LCJ: we must start again on civil justice

Topics: Civil justice,Judicial

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  • John Thomas

The lord chief justice today called for an immediate redesign of civil justice and questioned the future role of lawyers in the system.

Speaking before the justice committee of the House of Commons this morning, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd (pictured) said the judiciary and executive had to ‘start again’ to take account of modern advances in the way they operate the court system.

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The judge was critical of court fees during his annual report published last month, suggesting civil justice is now ‘unaffordable to most’. Lord Thomas reiterated that his opposition to the fees remains, but the effects can be offset by modernisation of courts and the onset of virtual hearings.

‘We are very optimistic the online court can provide a solution,’ he said. ‘Many of us feel the current Civil Procedure Rules are far too complicated and designed for lawyers. [Civil justice] has to be redesigned so people can do it themselves or with some legal assistance.’

Lord Thomas suggested that the change, likely to be heralded when Lord Justice Briggs publishes his final report on civil justice in July, would require primary legislation.

Pressed on whether those without access to the internet would be excluded from justice, the lord chief justice said there must be allowance in the budget to look after such individuals.

He insisted that case officers, assigned to disputes to attempt to find a settlement, would bring parties together and ‘don’t necessarily have to be a lawyer’ – although judges would always be required to determine cases that cannot be resolved.

‘There is an awful lot done by judges at the moment which need not be done,’ he added. ‘There is a huge amount of case management and getting things ready for presenting to the judge that can be done without lawyers.’

Lord Thomas stated that fixed fees - recently proposed by Lord Justice Jackson to be applied to all cases worth up to £250,000 - ‘ought to expand’, although he said the increase should come incrementally rather than being imposed overnight.

He also expressed disappointment at the delays in the Court of Appeal, which he said were ‘not acceptable’.

Readers' comments (69)

  • Great idea M'lud.

    May I humbly suggest that given having a civil court system without lawyers is such a great idea, in fact, it ought to be rolled out immediately - starting of course where it really matters, in the Rolls Building.

    After all, these expert Chancery and Commercial red judges can surely work out all the intricacies of the cases with a few searching questions. And Russian trillionaires should be capable of typing in their problems to the new online court. And when they prove it works, they can introduce it across the line.

    I can picture it now:-
    PLEASE TYPE IN YOUR CLAIM
    "I wantski my old friend he pay £333,444,555,666,777 for the oil, da!"

    Dear Mr Berehshevskaya. A claim has been made against you. PLEASE TYPE IN YOUR DEFENCE
    "Nyet!!! If he dies, he dies!"

    THANK YOU. The online court has decided ....you WIN. But click now in the next 30 second and gamble... Do you keep your WIN, or do you want to double your money, courtesy of Double Spin Roulette? Choose now! Invite a friend and get a free divorce petition next time! (c) HMCTS in conjunction with BetYouTV (a Gibraltar registered company).

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  • There is something called "law". The CPR is not the "law" The CPR is how the "law" is to be accessed. If you want someone to advise you on the "law" you can instruct a lawyer or do it yourself. A bit like paying an electrician or plumber or mechanic to do work you could do yourself if you had their knowledge and training (except they make more than a lot of us).

    I am all for a simpler system but for his idea to work you will have lawyers at the court doing the work instead of lawyers instructed by the parties. This means court fees will be increased dramatically to pay for all the extra staff that are needed.

    Not only will this government price individuals out of justice but they (in conjunction with judges who have mostly come from barristers and therefore don't understand what happens on the coal face (a gross generalisation I know)) will also create a system hereby clients cannot get advice.

    I think I'll go into the business of suing HCMTS when one of their staff (don't call them lawyers oh no) cocks up.

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  • At the heart of the problem lies Woolf's so-called "reforms", and Lord Justice, you know very well, that the time, the report was promulgated, the Middleton Report was also promulgated, but no one took any notice of that, because it involved a considerable amount of investment in the system, and, Barristers in particular, presumably, thought that, the lower end, would be put out of business, by having for example, interactive computer systems in court, whereas, in reality, the Junior Bar, has been put out of business, by the Legal Aid "Reforms". You will also be aware, from reading your Legal Addition, that the considerable expansion in the Bar, came in the early 1970s, when Family Law came into scope. Again, if you read your Legal History, you will be aware, that opportunity availed itself, of making Family Law, pay for itself, through the Statutory Charge (there was no reason at all why a percentage could not be put on top of this, as a sort of indirect tax, the provision of future legal services (ditto, Personal Injury Claims)".

    The only way back now, in my opinion, is to re-invoke properly, the principles of Maintenance and Champerty, and envisaging the explosion of LIP's provide for proper resources within the system, as per, Middleton, quite rightly, foresaw would be necessary (when one considers, that the Criminal System, though also snowed under, was functioning perfectly well, with trained clerical staff "in-house" until fairly recently, when Blair got his hands on it, with the Squeegee Merchant approach to using the Criminal Courts, for Civil Enforcement.)

    I suspect, that the reason that, Personal Injury was taken out scope anyway, was that the Legal Aid Certificates, were being used like insurance policies should be used (Legal Expenses Insurance Policies, for example, which never now pay out, and never follow the Legal Expenses Insurance Directive 1990), which was, simply to investigate liability, and force a settlement with what were at the time, more ethical Insurance Companies. This supposedly cost Insurance Companies money, although the horrific waste of resources that has ensued as a result of these reforms and the Access To Justice Act 2000, has actually and effectively, had been defrayed, throughout the Civil Justice System (and in Social Costs as well).

    There is no doubt, that Green Form worked well, (albeit the 24 Hour day, that could well have been, better "policed" (whether by the Law Society at the time, all Government Auditors), and the Legal Aid Certificate System also worked well. It also sifted, shit (and indeed, such antisocial non-public interest) claims, like people falling off Bar stools drunk, who wanted to claim, at a very early stage.

    There is nothing intrinsically wrong thereafter, with the middle and upper brackets of need, being met by properly resourced Civil Justice Centres with a proper Administrative Staff (you will of course know of and have experienced, the Vexatious Litigants List, which kept the very worst claims from appearing in open court), who can, manage most litigants expectations.

    I suspect, that such further "reforms" would need to be counteracted by Scale Fees, (properly remunerated) , or no order for costs at all.

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  • "...from reading your Legal Addition ..."

    Sorry, "...from reading your Legal History".....

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  • Dim diolch, My Lord!.

    Why can't we just go back to the old rules and tweak them where necessary? That system worked, there was no need for Lord Woolf's, and subsequent, wholesale change of everything. He has tried and failed to scale the Heights of Abraham and his legacy should be scrapped lock, stock and barrel.

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  • Brain surgery is also quite expensive and hard for the non-surgeon to understand.

    I hope they make this easier for the public to get involved in to.

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  • If the Honouablre Lord is going to be tackling and eliminating all the fraud and corruption in our courts, then I will listen on and if not then ....TAXI!

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  • I am aggrieved that when holidaying abroad, I am required to pay for a pilot. I should have access to a low cost cockpit in order that I can fly myself. After all, my funds are limited due to my being a bankrupt alcoholic.

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  • An incredible proposition really. Just think how much has been spent since the late '90's on Woolfe, all to say everything needs re-designing !

    What does this say about Woolfe, Dyson and all the other issues that have arise ??

    More fundamentally, does it not tell the Senior Judiciary, that they, perhaps, may not be the best people to be re-designing anything, if Woolfe et al have failed so miserably ?

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  • I strongly suspect, as with the £25,000 online court proposals recently proffered, that the 'without lawyers' drive is getting at the Judge Rinder type, one person's word against another person's word disputes which probably do not need lawyers but which nevertheless make up a substantial number of civil disputes today. I don't any lawyer would argue that the current CPRs are LIP friendly... A simplification in some form is surely necessary.

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