The master of the rolls has called for further simplification of the Civil Procedure Rules to reduce delays in the justice system.
Dealing with a ‘high proportion’ of self-represented litigants, Lord Dyson said the profession should be ‘prepared to change our way of conducting our litigation in other ways to make it more effective, and reduce costs and delays’.
Dyson, speaking at a Law Society event entitled ‘Delay too often defeats justice’ last night, highlighted other jurisdictions where civil procedure reforms were taking place.
In Scotland, for instance, the Civil Justice Council had embarked on a project for simplifying the rules. With proper resources, Dyson said ‘there is no reason why the joint committee of our Civil Justice Council and Civil Procedure Rules committee could not embark on a similar exercise here’.
England and Wales could also learn from Brazil, Dyson said, where a new civil procedure code has been approved and comes into force in December. Article 191 of the code ‘allows the parties to modify the procedure as it applies to their claim’.
Dyson said it was ‘worth thinking about whether to adopt such a procedure here’ to enable claims to be dealt with more rapidly. ‘Provided agreement between the parties is subject to court consent, I can see no objection to allow parties some freedom to manage the litigation.’
Dyson, who is chairman of the Magna Carta Trust, said chapter 40 of Magna Carta - ’To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice’ - was as important today as it was in 1215, though the main focus of attention tended to be on the prohibition of the sale of justice than the prohibition on delay.
But Dyson warned that the rush to justice could be ‘just as dangerous as a leisurely amble. Tortoises and hares come to mind’.
He said: ‘If litigation is conducted at breakneck speed, there’s a risk that parties will be unable to present their cases effectively and judges will not have sufficient time to produce decisions [that are] sufficiently researched and carefully considered.’
Meanwhile, when questioned about his thoughts on the cuts to legal aid since the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act came into force in April 2013, Dyson doubted there was anyone in the room who was happy with the withdrawal of legal aid. ‘I’m certainly not,’ he said.
Describing the decision as a ‘political’ one, he said the Ministry of Justice had financial difficulties and very little money.
‘The [MoJ] is not a protected department. Money gets pooled in to protect [areas such as] health. Unfortunately, justice is not one of them.’
With the changes making life more difficult due to the rise in litigants in person, Dyson said the courts were doing ‘all we can to adapt our processes and train our judges and lawyers on how to deal with cases where they are faced with a litigant in person’.
Although the courts were making some progress, he warned there was ‘a lot more work to be done’.