.”