Of Courts, Consultations and Changes.

Goodness me, it seems that with every passing day there is another development pertaining to reforming the courts and UK legal system. I suppose I find such stories so interesting because they illustrate how policy and consultations are taken into account when shaping our legal system. I feel that sometimes people think that there is a sharp distinction and division between the political realm and the legal system; I feel that this couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Once again, I will cover these latest developments in a blog post. And once again, this is a current affairs story of the kind that law students need to be aware of. Fellow law students, consider the following post a legal awareness story, and an important example of how politics and the legal sphere interact.

Legal Development Number One: to increase, or not to increase?

At the end of last year, I wrote a post in relation to the announcement by the Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary Michael Gove that he would be repealing the criminal courts charge. The criminal courts charge, the brainwave of the previous Justice Secretary Chris Grayling had attracted much criticism and was unpopular.

In my post, I examined the charge, highlighting the stories pertaining to the charge which had made the news, such as the case of Magistrate Nigel Allcoat, who was suspended and later resigned due to his contribution towards paying the mandatory charge on behalf of an asylum seeker who had appeared before him. I concluded the announcement to repeal the charge was evidence that sometimes, criticism of a governmental policy can indeed bring about change.

So imagine my exasperation to discover that despite the unpopularity of the criminal courts charge and its apparent repeal, there was a subsequent announcement last year that there would be a rise in court fees. As I noted another post, apparently we are being subject to a case of reduce fees in one area to merely increase fees in another, with the MOJ announcing a fresh round of court fee increases, apparently necessary to plug a £1 billion funding gap in the UK justice system.

Today came the news that the UK government will retain the cap on the 5% issue fee for money claims above £10,000, having previously proposed such a cap would either be increased or removed. As noted in the summary article I read on Lexology, the apparent reason for this decision is because it is still too early to assess the impact of the increases introduced in April 2015. The government does not want to implement additional increases before understanding the effect of the initial changes from last year. You can read a detailed background to the changes from early 2015 in this article.

Upon approval of the relevant statutory instrument, civil court fees will increase by 10%. These are among the new increases announced last year after the results of a summer consultation. A range of civil proceedings, having been unaffected by the April 2015 increases, will be affected. This will include enforcement proceedings, determination of costs proceedings and civil business in magistrates’ courts.

Legal Development Number Two: Two roads diverged in the Courts, and I took the one less travelled by.

I read another interesting article this morning, this one in relation to so-called litigation-culture in the UK legal system. This article took at its focus two new pilot schemes in the Rolls Building of the Royal Courts of Justice. These two schemes are the ‘shorter trial procedure’ and the ‘flexible trial procedure’. I will briefly summarise both respectively.

The ‘shorter trial procedure’ aims to resolve disputes which do not require extensive disclosure, witness or expert evidence on a commercial time-scale. It aims to enable parties to reach trial within ten months after proceedings were issued, with the maximum length of trial set at four days with an assigned judge. Moreover, costs budgeting shall not apply, unless the parties had agreed to its application. In relation to disclosure, it is limited to documents relied upon, and documents requested by the other party and either agreed or ordered.  Factual and expert evidence is to be submitted in writing, and will be limited in length – unless otherwise ordered.

The ‘flexible trial procedure’ aims to enable parties, by agreement, to adapt trial procedure to suit their particular case. This, it is hoped, will result in a simplified and expedited trial. However, whilst the court shall seek to respect any such agreements, it does retain ultimate control over any adopted procedure.

If you are interested in reading more about the above procedures, you can read this article from the Judiciary.gov.uk website.There is also a pdf document which provides additional, detailed information about the aims and structures of the two schemes.

Both these schemes came into effect in October of last year. The objective of the schemes was to aspire for shorter, and more flexible procedures to be adopted in claims issued in the Rolls Building courts. The schemes are to run for two years, and the hope is that these procedures will enable parties to achieve significant savings regarding the time and cost of litigation.

As the article notes, the cost and time involved in litigation in the UK courts has been a cause of concern for some of the UK judiciary. The article states that this concern may stem from the strain faced by the English civil justice system: it is facing increased competition from other jurisdictions, especially in the area of international dispute resolution, and adjudication in the area of construction disputes. The Lexology article provides an interesting and in-depth commentary on the above schemes, and it definitely worth reading.

I thought it was interesting to read about this change in the courts, as it illustrates how the legal system must adapt and change in light of new challenges and constraints. To ensure an effective and efficient system, and thus an effective and efficient service for those seeking to utilise it, the legal system must be able to respond to challenge.

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