Background

In the Summer of 2015 Briggs LJ was asked to review the structure of the civil courts in England and Wales. His review is to be completed by the end of July 2016.  He published an interim report ("Report") on 12 January 2016.

The Report covers a wide range of topics. This update looks how it may affect commercial litigation.

Online Court

The introduction of an Online Court is proposed. This would take the court system into a completely new direction. The current proposal is to limit the Online Court to claims worth £25,000 or below, but some commentators have observed that, if successful, such a system could eventually encompass higher value claims too.

Rights and routes of appeal

With a 54% increase of incoming work in the last six years, LJ Briggs is rightly concerned with the current burden on the Court of Appeal ("CA"). He summarises a number of possible solutions:

  • Increase the CA's resources by employing more judicial assistants or for High Court judges to sit part time in the CA. However, this could mean the burden of work merely shifting to High Court judges;
  • Reduce the CA's workload, with suggestions of making it a second tier of appeal only (save for first instances decisions from the High Court);
  • Improve the CA's efficiency with a more focused use of judicial assistants and shorter written submissions to appeal; and
  • Deliberately reducing the quantity or quality of the service.

Enforcement procedures

Briggs LJ indicates that the pending digitisation of the Court Service could lead the way in rethinking enforcement procedures: High Court judgments need not necessarily be enforced in the High Court -  there is a case for unification of enforcement procedures across all courts. He suggests that the strengths of each of the current enforcement processes be identified.

Summary

All these proposed change may in due course have an impact on commercial litigation. Speeding up the appeal process and making enforcement more efficient would be very welcome. Although an Online Court could save both the parties involved and the judicial system a huge amount of cost, it seems unlikely (and undesirable) that it should be used for anything but the most straightforward claims.