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Civil Court Structure Review

The Lord Chief Justice and the Master of the Rolls, as Head of Civil Justice, have asked Lord Justice Briggs to carry out an urgent review of the structure of the courts which deliver civil justice. His work is designed to align optimally with the reform programme and in addition to look at the overall structure of civil justice. He will also look at the relationship of those courts with the Family Court and with the various tribunals. This will help to ensure that the reform programme designs a service which makes best use of the large capital investment proposed and provides a modern, efficient and accessible civil dispute resolution service for all.

Lord Justice Briggs will be assisted by a small team and will be supported by the Civil Judicial Engagement Group in an advisory capacity. He will also be seeking a wide range of views about this large subject during the next few months.

He has been asked to produce an interim report by the end of 2015.



An On-Line Court

Consideration is being given to the creation of an on-line court (“OC”) for lower value disputes.  It would be conducted on line rather than on paper, designed primarily for use by litigants in person, investigatory rather than purely adversarial, with conciliation (including mediation and ENE) as a mainstream rather than only alternative form of resolution, and face to face hearings for resolution only if documentary, telephone or video alternatives are unsuitable.

Issues include:

  • At what level of value at risk (or other criteria) to set the ceiling of the OC.
  • Whether there are types of case which, regardless of value, are unsuited for resolution in the OC.
  • Whether use of the OC (once fully tested and proved) should be compulsory.
  • How to assist those for whom the conduct of litigation on-line is impossible or difficult.
  • Costs shifting between the parties.
  • A suitable rules regime for the OC.
  • How to achieve the transparency needed for the process to comply with the requirements of open justice.
  • The design of an appropriate appeals process.

Delegated Judicial Officers

There are proposals to make much greater use (than currently) of court officers (“DJOs”) of different levels of qualifications and experience to perform mainly routine, simple functions currently performed by judges.  These officers would not be judges themselves, but their performance of functions currently performed by judges would be under judicial supervision, and subject to litigants’ rights of review by a judge.

Issues include:

  • Whether DJOs should have authority to resolve live issues as to substantive rather than merely procedural rights.
  • The extent to which (both in the OC and the existing courts) DJOs should have case management authority.
  • The requirements for legal qualifications, experience and training of DJOs for different types of function.
  • The nature and extent of rights of review by a judge.
  • Whether there are ‘no go zones’ where the involvement of DJOs would be inappropriate, regardless of value or importance of the issues.
  • How and by whom should DJOs be supervised and managed.

Number of Civil Courts

The creation of the OC would increase the number of first instance civil courts from two (High Court and County Court) to three. Eight years ago it was decided not to reduce the number to one (a single civil court).  The OC would substantially reduce the caseload of the County Court (although the same judges would continue to resolve the cases).

Issues include:

  • Should the residue of the County Court (after the creation of the OC) be left as an intermediate court between the OC and the High Court.
  • Or should it be merged into the High Court.
  • Or should both the residual County Court and the High Court be replaced by a unified civil court.
  • Or should the High Court be reduced in scope, and if so by what criteria, raising the upper limit of value for cases suitable for the County Court.
  • Should the suitability of judge needed for cases be determined not by allocation to different courts, but by reference to the seniority (i.e. rank) and specialist experience of the judge.
  • Should the current High Court structure of Divisions and specialist courts be preserved, adjusted, removed or replaced by lists.
  • What should be the number and functions of District Registries.

Routes of Appeal

During the last five years the volume of incoming work to the Court of Appeal has increased by 50% with no increase in the number of its judges (and an 18% reduction in its staff).  The Court of Appeal has recently had to make substantial extensions to its hear-by dates due to the grave overload in its work.

Here the central issue is how this overload should be addressed, if not by an increase in the number of Lords Justices (which is considered most unlikely).  In particular:

  • Should the current right to the oral renewal of an application for permission to appeal be removed or attenuated.
  • Should the Court of Appeal become a second appeals court, save for appeals from the High Court, with a leap-frog route where issues of general importance are involved.
  • What appeal types could properly be transferred to the High Court or to High Court judges.
  • How could space in their workloads be created to enable them to assume an extended appellate burden.  (Again, an increase in the number of High Court Judges is considered most unlikely).  If this increases the burden on Circuit Judges, is there scope for transferring some of their work to District Judges.