The government and senior judiciary “are keen to extend the fixed recoverable costs regime to as many civil cases as possible”, they said today.
It follows repeated calls from top judges to impose fixed costs across the fast-track and ‘lower reaches’ of the multi-track.
Some will see it as a recognition that costs management has not delivered what was expected, and also that the judges are fed up with the number of costs disputes before them.
The announcement came in the Transforming our justice system ‘vision statement’ issued today jointly by Lord Chancellor Liz Truss, Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas and the Senior President of Tribunals. This set out a £1bn plan to digitise all courts and tribunals. (For a full report, see our sister site Legal Futures.)
Included in it is the intention to build an online court as recommended by Lord Justice Briggs.
For the civil courts, the statement said: “We will automate and digitise the entire process of civil money claims by 2020. These account for more than four fifths of the 1.6 million claims issued in the county courts and the High Court each year – with the vast majority (83%) of which are uncontested.
“We will speed up resolution as we replace paper and post with digital working: currently, a ‘fast track’ claim with a value between £10,000 and £25,000 takes 11 months to be resolved. Under our new digital model, cases will be handled faster and in a more convenient way, improving the experience for everyone making and defending claims in the civil courts.
“More needs to be done to control the costs of civil cases so they are proportionate to the case, and legal costs are more certain from the start. Building on earlier reforms, we will look at options to extend fixed recoverable costs much more widely, so the costs of going to court will be clearer and more appropriate. Our aim is that losing parties should not be hit with disproportionately high legal costs, and people will be able to make more informed decisions on whether to take or defend legal action.”
In an accompanying consultation paper, the Ministry of Justice added: “We are keen to extend the fixed recoverable costs regime to as many civil cases as possible. The senior judiciary will be developing proposals on which we will then consult.”
The statement also urged lawyers to embrace innovation so that they can “find new ways of delivering services, of simplifying working practices, of focusing more on meeting the needs of all their clients, from defendants to families and civil claimants”.