Lord Justice Briggs has published the long-awaited final report of Brigg LJ's Civil Courts Structure Review.
Briggs LJ identifies five main weaknesses of the civil courts structure, namely:
- Lack of adequate access to justice due to excessive costs expenditure / risk and the "lawyerish culture and procedure of the civil courts"
- Inefficiencies from the "continuing tyranny of paper" and absolute and inadequate IT facilities
- Court of Appeal delays
- Under investment in civil justice in the regions
- Weaknesses in the processes of enforcement
Briggs LJ's final recommendations address each of these weaknesses in turn.
Online Court: the 'Online Solutions Court'
To remedy the purported lack of access to justice, as we have previously reported, he recommends the introduction of an Online Court and the extension of fixed costs. The Online Court will be accessible via smart phones and tablets and he has endorsed the development of Assisted Digital resources to avoid "the preservation of a parallel paper path."
In contrast to Briggs' initial promotion of a 'lawyerless' Online Court, he has recommended the implementation of a limited fixed costs regime to provide advice for potential litigants on the merits of their case, or for the provision of skilled cross-examination. Legal advice and expertise would be by way of unbundled solicitors' services and direct access to barristers.
The Report indicates that the Online Court should be regulated, not by the CPR, but by simple rules created by a new cross-jurisdictional rules committee. Primary legislation is being prepared to that effect. Briggs LJ also sets out the appropriate appeals procedure, where permission would apply. Stage 3, the final adjudication, will be made by judges on paper, via a video/telephone hearing or by way of a traditional trial.
Despite an initial ceiling of £25,000, he advocates that it may "pave the way" for change over "much wider ground" and will eventually become compulsory. It is not envisaged that the Online Court will apply to fast and multi-track personal injury cases, but, as Briggs LJ has previously indicated, it may apply to those falling within the small claims track.
A target date of 2020 has been suggested.
Addressing the issues stemming from the continued use of paper, Briggs LJ predictably proposes the "digitisation of all the processes" of the civil courts which will eventually be paperless. Reforms have already been implemented to overcome the chronic workload and backlog of the Court of Appeal. Briggs LJ also proposes a unification of the processes of enforcement of civil judgments within a single court, accompanied by amendments to legislation.