A review of the Chancery Division of the High Court by Lord Justice Briggs is published today. Based in the Rolls Building in London and in the seven principal regional trial centres, the Chancery Division is now the largest unit for handling business and property cases in the country.
The Chancellor, Sir Terence Etherton welcomed the report saying:
“Lord Justice Briggs’ final report on modernising the procedures and practices of the Chancery Division, in London and in the regional centres throughout England and Wales, is a remarkable achievement. It has been completed in less than a year after comprehensive consultation with court users and judges of all levels throughout the country and after receiving public feedback.
“The background to the report is the great transformation in the nature of the staple work of the Chancery Division and the considerable growth in the amount and value of its work since the last comprehensive review by Lord Oliver over 30 years ago. It has evolved into a modern business and property court which listed 1146 trials in 2012.
“The feedback from the extensive consultations has shown an almost universally high regard for the quality of judicial decision making in the Division. Inevitably, there is scope for improvement in practices and procedures. The Report makes over 100 recommendations, virtually all of which were made in Lord Justice Briggs’ provisional report in July. The large scale feedback has been very supportive of them.
“Lord Justice Briggs, his deputy Mr Justice Newey and his panel of advisers have executed this project splendidly. We now turn to the next stage, that of implementation, on which Mr Justice Newey will be taking the lead.”
Lord Justice Briggs said: “Since my interim report in July, the extensive feedback from chancery court users has been very supportive of the changes in practice and procedure which I propose. It has also confirmed my view that the Chancery Division already provides, both in London and the in those principal cities of England and Wales where it is established, a very well-regarded service to those with higher value business and property disputes, both for national and international litigants.
“It is therefore my firm hope and expectation that the implementation of the recommendations in my report, with the support of the court user community, will equip the Chancery Division to continue and improve that service for many years to come.”
The findings include:
- The Chancery Division attracts both national and international cases of the highest importance and value, so that it makes a major contribution to UK plc, both in the Rolls Building in London and in the main cities around the country.
- The quality of its judicial decisions is regarded as outstanding and, for the most part, its cases are decided within a reasonable time frame.
- Its methods of case management would benefit from adopting some of the methods used in comparable courts dealing with the same types of business, and from modern IT.
- Waiting times need to be maintained and where possible reduced in spite of reducing resources, increased workload and the intensification of judicial case management called for by the Jackson reforms of Civil Justice
Lord Justice Briggs identifies seven areas where a fundamental change of approach is recommended. They are:
- Increased use of full docketing, (that is management of the case, from its issue until trial, and trial of the case, by the same judge).
- The re-direction of case management towards dispute resolution of all kinds, rather than just contested trials.
- The strict focus of case management for trial upon the issues in the case, designed to reduce both the length and expense of litigation to proportionate levels.
- A move to fixed length trials, with the length being chosen by the court as being proportionate to the weight and complexity of the case, with appropriate regard to the competing demands of other court users for limited resources.
- The transfer of prime responsibility for the drawing of orders from the court’s Associates to the parties’ lawyers.
- The provision of fair treatment for litigants in person.
- National recognition that no chancery case is too large to be dealt with in a regional trial centre.
The most important recommended changes are:
- The provision of modern IT.
- Increased docketing.
- Convergence in practice and procedure between courts doing similar work.
- The provision of better access to justice for litigants in person.
Other recommendations include:
- The removal of restrictions upon the jurisdiction of Masters, Registrars and District Judges, preventing them from undertaking work suitable to their skills and experience.
- Mutual co-operation and assistance between the Chancery Division, the Commercial Court and the Technology and Construction Court in London, following the lead set by the specialist civil jurisdictions in the main regional trial centres.
- A system for the early allocation of all incoming cases into tracks for case management, including full docketing by Judges, more trials by Masters and some District Judges, and case management partnerships between the trial Judge and a Master or District Judge. This triage system would be undertaken by Masters and District Judges, but led and supervised by chosen Judges, with a power of review.
- The transfer of a greater proportion of bankruptcy work to the Central London County Court.
- A requirement for a List of Issues as the essential case management tool from the earliest possible stage in the case, followed by the focus of all disclosure, witness statements and expert evidence on the issues thereby identified.
- The development of Financial Dispute Resolution and Judicial Early Neutral Evaluation for appropriate cases.
- A pilot scheme for fixed length trials, increased provision of fixed starting dates and the earlier choice of the trial judge.
- Seeking a new convention designed to reduce the length, but not the effectiveness, of cross examination.
- Four day week trials in London and some regional trial centres, freeing Fridays for case management by Judges.
- Not using non-specialised deputies for complex specialist trials.
- Reducing the use of Associates for the drawing and sealing of orders to those for which it is necessary and efficient.
- Provision of up to date regional information about free or affordable legal advice and representation for chancery litigants in person.
- A dedicated counter for litigants in person in the Rolls Building. Bespoke, early case management of cases involving litigants in person, using tailor made directions orders not needing to be interpreted by reference to rules or practice directions.
- An investigative approach by judges to cases involving litigants in person, with robust identification and dismissal of cases that have no real prospects of success.
- A new pro bono duty advocate scheme in the Chancery Interim Applications Court. This is already being piloted.
- Better communication, internally and externally, by measures including better use of the chancery web-site, regular reports on the performance of the Division and an annual chancery judicial conference.
For further information contact Stephen Ward – Judiciary Press Office, 020 7947 6438
1. The report is available on the home page of the Judiciary website Judiciary.gov.uk.
2. This review was commissioned by the Chancellor of the High Court in January 2013, for completion by the end of 2013.
3. The report is based upon a very wide, three stage, written and oral consultation process across the country with Chancery judges of all levels, HMCTS staff, court users, stakeholder groups and other interested parties, together with an unprecedented detailed statistical study of the Division’s work, in and outside London, over a chosen 3 month period.