“Racing to realisation” is the apt phrase Nik Carle, FCIArb used to describe recent developments in civil justice reform. He is right to use that phrase. For context: the restructuring of the courts that took place at the end of the 19th century was 70 years in the making. The restructuring that is now contemplated has only taken 25 years! Despite that I still say “racing” is the right verb. Why do I say that?
Whilst Lord Woolf’s Access to Justice Report was 25 years ago, and many of his recommendations implemented by the end of the 20th century, two recommendations remained unfulfilled: the mainstreaming of ADR and the introduction of effective IT into the civil justice system. Chances have come and gone for these reforms to be introduced. Halsey in 2004, Electronic Filing and Document Management (EFDM) in 2006 and, most recently, the Gloster Working Party in 2014 (which I founded).
Now, for the third time of asking, we have the chance to finish the job we all started in 1994.
What are the chances of success? They look good and before readers recall this was also the case in 2006 and 2014 let me say this time there is support from all 4 members of the senior Judiciary and political wind in the sails. Perhaps most important, unlike previous efforts, this latest push does not depend on support from HM Treasury; unlike 2006 when the so-called “ring-fenced” £60m of funding was so suddenly, and undeservedly, withdrawn.
Racing to realisation is the right description: in 26 days we have seen the foundations laid with four great initiatives.
The Civil Justice Council published its report about compulsory ADR on 12 July. 9 days later, on 21 July, the Judicial Review and Courts Bill received its first reading in the House of Commons, on 3 August the Ministry of Justice published a Call for Evidence about the mainstreaming of ADR and its delivery using dedicated LegalTech followed only 2 days later by the publication of LawTech UK’s Feasibility Study for an online dispute resolution platform for SMEs. This last initiative may yet prove the template for the wider digitisation of the ADR sector and benefitted from the invaluable contributions of, amongst others, Chris Dale and Elizabeth Gloster. This is a small world.
Taken together these developments enable the transformation of civil justice within the next 12 months. Breath-taking stuff.
In forthcoming columns I will consider each of these foundational elements in detail but, at this moment, let us give thanks we are off to a great start. There remains much work to do and there will be bumps along the way but there can no longer be any doubt: we are on our way.
Only 12 months ago, at the Big Law Summit, not for the first time I called upon all involved in the civil justice system to prepare their ADR strategies, to adjust their business models to put in place the infrastructure to survive and thrive in this new environment. ADR Service providers, ADR neutrals, law firms, lawyers, paralegals, claims management companies: opportunities abound. Tool up with bespoke IT infrastructure, expand your neutral panels.
Now is the time for an army of neutrals to deliver proportionate justice in the right place at the right time: online!
Tony Guise is the Director of DisputesEfiling.com the specialist provider of ADR management platforms. He is a Past President of the London Solicitors Litigation Association and former member of the Civil Justice Committee of the Law Society of England and Wales.