This month we had hoped to advise you about the current state of reforms to the civil litigation system. We are not able to do this, however, as the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill (LASPO) is having a rough ride through the House of Lords. For those of you who have studied on the Diploma course and developed an interest in how the Lords influences (and arguably, improves) our laws, this is a good bill to follow. You can find the latest details on the Parliament website, www.parliament.uk, under Bills & legislation.
We will return to this topic as soon as we are able to do so, but in the meantime there are still small but significant changes happening in litigation procedure. A change to county court claims, described by the Law Society as a 'sea change', will be implemented from March of this year. The plan is to have all claims to the county courts dealt with through one central office based in Salford. What this change will mean is that rather than solicitors mailing a claim to or filing a claim with an individual court, claims will have to be 'e-filed' with the new Salford business centre. There are also plans for the process to be used for enforcement proceedings and divorce petitions, but no date has been set for this.
For those in legal practice, adapting to the new system and getting it right may take some time, but it will happen. The concern is whether those acting for themselves (litigants in person) will be able to understand the 'gobbledegook' sent out by the court. There will be added problems for those acting for themselves, namely, 1) There will not be a local court where they can get assistance; and 2) If the small claim limit increases from £5,000 to £15,000, there will be many more litigants in person. (This increase is one of the issues changes due under the LASPO bill mentioned above.)
On the positive side, those who are able to embrace the changes should be able to look forward to filing a claim in the morning and seeing it posted from the court that afternoon. Also, it will no longer be necessary to enclose a cheque with a claim, as court fees will be dealt with electronically or by direct debit for regular users such as solicitors.
It should be noted that it has been possible for a number of years to start claims online with the Money Claim Online service (www.moneyclaim.gov.uk), which was designed for legal professionals who deal with bulk claims. If you have a quick glance at the four pages of 'frequently asked questions', you might get some idea of the problems people are likely to have using the proposed e-filing system for all claims.
When all is said and done, no matter what 'teething problems' are experienced, these changes will be made in the next few months. Given the estimated cost savings of £2-£3 million per year, e-filing is likely to remain a firm and expanding feature of litigation practice.