Lord Justice Jackson accepts he will never be loved by swathes of the legal profession as he bows out of judicial office – but he insists his attempts to transform the landscape have been worthwhile.
The architect of major civil justice reforms in 2013 retires this week and has reflected on a decade of trying to reduce the costs of litigation.
Speaking to the Cambridge Law Faculty on Monday, Jackson said his task of reforming the rules of procedure was ‘about as unglamorous as it gets’, and that litigation costs remain too high, but he was pleased to have eliminated some excesses and ultimately made improvements.
His reforms turned civil litigation upside down, scrapping the recoverability of success fees and ATE, advancing costs budgeting and formulating the new proportionality rule.
But the speech, entitled ‘Was it all worth it?’, contained just one reference to regret - his warnings over maintaining existing legal aid provision were not heeded.
Jackson’s report had stressed the ‘vital necessity’ of making no further cutbacks in legal aid availability or eligibility. In the event, in the very same legislation (the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act), the government wrapped up both Jackson and legal aid reforms.
Jackson admitted that anyone meddling with costs was bound to be disliked by lawyers and he noted the ’numerous onslaughts’ he received in legal journals. But ultimately, he concluded it had been worth the effort.
‘As things stood 10 years ago, someone had to do something about costs (especially the absurd CFA/ATE regime),’ he said.
‘Whoever received that poisoned chalice was bound to make themselves extremely unpopular – unless they ducked every controversial issue. Despite all the criticisms which RJ has received over the last 10 years, the blunt and inescapable fact is that the Jackson reforms have achieved significant reductions in the costs of litigation.’
His biggest successes? Case management reform and firmer enforcement of rules and court orders. Similarly he was pleased with the new procedure of concurrent expert evidence, the end of recoverable success fees and ATE premiums, and the promotion of third party funding. As he outlined in a Gazette interview this week, the lack of take-up of damages-based agreements remains a source of irritation.