On 22 April, following parliamentary approval, the Government brought into force a number of important reforms to improve the administration of civil justice and to provide a more efficient use of judicial resources.
The reforms implement a series of proposals supported by respondents to the Ministry of Justice’s “Solving Disputes in the County Courts” consultation paper published in 2011. Those proposals themselves originated in recommendations made by the retired Lord Justice of Appeal, Sir Henry Brooke, in his 2008 report “Should the Civil Courts be Unified?”.
The changes will contribute to the Government’s commitments on efficiency and public service reforms. They:
a. Establish a single county court for England and Wales;
b. Abolish the need for the Lord Chancellor’s agreement to High Court judges sitting in the county courts;
c. Increase the financial limit of the equity jurisdiction of the county court from £30,000 to £350,000;
d. Increase the financial limit below which cases may not be commenced in the High Court from £25,000 to £100,000 (with the exception of personal injury claims);
e. Extend the current powers of the county court to make freezing orders and
f. Remove certain types of specialist proceedings from the jurisdiction of the county courts.
Taken together, this package of reforms will ensure that cases are issued and tried at the most appropriate level of court; simplify the task and cost of allocating cases before a judge and transferring cases between courts; streamline procedures for judicial deployment to the county court; and ease work pressures on the High Court to enable it to focus on complex cases that truly require its expertise.