The new online court system being devised by Lord Justice Briggs may initially be limited to claims worth £10,000, the judge conceded today.
The news came as Briggs’ Court of Appeal colleague Lord Justice Jackson, speaking at the same event, defended his own reform proposals in relation to fixed fees.
Briggs (pictured) said that while the aim was for the online court process to be used for claims up to £25,000, ‘it may have to start at £10,000 to get past its teething troubles’.
The judge said his thinking has moved on since he published a preliminary report in January. Reiterating comments made in an article for the Gazette last week, Briggs said his vision for the online court did not mean getting rid of lawyers altogether.
He proposed that there should be ‘a very limited recovery of costs’ to encourage an early assessment of the merits of a case by a qualified lawyer, and possible support during the trial.
Briggs added: ‘That will need more unbundling by lawyers… It could be backed by a CLAF (contingent legal aid fund) for providing financial assistance for lawyers who provide unbundled services rather than the full retainer.’
Meanwhile, Lord Justice Jackson said he stood by the proposals he made in January for an extension of fixed costs.
Noting criticism that his proportionality rule was introduced in April 2013 without a practice direction – because Jackson believed a practice direction on the topic would have generated more legal arguments – he said: ‘Here is the answer for all of you who have been pressing for more guidance - to convert the general principles [of the proportionality rule] into hard figures, pounds and pence.’
The judge stressed that the ‘grid’ of suggested costs figures published in January was merely a ‘starting point’ for a discussion among stakeholders facilitated by the Civil Justice Council.
‘Unless you have a starting point, unless someone takes the plunge, the debate won’t actually go anywhere,’ he said.
Jackson also quoted research from the Federation of Small Businesses during his initial costs review, showing that most small businesses wanted fixed costs for claims up to £500,000.
‘There is often a gulf between what clients want, and what lawyers want or what lawyers think their clients want,’ he said.
The two judges were speaking at an event held by the Westminster Legal Policy Forum.