Or, ‘It’s Litigation, but not as we know it’.
The Civil Courts Structure Review (CCSR), being conducted by Lord Justice Briggs is currently in a further phase of consultation. The Interim Report, already thorough, presents a picture of the potentially digitised future where courts are paperless, lawyers less evident and ADR still exists.
The work of the Northampton County Court Business Centre has been considered as part of the Review. The Centre is an office block, separate from Northampton County Court with no judges. It provides the administration of the Small Claims Mediation Service. The Report notes that this service, dealing with disputes under £10,000, is yet to become fully effective as the national team has only 14 mediators conducting about 4 or 5 mediations each day and meets perhaps only half the present demand. Sadly, there appear to be no plans to expand this service which is commended for attaining a 70% settlement rate. Imagine what the Small Claims Mediation Service could do with more mediators! The Financial Ombudsman Service, by contrast, has a staff of 4,000, including 300 ombudsmen and 2,000 adjudicators and resolved 310,000 complaints last year. It seems then that there is an appetite amongst some litigants – whether represented or not – to seek redress other than in the civil court.
The questions and proposals contained in the Interim Report focus on litigation which is below £25,000 in value and are intended ‘to start rather than to conclude’ the debate [para 1.12.3]. The Government’s commitment is reported ‘to revolutionalise the court system by digitisation within four years, and to derive substantial operational savings by erecting a new structure on the basis of it’. Whether this is possible depends on what is technologically achievable, the available funding and the extent of staff support. Quite a challenge.
LJ Briggs states, Furthermore, the coming revolution is about much more than just IT. The end of the age when the court structure is dominated by paper is likely to bring about changes in working practices and in the location of work, both for judges and staff, for which four years is a challenging timetable. It will probably have to be accompanied by a large element of culture change which will require the most sensitive leadership, management, training and support [para 5.71].
The Review acknowledges the impact of the withdrawal of Legal Aid, the rise in Litigants in Person and the increase in volume of court work without additional judges. It is far too early to say whether the Government’s commitment to revolution will bring civil justice closer to the litigant. In the meantime the attraction mediation continues to offer is a process where people involved in a dispute are empowered to resolve it.
If the contents of the Report prompt thoughts, ideas or concern, do send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org