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Civil Justice Council plans to help vulnerable parties in civil courts

10 September 2019

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Recommendations on how to support vulnerable claimants and defendants in the civil courts have been put forward by the Civil Justice Council.

The consultation report, Vulnerable witnesses and parties within civil proceedings: current position and recommendations for change, recognised that the civil sector has been criticised for being ‘passive’ for not creating a separate set of rules to support vulnerable parties in its proceedings, meaning some are excluded because they are not properly catered for.

Complied by Judge Cotter QC, the report looked at the support already available in the family and criminal courts and how that can be more effectively applied in the civil courts. 

The paper considers issues arising from the vulnerability of parties and witnesses in all types of litigation, but arose as a result of a specific recommendation of the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse.

Problems encountered by vulnerable court users include intimidation from more dominant parties, fear of reprisal in anti-social behaviour cases, and confusion or the inability to understand the legal jargon used in court.

The report calls for the Civil Procedure Rule Committee to consider amending the current procedure rules (and any relevant accompanying practice directions) to focus the attention of all civil Judges, parties and advocates upon the issue of vulnerability.

It calls for the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) to be amended to include provisions to specifically cater for vulnerable witnesses and parties to ensure they can effectively participate and for the rejigging of directions questionnaires to request information as to the vulnerability or potential vulnerability of a party or a witness.

Judges should receive special training to help them detect/assess vulnerability and adapt their case management and conduct of hearings accordingly when a party or witness is vulnerable, while training should also be given to all those involved in civil cases to allow them to identify, communicate with and assist vulnerable court users.

HMCTS should produce guidance, the report says, in relation to the use and funding of intermediaries in civil cases and should ensure that individual courts prepare comprehensive operational protocols to assist and protect vulnerable parties/witnesses.

Responses to the consultation report should be made by 11 October 2019.

 

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