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Interim Civil Courts structure report published by Lord Justice Briggs looks towards a more modern justice system

Date:13 JAN 2016
Lord Justice Briggs yesterday (12 January 2016) published an interim report concerning civil court structures and judicial processes as a whole.

Commissioned by the Lord Chief Justice and the Master of the Rolls in July 2015 to correspond with a courts reform programme, Briggs LJ’s initial report comes prior to a formal consultation which will be completed by May this year. Responses to the report are welcome: written feedback should be submitted no later than the end of February 2016, and Briggs LJ will host a series of meetings from March to May 2016. His review will be completed in July this year.

Although mostly containing provisional views, the report also lists a handful of urgent priorities. These consist of:
  • preparing the civil judiciary to play their part in the management of the HMCTS reforms from April 2016, including Judicial College training and staff to support the leadership judges;
  • designing the structure and software which will be needed for the re-organised courts (particularly the Online Court) as soon as possible; and
  • easing the burden on the Court of Appeal. In this aspect proposals are already due to be made in April 2016, but the report encourages further suggestions.
In Chapter 6 of the report, Briggs LJ sets out a provisional view of how to go about implementing and rolling out the Online Court. He says:

‘There is a clear and pressing need to create an Online Court for claims up to £25,000 designed for the first time to give litigants effective access to justice without having to incur the disproportionate cost of using lawyers. There will be three stages:

Stage 1 – a largely automated, interactive online process for the identification of the issues and the provision of documentary evidence;

Stage 2 – conciliation and case management by case officers; and

Stage 3 – resolution by judges.

The court will use document on screen, telephone, video or face-to-face meetings to meet the needs of each case.’

If implemented according to Briggs LJ’s view, the Online Court is expected to revolutionise the manner in which the entire justice system operates.

Both the Lord Chief Justice and the Master of the Rolls commented positively on Briggs LJ’s efforts on the report. The Lord Chief Justice, The Rt Hon Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, said:

‘I am grateful to Lord Justice Briggs for producing such a comprehensive and thought-provoking report for the first stage of the review. It is a remarkable piece of work, particularly as it was assembled in six months.

‘The time is ripe for reform, and it is in any event essential and unavoidable. This review will make a considerable contribution to that process and to the future shape of the civil courts.’

The Master of the Rolls, the Rt Hon Lord Dyson, was equally commending of Briggs LJ’s work:

‘I echo the Lord Chief Justice’s thanks and praise for this important report. This reflects the many changes in the civil justice landscape and the wider legal, political and economic context.

‘We are now entering an important phase in the review, and all those with a view on these issues and the future shape of the civil courts will have an opportunity to offer their thoughts and suggestions. I urge people to do so, to make their voice heard in the reform process.’

Lord Justice Briggs’ full interim report is available to view and download here.

What do you think of the suggested reforms? How will the proposed Online Court affect you? Have your say and join the debate on Twitter @JordansFamLaw, using #familylaw #onlinecourt