An almost complete lack of IT in the Chancery Division is making effective modernisation and reform ‘simply unachievable’, a major review concludes today. 

The final report of the Chancery Modernisation Review, by Lord Justice Briggs, repeats the interim report’s finding of the poor state of the division’s computer systems.

‘An unfortunate feature of the Chancery Division, particularly in London, is that it is the most poorly served of any court or tribunal in the United Kingdom by IT. This is despite the fact that its workload is as technical and document-heavy as any other, if not indeed foremost in that respect.

‘All filing is currently physical rather than electronic. There are in London no individual judges’ diaries, still less software upon which they could satisfactorily be constructed.’

The Chancery Division is centred on the Rolls Building in London, with chancery trial centres in Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle. 

In his 247-page report, Lord Justice Briggs says that the single aspect of chancery practice most frequently criticised was the dating and sealing of chancery orders. ‘Complaint was made as to the unacceptable delays involved and the absence of effective means of communication’ between solicitors and court officers. 

The single biggest anxiety facing the division, the report states, is that it will not be able to maintain waiting times for trials and hearings at an acceptable level. Briggs notes that the current waiting time for a chancery trial, of 14 months from obtaining a date, is longer than in similar courts in other jurisdictions, such as the German patents court.

Proposals for reducing waiting times include 'a general rule' that trials have a fixed end date, a system of triage for all incoming cases and case management 'directed towards dispute resolution, rather than merely preparation for a full trial which is unlikely to take place'. 

The Chancellor, Sir Terence Etherton, welcomed the report saying: 'Lord Justice Briggs, his deputy Mr Justice Newey and his panel of advisers have executed this project splendidly.  We now turn to the next stage, that of implementation, on which Mr Justice Newey will be taking the lead.'