DoJ launches consultation on increasing County Court jurisdiction
The Department of Justice has launched a 12 week consultation on increasing the jurisdiction of the County Court in Northern Ireland. The County Court currently hears cases which have a value of up to £30,000 with District Judges dealing with those with a value up to £10,000 (including small claims matters). The consultation makes proposals to increase jurisdiction with the aim of making access to NI’s civil justice system “faster, more convenient and more efficient”.
The consultation sets out two options:
(1) an increase in county court jurisdiction to £60,000, with an increase in the jurisdiction of district judges to £20,000; or
(2) an increase in the county courts jurisdiction to £100,000, with an increase for district judges to £35,000.
The first option reflects the recommendations from the Gillen Review to increase the County Court jurisdiction to £60,000. The Gillen Review recommended creating a single tier within the County Court exercising the full civil jurisdiction however the current proposals would maintain the current structure i.e. District Judges and County Court.
The second option would see the court structure in Northern Ireland become more closely aligned with that in other jurisdictions. In England, Scotland & Wales the highest civil courts hear cases over £100,000 albeit this varies in personal injury litigation with the England and Wales High Court hearing cases valued at over £50,000. The consultation suggests that, as a result, claims involving the most catastrophic and severe injuries would remain in the High Court whilst those involving injuries such as minor brain damage, severe PTSD and moderate to severe asbestosis could be dealt with in the County Courts based on current Green Book guidelines.
If implemented, the increased jurisdiction could lead to greater certainty over costs in higher value cases. It is likely that a separate consultation process would be required to review the current statutory scales for County Court costs. At present, costs in cases over £30,000 are marked based on non-statutory scales. Maintaining the scale-based costs model would likely reduce additional expenses associated with costs disputes in higher value cases.
The consultation paper and further information on how to respond can be accessed here.
While great care has been taken in the preparation of the content of this article, it does not purport to be a comprehensive statement of the relevant law and full professional advice should be taken before any action is taken in reliance on any item covered.