The Ministry of Justice has made its much anticipated response to the Solving disputes in the County Court consultation with the emphasis very much on streamlining and simplifying legal dispute procedures.
Mediation is at the forefront. It is anticipated around 80,000 more small claims track cases will automatically be referred to mediation. The small claims limit will be increased from £5,000 to £10,000 with the possibility of rising further to £15,000. Whilst mediation will not be mandatory, it is a clear signal of the Justice Secretary’s encouragement for alternative dispute resolution.
The majority of “Small Claims Track” mediation is currently conducted by telephone. It is quicker, easier and cheaper for parties to discuss a settlement over the telephone than to find time to prepare a case for court and then travel to the allocated court on a particular date. The process is less formalised and therefore not as imposing as a court room environment. It is a method that has already proven successful with 98% of those surveyed saying they were satisfied or very satisfied with the mediation and 95% saying they would use the service again.
Other changes include:
- A single county court for all claims to be handled electronically at modern centralised business centres and then allocated across neighbouring courts according to demand.
- Less administration for judges.
- Restrictions will be lifted on High Court judges sitting in County Courts while waiting to take cases in the High Court.
- Improved enforcement of court decisions.
- Free up the High Court to deal only 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- The outdated value of property above which equity cases need to be referred up to the High Court will be raised from £30,000 to £350,000.
- The RTA fixed costs scheme limit will increase from £10,000 to £25,000 and be extended to employer and public liability personal injury cases.
Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke said:
“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.”