Radical Reforms Proposed for NI Courts
The much anticipated Preliminary Review on Civil Justice Report was published earlier this month. Chaired by Lord Justice Gillen, the Civil and Family Justice Review Group who prepared the report was tasked to “look fundamentally at current procedures for the administration of civil and family justice”. The extensive 380 page report makes a total of 221 recommendations. The issues tackled are wide-ranging and diverse, from fundamental concepts like improving access to justice for everyone, to the pros and cons of a tweet.
At the centre the committee’s work however was the intention to make the court experience more user-friendly and client-focused, and to modernise procedures and harness the latest technology to fastrack the business of litigation in Northern Ireland into the digital age. On our analysis, some of the most interesting and perhaps controversial proposed changes are:
- Reducing significantly the volume of paper by moving to “paper light” courts and ultimately paperless courts.
- Creating a designated courtroom fully equipped to run High Court actions electronically.
- Introducing scale costs in the High Court.
- Increasing the use of summary assessment costs orders in interlocutory proceedings.
- Failing to observe the time limits set out in directions should result in meaningful sanctions.
- Order 24 discovery to be replaced by “standard disclosure” based on English CPR 31.7(1).
- The county court civil jurisdiction to be raised from £30k to £75k.
- A radical uplift in the level of the equity jurisdiction.
- The county court to have a designated equity judge to manage and hear all equity business in Northern Ireland.
- More frequent use of Early Neutral Evaluation.
The report could prove to be the foundations of a seismic procedural and practical shift in the Northern Ireland judicial system. We will be examining the content and all the recommendations in more detail over the coming weeks.
The review group has called for responses to the report by Friday 9 December 2016.
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.