The Court of Appeal is suffering a "grave overload" of work to such a degree that it poses a threat to the quality of the civil justice system. This is one of the key concerns which Lord Justice Briggs has sought to address in his widely anticipated final report (published 27 July 2016). The report aims to highlight the main weaknesses currently faced by the civil courts structure and to improve access to and the quality of justice across England and Wales.

LJ Briggs stressed in his report that there was a pressing need to find a better solution to the excessive workload faced by the Court of Appeal. The court's annual incoming workload exceeds its capacity to do the work by over 9,400 hours and, as at the beginning of 2016, it was facing an accumulated backlog of over 46,800 hours of work. This overload of work undermines the ability of the court to hear cases in a reasonable time, with appeals taking on average 19 months to be heard. The report describes the Court of Appeal's predicament as being "7 LJs [Lord Justices] short of the complement needed to cope with its workload" but with no prospect of the Government agreeing an increase in the number of LJs because of current financial circumstances.

In light of this, and following consultation with the Civil Procedure Rules Committee (CPRC), LJ Briggs has proposed a number of reforms to the appeals process in the hope of streamlining the work of the court, including:

  1. the removal of the automatic right to renew a permission to appeal application at an oral hearing. It will now be for the Court of Appeal to determine the application for permission to appeal on paper and to direct an oral hearing only if it is considers that the application cannot be fairly determined on paper;
  2. for other applications made during Court of Appeal proceedings, decisions will be determined on paper unless the court is of the view that reviews cannot be fairly determined without an oral hearing; and
  3. the threshold test for permission to appeal for second appeals is to be re-worded to expressly include the requirement of "a real prospect of success". The CPRC did not implement LJ Briggs' recommendation to increase the threshold test to a "substantial prospect of success", as there was a concern with having two different tests for appeals in different courts.

These proposals are expected to come into force on 3 October 2016.

LJ Briggs left the question open as to whether reforms to the appellate procedure should be extended and applied not only to the Court of Appeal, but to appeals in the High Court and the county courts. Better evidence should become available once these reforms to the Court of Appeal are bedded in, which can then be used to decide whether to extend the appellate procedure. Although these are positive reforms which have addressed some of the issues in relation to the excessive workload of the Court of Appeal, it is questionable whether it is possible for the backlog to be reduced to an acceptable level without substantial investment in its people and processes.

Commentary

LJ Briggs left the question open as to whether reforms to the appellate procedure should be extended and applied not only to the Court of Appeal, but to appeals in the High Court and the county courts. Better evidence should become available once these reforms to the Court of Appeal are bedded in, which can then be used to decide whether to extend the appellate procedure. Although these are positive reforms which have addressed some of the issues in relation to the excessive workload of the Court of Appeal, it is questionable whether it is possible for the backlog to be reduced to an acceptable level without substantial investment in its people and processes.