An important judicial report has been published examining the need for changes to the court structure and processes for civil justice in England and Wales.
The Civil Courts Structure Review by Lord Justice Briggs was commissioned by the senior judiciary to coincide with the UK government's ongoing wider programme for reform of the justice system more generally. Briggs LJ's interim report was published on 12 January 2016, with a final report due by the end of July 2016 following further consultation.
One of the stated principles underlying both Briggs LJ's Review and the wider governmental reforms is the need for the justice system to 'be built around the needs of those who use it'. The issues they address in this regard (including accessibility, timeliness and affordability) will overlap substantially with key issues to be examined over the next 18 months in the Global Pound Conference (GPC) series taking place in over 25 countries worldwide. The GPC series will bring together users and providers of dispute resolution mechanisms across the globe (both courts and private processes) to discuss and provide data on what users of dispute resolution systems will need in the 21st century and how those needs can be met.
Although the use of ADR is not a core topic of Briggs LJ's Review, its terms of reference did require him to consider the boundaries between the civil courts and private providers of other civil dispute resolution services. Interestingly, this issue is touched on only briefly in the interim report, with Briggs LJ observing that no factors had been identified suggesting the need for significant structural change in this regard, given 'the generally high level of recourse to private sources of ADR before the issue of proceedings where the parties have access to affordable legal advice'.
The report does however acknowledge a possible concern that ADR is underused in lower value claims and those involving litigants in person. That concern is addressed within one of the report's key recommendations – for the creation of an Online Court to handle claims of up to £25,000. Among the proposals for the Online Court is that it will have a distinct stage of 'culturally normal, but not compulsory, conciliation built into it', to be conducted by the non-judicial case officers who will be appointed to conduct online case management. The report invites views on whether that conciliation should be based on a simple telephone mediation, or written early neutral evaluation, or a mixture of the two.
Comments on the interim report are invited by the end of February 2016 (to firstname.lastname@example.org).