The Civil Justice Council (CJC) has been given a clean bill of health following a triennial review carried out by the Judicial Office.
A report issued yesterday – some 20 months after the review was announced – said that all those who contributed “agreed strongly” that there was a continuing need for the CJC.
“It was noted that its functions are particularly needed at the current time, when there is such a significant amount of change and reform within the CJS [civil justice system]. Litigants in person putting pressure on the system were one example given and the need for the CJS to be more accessible.”
If the CJC were to be abolished, the review said, it would only have to be reconstituted in one form or another.
It did, however, recommend that the CJC draw up a plan to improve the diversity of its membership, and that it should consider a “more formal and consistent assessment” of members.
The CJC is an arm’s length public body and the review rejected the possibility of moving it or its functions into the Ministry of Justice. “For the council to effectively fulfil its role, it is necessary for it to be independent of government,” the report said. “The council acts as a ‘critical friend’ to the MoJ, giving honest and transparent advice and feedback on government policy which would be compromised if it were to be moved into the MoJ.”
However, there were suggestions made to the review that the two could work together more closely, in particular with relevant CJC members becoming involved in drafting legislation.
The idea of merging the CJC with the Civil Procedure Rule Committee was also firmly knocked back. “In all likelihood it would increase bureaucracy, be a disincentive for council members to give their time and expertise freely, and would attract the opposition or at least strong scepticism of the senior judiciary.”
The report pointed out that the CJC and rule committee called for “very different expertise”, with the former focusing on policy development and scrutiny of the CJS in practice, and the latter being a technical rule-making body.
“By way of example, on a major reform process such as the Jackson costs reforms, the CJC looked at the pre-legislative technical implementation of the measures, and the rule committee drafted and agreed consequent rules and practice directions to give procedural effect to the policy and legislation. One was not qualified to effectively carry out the other.”
The review also rejected a merger with the Family Justice Council, saying that given their very different agendas, natures and workloads, the effectiveness of both would be diluted. Further, there was no prospect of “real administrative or substantive benefits” from doing so.
The review also covered the Family Justice Council and gave it a similar endorsement.