REUTERS | Erik de Castro

What will happen to the Prisons and Courts Bill?

The general election has caused the Prisons and Courts Bill to be lost, as there was insufficient time for it to get through all of its Parliamentary stages before the dissolution of Parliament at midnight on 2 May.

This is unsurprising as the bill ran to 167 pages, with 72 clauses and 15 lengthy schedules.

By any standards, it is a massive piece of legislation and this is made clear by the introduction:

“A Bill to make provision about prisons; make provision about practice and procedure in courts and tribunals, organisation of courts and tribunals, functions of the judiciary and of courts and tribunals and their staff, appointment and deployment of the judiciary, and functions of the Judicial Appointments Commission; and make provision about whiplash claims.”

Any idea that the proposals have been dropped, or that the civil justice revolution planned for 1 October 2018 will be put back, is wholly misconceived.

This bill had no opposition in the House of Commons. It received an unopposed second reading on 20 March 2017 and was in its committee stage when the general election was announced.

We do not know whether there would have been opposition in the House of Lords as it had not reached that stage.

However it will be far harder for the House of Lords to oppose the bill when it is reintroduced in a freshly elected House of Commons which has just received a mandate from the electorate.

Thus the untroubled passage of the bill is now much more likely than it was one month ago and some sort of measure along these lines is likely to be brought in, whichever party wins the general election.

If the Conservative Party wins the election then expect tougher measures and even more radical reform, possibly with other matters such as the proposals for a tariff for injured soldiers being included in the same legislation, rather than in the separate Combat Compensation Bill.

The small claims limit will go up as planned. This does not require legislation and is part of the six-monthly updates of the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) that take place in April and October each year.

The reason for 1 October 2018 as the date for the increase was so that the provisions contained in the Prisons and Courts Bill could be introduced at the same time, as well as the extension of fixed costs which is likely to follow from the recommendations of Jackson LJ due on 31 July 2017.

Electronic working is certainly coming in. Electronic filing has already been introduced in the Rolls Building with effect from 25 April 2017.

Fixed costs will certainly be extended and the pilot will be introduced within the next couple of months in the Mercantile Court in London, and in the Chancery Division, Technology and Construction Court (TCC) and Mercantile Court in Manchester. It is anticipated that it will cover claims up to £250,000.

Other provisions contained within the bill, for example in relation to attachment of earnings orders and the deployment of the judiciary, are largely uncontroversial and administrative, and will go ahead in any event.

Other measures, such as the proposal to ban the cross-examination of alleged victims of domestic abuse in civil proceedings, enjoy strong cross-party support. Indeed, there was criticism of the government for not forcing that measure through before the general election.

The proposals in relation to whiplash claims are more controversial, but again were passed by the House of Commons without a vote. In relation to that aspect, the bill is essentially an enabling bill and the details will be in regulations to be published by the Lord Chancellor.

Now, it is possible that, after the general election, there will be a new Lord Chancellor with different views. However, in my view, there is no likelihood of this major piece of legislation disappearing or being delayed.

1 October 2018 very much remains D-day for civil litigators.

Underwoods Solicitors Kerry Underwood

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