'Cheaper, quicker and less daunting’ justice

Published on Thursday, 09 February 2012 16:32
Posted by Scott Buckler

Individuals and businesses will find it cheaper, quicker and less daunting to resolve their disputes in civil courts, through new measures announced today

The England and Wales civil courts system deals with around 1.5 million disputes per year, ranging from arguments between neighbours and people owing money to international contract disputes and claims for compensation.

Up to 80,000 more cases each year will be diverted to a simple Small Claims mediation process which avoids the stress, expense and legal preparation of a formal court hearing. This offers the option of a quick telephone-based mediation service - a method which has already proved successful with 98 per cent of users saying they were either satisfied or very satisfied with the service.

Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke said:

'Without effective civil justice, businesses couldn’t trade, individuals couldn’t enforce their rights, and government couldn’t fulfil its duties.'

'But individuals and businesses tell me that the civil justice system at the moment can sometimes be intimidating and that.they don’t know if using the system will be worth the time, expense and hassle of going to court.

'I want to make the system as easy and transparent as possible. I want people to be able to resolve their disputes cheaply and simply through the courts’ very successful mediation service, and I want judges freed up to make quick and effective judgments based on the facts of a case, without unnecessary legal complication.

'These changes will produce a service that helps people to resolve their disputes effectively and in the simplest and quickest way possible so they can get on with their lives and businesses.'

The proposals are set out in the Government’s response to its consultation Solving Disputes in the County Courts. The response includes plans to:


  • Simplify the majority of cases: Increase the limit of ‘small claims’ from £5,000 to £10,000 with a view to increasing it again to £15,000 subject to evaluation. All small claims will be automatically referred to the Small Claims Mediation Service, though mediation will not be mandatory. Cases proceeding to court will not need comprehensive legal preparation.
  • Modernise and streamline the County Court system: A single county court will be introduced This clears the way for all claims to be handled electronically at modern centralised business centres, and to then be allocated across neighbouring courts according to demand. Some administrative form work will move from judges to administrators, leaving judges to concentrate on making good decisions rather than managing cases. Restrictions will be lifted on High Court judges sitting in County Courts while waiting to take cases in the High Court.
  • Improve the enforcement of court decisions so that more creditors receive what they are owed: For example where a court-ordered payment instalment plan is already in place, creditors will also be able to apply for an order to secure an unsecured debt. This would stop certain instances where a debtor might benefit from the sale of a property without paying off the debt. However for their protection, debtors will no longer be at risk of losing their home over consumer credit debts of less than £1,000.
  • Free up the High Court to only deal with necessarily complex cases: The level below which non-personal injury claims cannot be heard in the High Court will be raised from £25,000 to £100,000. The outdated value of property above which equity cases need to be referred up to the High Court will be raised from £30,000 to £350,000, reflecting the rise in house prices since the level was last set in 1981.
  • Extending a web-based scheme which controls legal costs for the majority of personal injury cases: The costs are pre-set in a way which encourages early settlement. Following evaluation of its current use in road accident cases worth compensation of up to £10,000, the scheme will be extended to road accident cases worth up to £25,000 and also to employer and public liability personal injury cases.
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