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Samantha Ramen

Samantha Ramen

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Client Alert: Justice consultation announced

Client Alerts16/09/2016

Transforming our justice system: Summary of reforms and consultation

Yesterday the Lord Chancellor, Lord Chief Justice, and the Senior President of Tribunals published a joint statement on their shared vision for the future of Her Majesty’s Courts & Tribunal Service.  

The statement explains how the work will provide the public with a justice system that is:

  • Just: “decisions and outcomes are fair, the judiciary are supported by processes that are modern, transparent and consistent, and like cases are treated alike. A strong judiciary and meritocratic legal professions draw on the widest available pool of talents, to maintain public confidence and strengthen the rule of law.” Providing a system that works for everyone and continuing to ensure open justice is stated to be a core principle.

  • Proportionate: “the cost, speed, complexity, and degree of adversarial protection make sense and are appropriate to the nature and value of the dispute at issue. An effective system will save people time and money, and shrink the impact of legal proceedings on their lives.” This will be achieved by ensuring there is more use of case officers for routine tasks, more decisions made “on the papers”, virtual hearings and more cases resolved out of court.

  • Accessible: “that the system is affordable, intelligible and available for use by all, convenient for those who cannot easily attend in person, and supportive of those not comfortable with the law or technology.” This will mean putting more services online and digitalising application

“In practice, these principles aim to deliver swift and certain justice.”

The consultation

The consultation deals with four distinct areas:

  1. The criminal courts

  2. The civil justice system

  3. Family proceedings, and

  4. Tribunals

Each of the eight substantive questions broadly fall into one of the three following headings:

  1. Assisted Digital

  2. Online Conviction and Statutory Fixed Fines

  3. Panel Composition in the Tribunals

The proposals in the Assisted Digital category are those most relevant to insurers. The Government expects to include the following as part of their approach:

  • Face-to-face assistance – for example, aiding completion of an online form.  This type of service may be supplied by a third party organisation in some cases.

  • A telephone help service offering similar advice, which we would expect to be staffed by Her Majesty’s Court and Tribunal System (HMCTS).

  • Web chat to guide people through online processes.

  • Access to paper channels for those who require it.

Extending the fixed recoverable costs regime

Of particular note is the promise made in 3.1iii (page 8) of the paper. Here, the Government promises to build on measures introduced in the last Parliament for low value personal injury claims, to limit the level of legal costs recoverable. The consultation paper states that:

“We are keen to extend the fixed recoverable costs regime to as many civil cases as possible. The senior judiciary will be developing proposals on which we will then consult.”

Keoghs Viewpoint

So – will this help the insurance industry settle claims more quickly, efficiently, and cost effectively?

As with many of these types of announcements, on a first reading it looks positive. It is particularly encouraging to see solid Government commitment to an extension of the fixed recoverable costs regime following Jackson LJ’s speech and published costs grid in January this year (see Keoghs Client Alert on this here).

However, the devil will be in the detail. We can reasonably expect pushback from the claimant lobby who will claim that these changes may or will compromise access to justice, particularly for vulnerable members of society.

But no one can doubt that information technology is ever important in almost every aspect of modern life. It was somewhat inevitable that our court systems would eventually be moved online where feasible. There is also a general trend towards fixed costs in litigation, particularly for those claims at the lower end of the scale.

If the Government gets these changes right, we can expect speedier settlements without the need for a lawyer in simple and straightforward low value claims.

The Keoghs Market Affairs Team plan on drafting a response to this consultation a few weeks ahead of the submission deadline of Thursday 27 October 2016.

To view the consultation:
Transforming our justice system consultation