A number of dispute resolution changes are on the horizon this year. Here are the main highlights to be aware of:
- There may be reform of the pre-action conduct and pre-action protocols following a review by the Civil Justice Council.
The pre-action protocol (or PAP) aims to encourage engagement between parties in the hope that court proceedings can be avoided.
The Civil Justice Council’s review is looking at whether PAPs are working effectively and what reforms, if any, are required. They are particularly interested in the costs associated with PAP compliance, the potential of PAPs in online dispute resolution and the potential for PAPs to be streamlined.
The consultation period ended on 21 January, so we await further news with interest.
- It seems likely that during this year decisions will be made regarding the long-term implementation of the Disclosure Pilot Scheme. This scheme was first introduced on 1 January 2019 for a two-year period but has been updated and extended and it is anticipated that many of the changes will be with us long term. The aim of the scheme is to make the disclosure process more proportionate and tailored to the circumstances of each case. It includes the requirement for parties to disclose documents at an ‘initial’ stage and an ‘extended’ stage. After early criticism that the process increased bureaucracy, amendments have now provided greater clarity.
- Another dispute resolution change to look out for is to the small claims process. The Civil Justice Council is trying to identify best practice for small claims and its final report on the subject was published on 28 January 2022, making a number of recommendations.
Around 50% of small claims are for a value of £500 or less leading to the working group recommending a specific pre-action protocol for claims under £500, along with allowing cases to be determined by telephone, remote hearing or on the papers. The recommendations are currently under consideration.
- Meanwhile, the Online Civil Money Claims (OCMC) pilot scheme to test an online claims process for claims of a value of £10,000 or less, is currently underway and will run to 30 November 2023.
It enables individual litigants to start money claims of up to £10,000 against a single defendant in England and Wales. Defendants may respond to claims online or on paper, and the time limits are different from an ordinary county court money claim started outside the pilot scheme.
- A further pilot scheme is designed to test a procedure enabling legally represented claimants to issue certain specified and unspecified money claims online using the County Court Online website. This pilot is running until 30 November 2022. Initially an invitation-only pilot scheme, in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the pilot allows a party’s legal representative to issue a claim form and pay the fee online. The issued claim form is returned to the legal representative in PDF format for service by them.
Dispute resolution changes are not uncommon, but the pandemic certainly seems to have accelerated the desire to achieve greater efficiency and modernisation in court processes.
If you need advice about any aspect of dispute resolution, please get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or phoning our Stoke-on-Trent team on 01782 205000 or our Altrincham team on 0161 929 8494.