Article England and Wales: Government Proposes Reforms to the Civil Courts

The government of England and Wales recently issued a public consultation seeking opinions on reforms to the civil justice system. In an effort to promote settling disputes outside of court, the government proposes to automatically divert all small claims in the civil courts (considered to be claims under 10,000 pounds (£) (about US$12,000)) to receive one session of compulsory mediation, provided free of charge by His Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service, before the case is sent to a hearing. These cases, which currently comprise 61% of claims before the county courts, would include disputes over goods and services.

Under the proposals, both parties to the case would automatically be referred to an hour-long telephone mediation session with a professional mediator. During the call, each party would speak separately to the mediator to determine if an agreement could be reached and, if so, “both parties will agree over the phone for it to be made legally binding through a settlement agreement.” This mediation is already available and has a 55% success rate in settling cases but is utilized by only 15–21% of parties. The government has stated that evidence indicates the low uptake in the use of mediation is because parties to the case do not understand the process or benefits.

If the proposed reform were implemented, the government claims it would speed up the time it takes the courts to handle more complex cases. The aim of the reforms is to

support the delivery of a sustainable and efficient civil justice system. The overall policy objectives of the options considered are to deliver swift access to justice for all civil court users; to ensure that judicial resources are focused on more complex cases; to reduce the cost of resolving disputes for parties to small claims; and to ensure that parties to small claims are confident in and satisfied with the mediation process as a means to resolve their disputes.

The government anticipates the reform would be available to approximately 272,000 people, potentially diverting up to 20,000 cases away from the courts, and freeing up to 6,730 judicial sitting days in the courts. The potential savings of these measures are estimated to be up to £7.2 million (about US$8.7 million) each year for the civil court system and up to £61 million (about US$75 million) each year for civil court users.

The consultation follows an interim from the government and a report from the Civil Justice Council that considered how disputes could be resolved away from the courts through dispute resolution to help facilitate the recovery of the courts after the COVID-19 pandemic, with small claims currently taking almost one year to be heard before the courts.

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Chicago citation style:

England and Wales: Government Proposes Reforms to the Civil Courts. 2022. Web Page. https://www.loc.gov/item/global-legal-monitor/2022-09-21/england-and-wales-government-proposes-reforms-to-the-civil-courts/.

APA citation style:

(2022) England and Wales: Government Proposes Reforms to the Civil Courts. [Web Page] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/global-legal-monitor/2022-09-21/england-and-wales-government-proposes-reforms-to-the-civil-courts/.

MLA citation style:

England and Wales: Government Proposes Reforms to the Civil Courts. 2022. Web Page. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/global-legal-monitor/2022-09-21/england-and-wales-government-proposes-reforms-to-the-civil-courts/>.