County Court reforms

05 August 2010

ILEX responds to County Court reforms

Government plans to reform the county courts are overwhelmingly premature, unnecessary and unconvincing, according to ILEX.

Pouring cold water on almost every measure suggested by the Ministry of Justice document Solving disputes in the county courts: creating a simpler, quicker and more proportionate system, the Institute challenged the government’s premise that the Woolf civil justice reforms had failed.

It pointed out that Lord Woolf had assumed complementary IT reforms would be introduced to support his package: “Such technical reforms have not happened, and if they had been introduced hitherto, then perhaps the civil justice system would not be in the position in which it finds itself today,” the response said.

On flagship reforms, such as raising the £5,000 small claims limit to £15,000, which would add 12,000 cases to the small claims court’s current workload of 93,000, ILEX was sceptical. Any increase would “act only to reduce and/or deny access to justice”, it said, concluding: “ILEX sees no justification for raising the small claims financial threshold.”

Another keynote policy, raising the road traffic accident (RTA) portal scheme’s £10,000 limit, was premature, ILEX said. But if the limit were in fact lifted, fixed costs would have to be replaced by assessed costs for higher-value claims, it warned.

Neither should the RTA scheme be extended to employers’ and public liability personal injury claims, or a similar scheme be developed for lower-value clinical negligence claims, it added.

Similarly, rejecting a system of fixed recoverable costs for all fast-track personal injury claims not covered by an extended RTA portal, ILEX said it was “concerned that the more a process is ‘dumbed down’ the less opportunity there will be for real access to justice by the public”.

Among other things, the response also gave short shrift to the idea of limiting the pre-trial costs recoverable in other fast-track claims.

“Lawyers want to ensure that they carry out a proper job, and do any investigations that are necessary to represent their client,” it insisted.

One proposal ILEX believed worthwhile was that High Court judges should be allowed to sit in the county court as a general rule. “It will provide greater flexibility and efficiency,” it said. Another was the creation of a single county court, subject to proper resources being made available.