The Civil Procedure Rule Committee (CPRC) is an advisory non-departmental public body, sponsored by the Ministry of Justice. It is responsible for making and amending the Civil Procedure Rules, and it meets every month to discuss its work. Following each meeting, I will write a post covering the more significant issues that were discussed. Here are some snippets from the recent March and April meetings (the papers from which were made public on 20 May 2015).
IT and resource issues at the forefront
The minutes of the March meeting record that, following a request from the MoJ, CPRC members identified changes that might potentially benefit both the judiciary and court users. Strikingly, the points proposed show a clear focus on IT and resource (in terms of judicial time) issues:
- Online tools for making payments.
- Access to High Court listing diaries to check trial date availability.
- Increased online filing to reduce the problem of lost documents.
- Centralised email systems.
- Increased access to registers of claims.
- Transparency around litigators and the types of claim being made.
- Increased flexibility in the jurisdiction of District Judges, particularly on injunctions and committal proceedings.
- Reduced waiting times for hearings (particularly costs management and budget hearings).
- Review of the costs budgeting process (Coulson J is chairing a CPRC sub-committee addressing this issue).
Delegation of judicial powers to free up judicial time and save money
Papers from the February CPRC meeting showed that, in the context of discussions about a proposed (now approved, and due to commence on 1 October 2015) pilot scheme for legal advisers to perform judicial functions, the Master of the Rolls noted that the use of qualified lawyers to perform certain “judicial” tasks was part of a growing trend dictated by financial constraints and that such a policy already existed within other Divisions and was supported by the LCJ. Papers from the March meeting show a continuing trend of delegating work down from judges. The CPRC approved amendments to PD 2B that change the jurisdictional restraints on Queen’s Bench and Chancery masters. These changes were implemented on 6 April as part of the 79th CPR update.
Respondents’ statements in applications for leave to appeal
Most of the CPRC agreed that it would be useful to encourage respondents to provide a brief statement, at the permission stage, of why permission to appeal should be granted or refused, and that this should not be limited to appeals to the Court of Appeal. It was felt that the recognised costs consequences should not delay introducing the change. The amendment was approved . [Note that the changes took effect from 6 April 2015.]
Papers from the April meeting include a report from a sub-committee (chaired by Richards LJ) to consider access to documents by the press. It refers to requests from the press for improved access to materials that they say they need for reporting purposes (for example, skeleton arguments). The report considers the relevant case law (see R (Guardian News and Media Limited) v City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court for a useful summary) and the current approach in civil and criminal cases. It then sets out proposals for amendments to PD 52C.
It is proposed that a practical way forward, initially at least, is to place an obligation on the parties to provide to accredited reporters (both law reporters and media reporters), at the beginning of the hearing, the key documents essential for an understanding of the appeal, namely, the skeleton arguments and, if not otherwise available, the transcript of the judgment under appeal (subject to a right to apply to the court for an order that such documents should not be disclosed, or only disclosed after editing).
It was felt that PD 52C (at the end of section 7) is the appropriate place for these provisions to be set out.
The report sets out proposed wording for a new paragraph 33, and members were asked for their views. If the proposal is approved in principle, the CPRC will consider whether there should be a consultation on the issues, before a final decision is taken.
If the proposed solution works, it could be extended to other jurisdictions, notably the Administrative Court.
Open meeting (not for those suffering from triskaidekaphobia)
The CPRC open meeting for 2015 has been provisionally fixed for Friday 13 November 2015. The open meetings provide an invaluable opportunity to see the CPRC in action and to put questions to the members, including the Master of the Rolls. For a flavour of what to expect, see our note of the 2014 meeting where we put a range of questions to the panel, and received some helpful replies.
Signposting for litigants in person
The sub-committee (chaired by District Judge Lethem) which has been considering litigants in person (LIPs) has delivered its final report. Papers from the February meeting showed that, after “lengthy discussion”, the CPRC concluded that it would be impractical to simplify core CPR rules (including CPR 7 and 8, 16, 23, 31 and 36), and also recognised that the rules are complex in order to deal with many different variations and situations, many of which will not affect LIPs. Key recommendations in the final report include:
- Amendment of CPR 3.1 to specify that where at least one party is unrepresented:
- The court must have regard to that when exercising case management powers.
- The parties and the court should take any standard directions as the starting point.
- In any hearing, the court must adopt such procedures as it considers appropriate to further the overriding objective. In cases where the court is taking evidence, this may include ascertaining from the unrepresented party matters on which the witness may be able to depose, or on which he should be cross-examined, and putting (or causing to be put) to the witness proper questions.
- “Signposting information” for LIPs to be incorporated in model directions for both the multi-track and the fast track.
- Forms to be reviewed with a view to providing signposting information for LIPs.
The report makes interesting reading. It notes that this is a potentially difficult area for judges and that many judges are adapting procedure and adopting a more proactive approach in cases involving LIPs (which may even be contrary to authority). It also records that there was “lively discussion” about whether the proposed revisions to CPR 3.1 should be mandatory.
These are just selected examples of the topics up for discussion at the last two CPRC meetings.
You can view the papers in full (which consider a range of other issues including amendments relating to judicial review and service of trusts claims out of the jurisdiction) on our website. See the resources page and the section headed “Civil Procedure Rule Committee Meetings“. The papers include approved minutes, which provide a useful summary of all of the matters discussed.