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In July 2015, the Lord Chief Justice and Master of the Rolls commissioned Lord Justice Briggs to conduct a review of the structure of the civil courts in England and Wales. Following an extensive consultation with judges, practitioners and court users, on 27 July 2016 LJ Briggs published his much awaited Civil Courts Structure Review: Final Report. The report considers key weaknesses in the current civil court structure threatening efficiency and access to justice.
Potentially the most significant recommendation is the creation of an “Online Court” to cover (in the first instance) straightforward money claims up to £25,000. The system would be governed by its own “user-friendly” set of dedicated rules instead of the Civil Procedure Rules. The aim is to improve access to justice, specifically for individuals and small businesses, by requiring minimum assistance from lawyers and by removing the excessive cost risks of litigating moderate sums. The report also recommends significantly raising the minimum High Court threshold to claims above £250,000 and subsequently £500,000. Combined with the Online Court, this should alleviate the burden on senior courts considerably.
Further recommendations to improve efficiency include transferring routine, non-contentious work from judges to case officers under judicial training and supervision. Importantly, the report stresses that judicial supervision should involve regular contact between the case officer and judge and accepts that case officers should have legal qualifications and experience. The report also recommends unifying the processes for enforcing judgment within the County Court.
The conclusion leaves it for others to decide which recommendations are implemented and by what means. It is therefore unclear whether any of the suggestions will be put into practice and if so, what impact they will have. Nevertheless LJ Briggs emphasises his view that the implementation of these recommendations would protect the high quality of the civil justice system and extend it to a “silent community” to whom it is currently largely inaccessible.