2. Culture of Modern Litigation

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The civil justice system aims to resolve disputes between individuals, enabling both legal and equitable rights to be enforced. There have been radical changes in the civil sphere during the past ten years, following Lord Woolf's 1996 report 'Access to Justice'. In it, he identified several problems with the old system, not least the expense, unnecessary delays and the fact that the parties were often on an unequal footing. His recommendations led to the implementation of the Civil Procedure Rules on 26th April 1999.

The overriding objective of the reforms is to enable the Court to deal with cases justly. Under the rules, this includes, as far as practicable:

(a) ensuring that the parties are on an equal footing;

(b) saving expense;

(c) dealing with the case in ways which are proportionate...

  1. to the amount of money involved;
  2. to the importance of the case;
  3. to the complexity of the issues; and
  4. to the financial position of each party;

(d) ensuring that it is dealt with expeditiously and fairly; and

(e) allotting to it an appropriate share of the Court's resources, while taking into account the need to allot resources to other cases.

In practice, this means that parties are expected to follow pre-action protocols and a much greater emphasis is placed on co-operation. The courts are now required to actively manage cases and ensure that parties stick to the time limits set. Courts are now seen as a last resort and the parties are expected to consider the use of Alternative Dispute Resolution prior to trial.

Clients should be informed of their obligations under the overriding objective, for example, being required to sign a statement of truth in relation to statements and other supporting documentation. They must also be warned of the consequences of failing to adhere to the spirit of the objective, most usually in the form of costs penalties.

The emphasis in civil litigation is now on resolving disputes, with court hearings to be used as a final resort. The use of Alternative Dispute Resolution must therefore always be considered.