In recent years, the structure of the civil courts in England and Wales has been subject to scrutiny like never before. Lord Justice Briggs’ wholesale review (Civil Courts Structure Review: Final Report, July 2016) has coincided with the HM Courts and Tribunal Service’s 5-year programme “to deliver a more effective, efficient and high performing courts and tribunals administration through the use of modern technology, an improved estate, and modernisation of current working practices” (‘HM Courts and Tribunals Service Business Plan 2014-15’).

A focus on digital tools, reduced reliance on buildings and the effective and efficient allocation of work between judges and other court officials aims to modernise the court system and the administration of justice generally. In addition, this all follows shortly after Lord Justice Jackson’s sweeping reforms to civil procedure – ‘Review of Civil Litigation Costs: Final Report, December 2009’ – which elevated the importance of costs management and proportionality within the conduct of litigation.

Shorter and flexible trial pilots

In appropriate cases, UK courts now offer the Shorter and Flexible Trial schemes. The schemes have been developed in response to feedback that businesses often prefer a less-exhaustive option, instead of the traditional ‘no stone unturned’ approach. Under these schemes, key elements of the civil litigation process are shortened, tailored or even dispensed with altogether, in order that trials can be heard and judgments delivered, earlier and at less cost than would otherwise be possible. The schemes are available in commercial cases brought in London. Cases are managed and tried by docketed judges, to ensure continuity and efficiency. They are opt-in schemes, though courts will encourage opt-in for suitable cases. There will be limited disclosure (discovery), paper applications and a trial within 10 months, all of which lead to a substantial cost and time saving.

Apr-Jun 2017 issue

Walker Morris LLP