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Senior judges back civil courts reform programme

Briggs LJ’s proposals to be taken forward by joint working group

6 January 2017

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The Lord Chief Justice and Master of the Rolls have confirmed their support for a programme of civil court reforms that would see smaller claims move to an online dispute resolution court.

Lord Justice Briggs, pictured, made a series of recommendation last July in his final report of the civil courts structure review, the main one being the setting up of a user-friendly online court which would require minimal assistance from lawyers.

In a joint statement today, Lord Thomas and Sir Terence Etherton backed Briggs LJ’s proposals while pointing out that ‘while the online court caught the headlines, there are 62 recommendations in the report which merit equal attention’.

Britain’s two most senior judges commented that the justice system was undergoing ‘a long overdue improvement programme’ and that judges were ‘involved and informing every aspect of this’.

‘Lord Justice Briggs’ major review will ensure that the overall system for civil justice is improved for its users in a coherent as well as comprehensive manner,’ they said.

The reform proposals will now be considered by a special team of civil judges within the judiciary who will be responsible for liaising with the Ministry of Justice and the courts service on an implementation programme. 

Led by LJ Briggs, the team will comprise Mrs Justice Simler, HHJ Bird and DJ Jenkins.

A spokesman for the judiciary told Solicitors Journal that some of the recommendations were already in progress as part of the HMCTS reform programme.

'The timetable will vary depending on the priorities agreed when looking at the detail of the recommendations. A small number of the recommendations may require primary legislative amendments,' he said.

Briggs LJ’s proposals got early momentum within the judiciary but access to justice campaigners have raised some concerns.

Lord Justice Fulford sought to address these concerns in November, saying judges would not be prepared to support a project that would reduce access to justice. When asked by Solicitors Journal about concerns in relation to the digital divide, Fulford LJ suggested that Citizens Advice Bureaux could act as contact points for member of the public who didn’t have access to technology.

Later that month Lord Thomas pledged before MPs that the reforms would secure access to court for even the most remote rural areas. The Lord Chief Justice said this could be done either by video link or by occasional travelling courts in suitable public buildings.

Lord Justice Briggs himself has been on the campaign trail, urging lawyers to engage with the reform process and take a shared responsibility for its success. Encouraging lawyers to consider the unbundling of legal services as an opportunity, he has warned that legal aid would be unlikely to ever return to pre-LASPO levels.

Family proceedings have been earmarked as a testing ground for online divorce proceedings, with filing expected to be available online by the summer.

Jean-Yves Gilg is editor-in-chief of Solicitors Journal

jean-yves.gilg@solicitorsjournal.co.uk | @jeanyvesgilg

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Briggs LJ LORD THOMAS lord chief justice Sir Terence Etherton master of the rolls Online Court court reform