Justice minister Lord David Wolfson has promised an urgent review of the decision to move the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) to the gov.uk website in a far less user-friendly format.
The CPR have long been available on the Ministry of Justice’s old justice.gov.uk website, along with the other procedure rules, as well as certain courts and probation guidance, including daily court lists.
The Ministry of Justice, like most government websites, has for some years used the uk.gov URL instead and the legacy justice.gov.uk site is being closed down over the next two to three weeks.
Though still available on the old site until then, the rules have been transferred to uk.gov and now requires far more clicks and knowledge of what the reader is looking for to navigate.
There has been an outcry on social media, to which Lord David Wolfson – the commercial silk appointed as justice minister in December to replace Lord Keen – replied on Twitter yesterday to say he was looking into it.
“It’s important that the Civil Procedure Rules (and similar Rules) are easily accessible but also in a comprehensible manner – that’s all part of access to justice,” he wrote.
In an update today, he added: “I’ve asked my officials to look at this urgently, because it’s an access to justice issue, and work is already underway. I aim to provide a further update next week. Thanks again to all who have posted helpful suggestions and comments here (we do listen!).”
Well-known civil litigation blogger Gordon Exall highlighted the comments of the Supreme Court in Barton v Wright Hassall, when it said: “Unless the rules and practice directions are particularly inaccessible or obscure, it is reasonable to expect a litigant in person to familiarise himself with the rules which apply to any step which he is about to take.
“Mr Barton contends that CPR rule 6.3 and Practice Direction 6A are inaccessible and obscure. I do not accept this. They are accessible on the internet.”
Giles Peaker, who runs the housing blog Nearly Legal, tweeted: “Because they obviously had time on their hands, http://gov.uk have decided to completely Horlicks up the online civil procedure rules. Finding your way around this is a nightmare.”
Several lawyers questioned why a resource that was not broken needed fixing, while others said they were having to resort to expensive paid-for resources.
Steven Barrett of Radcliffe Chambers responded to Lord Wolfson: “What matters is access to justice, not barristers like me with expensive subscriptions.
“But I do think it is telling that despite those subscriptions, I regularly rely on the government websites for CPR and http://legislation.gov.uk – they are better than the stuff I pay for.”
One trainee wrote: “Today is the second time in a row that I have had a (not so secret) cry about it. I already miss clicking on a rule or a PD and not being taken to a monstrosity of a website.”