Civil court report calls for reform

court

The final report into a restructure of civil courts has been published, with an emphasis on court rulings, the organisation of the courts and the deployment of judges.

Lord Justice Briggs, author of the report, said: “The preservation of shared jurisdiction, in a way which ensures that the whole of any particular dispute can be fully dealt with in one set of proceedings in one court or the other, is preferable to attempts to carve out exclusive jurisdiction in relation to a subject which, by its nature, straddles the two”.

The review amounted to recommendations steered towards civil court reform.

Case officers should be trained and supervised by judges, said Lord Justice Briggs, and decisions should be subject to reconsideration by judges on request by a party. Case officers should also be able to assist with certain functions such as paperwork and uncontentious matters, which can currently only be completed by judges.

He also recommended that the enforcement of judgments and orders should be handled entirely in the County Court, with appropriate procedures in place to transfer pressing cases to the High Court.

“If unification is currently not pursued, then centralisation, harmonisation, rationalisation and digitisation of enforcement should in any event be pursued as part of the Reform Programme. Save for physical enforcement procedures, the means of enforcement should be equally available in all civil courts”, said Lord Justice Briggs.

He had also looked into a private mediation service for out-of-court hours, similar to the now-terminated National Mediation Helpline; higher numbers of circuit judges specialising in civil work; and shared jurisdictions between the Chancery Division and the County Court, for dealing with Inheritance Act and co-ownership disputes involving homes.

Lord Justice Briggs added: “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”.

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