Rule changes are on the way addressing concerns that lawyers may be keeping litigants in the dark about important court updates.

In its latest update to the civil procedure rules, the Ministry of Justice says it also wants to enable the court to give directions to encourage represented parties to co-operate in providing an informal record of proceedings pending the approved transcript. This would help litigants in person to seek legal advice on the merits of an appeal without delay and at less cost. 

Parties will also be required to copy in the other side when emailing the court.  

Amendments to part 39 of the CPR were trailed in the government’s wider consultation last year on open justice. The response to this consultation is yet to be published, but lawyers are being put on notice that changes are likely to come into effect through a statutory instrument from 6 April, subject to parliamentary approval. 

Legislators also want to clarify the principle of open justice in relation to hearings in private and reporting restrictions, underlining the general rule that hearings are to be held in public. In addition, the amendments widen the definition of ‘hearing’ to take into account telephone and video hearings. 

Last year’s six-week consultation, which ended in August, acknowledged that technological changes, alongside wider changes in society, require court procedures to be reviewed and kept up-to-date. 

Justice minister Lucy Frazer QC said at the time that the government wanted to reemphasise the position that no party may communicate with the court on substantive issues without the other side being copied in. 

The MoJ said today: ‘It is a fundamental rule of the administration of justice that none of the parties may communicate with the court without simultaneously alerting the other parties to that fact. The concern is particularly acute where a represented party communicates with the court, without notifying the unrepresented opposing party.’ 

New provisions are expected to make it explicitly clear that parties must copy in opponents, and any written communication not shared will be returned to the sender without being considered. Reasons for non-disclosure to the other party must be clearly stated in the communication with court. 

Amended rules are also likely to give the judge power to direct that notes or other informal records of proceedings be shared with the other party.