Civil law reform

In this article I would like to focus on the topic of civil law reforms in the UK. By civil law reforms I mean mainly developments in professionally relevant topics related to legal procedure and conduct of formal court proceedings. We will firstly analyse past civil justice reform introduced by Lord Woolf and the move on to outline briefly work of Lord Justice Jackson in relation to upcoming changes with particular emphasis on the issue of costs.

Lord Woolf Civil Law Reform

The Civil Procedure Rules were introduced in 1999 bringing a wide range of reforms. The main aim of the CPR has been to end problems identified by Lord Woolf including lengthy procedure, costs and vague legal procedure conduct that often confused litigants and their lawyers. One of the most noticeable changes was introduction of the Pre-Action Protocols that until this day are aimed at stimulating active use of alternative dispute resolution through pre-litigation negotiation, mediation or arbitration. Claims that can be settled out of court always result in more time and cost effective problem resolution than formal legal procedure.

Another major reform was introduction of the Small Claims, Fast and Multi-Tracks for different claims’ monetary values. The Small Claims Track covers all claims in which  sought awards are not worth more than £5,000 (£1,000 for personal injury claims). The Fast Track is designed for cases that can be resolved in a relatively short amount of time and are not worth more than £15,000. The Multi Track route covers court claims and claimants with sought awards of more than £15,000. More complex cases for less than £15,000 that are involve considerable amount of evidence and are likely to result in lengthy trial will also fall within the Multi Track.

Pragmatic Comment on the Civil Law Reform and the CPR

A report prepared by the Cardiff University researchers two years after the implementation of CPR provides useful insights into what legal professionals think about Lord Woolf’s Civil Law Reform.

The research states that most of the reforms were generally regarded as a success. The reform has been described as clearer, more flexible and supportive for settlements. Part 36 claims offers were particularly praised as a useful way of obtaining response from the defendant. Protocols and clear Practice Directions have been perceived as useful guidance on the key issues that lawyers should focus on.

Lord Justice Jackson’s Costs Reform

Creation of conditional fee arrangements, no win no fee and recoverability of costs and after event premiums has undoubtedly increased access to justice to those with limited funding. Unfortunately, the former has also resulted in so-called ‘costs war’ and disproportionality between claim value and costs associated with formal pursuance of the claim. Costs should be capped to make the proceedings worth time and money. Lord Justice Jackson has greatly criticised the issue of disproportionality and stated that not only fixed costs should be introduced to the Fast Track system but also interdependence and clear link between claim’s monetary value and costs associated with the claim created to ensure that claims do not result in excessive costs that stimulate the ‘costs war’. Lord Justice Jackson’s reforms have been postponed and will not come into force within the next 12 months.