The Chancery Division of the High Court must undergo cultural change – and replace its ‘patchwork quilt’ of IT systems – according to the first comprehensive review of the division in 30 years.
A provisional report on chancery modernisation, by Lord Justice Briggs, recommends fixed trial periods in place of the assumption that ‘once a trial has started, the court is at the disposal of the parties for as long as they wish to take’.
This would mean ensuring that the trial is completed within the set period, ‘save in unexpected and exceptional circumstances and, if necessary, using early or late sittings and Fridays to ensure that there is no overrun’.
The 160-page report contains more than 100 provisional recommendations for modernisation of the division, based in the Rolls Building in London.
In particular it castigates the state of IT, saying the division ‘is the most poorly served of any court or tribunal in the UK by IT’.
Far from the system recommended 13 years ago by the Woolf report on civil justice, ‘we have a patchwork quilt of different IT systems which have evolved without proper co-ordination’. These ‘compare unfavourably’ with those available in overseas jurisdictions.
Another challenge highlighted is that of implementing case management as required by the Jackson reforms.
Briggs points out that most of the case management work required to implement the Jackson reforms has to be done at the early stage of each case. ‘Such benefits as may flow from it in terms of reduced trial times are derived at least a year later. If the two are to cancel out, something must be done to fill the resources gap between the increased spend and the anticipated saving,’ he said.
Briggs also makes a plea for exemption from public spending cuts, pointing out that ‘the civil justice service… imposes no burden on the taxpayer at all. It is, and has for a long time been, self-funding’.
In a statement published with the report, chancellor of the High Court, Sir Terence Etherton, said: ‘There will no doubt be a wide variety of reactions to Lord Justice Briggs’ assessments and recommendations in the provisional report.’
The final report is expected to be completed by the end of the year. The deadline for written submissions is 31 October.