Civil Procedure Rules
Why was it introduced (political/sociological context)?
The Civil Procedure Rules were used by all courts after 1999 and replaced the Supreme Court Rules and County Court Rules. The Court of Appeal, High Court of Justice and the County Courts in civil cases are all governed by the Civil Procedure Rules.
For centuries, the law was largely out of the reach of the general public and lay persons, as it had been written in a complex and archaic manner, which could only be interpreted by lawyers and highly educated persons. The general public, were usually unable to understand the complicated jargon that the statutes were littered with. The courts had not commented on the need for the law to be understood by the general public without the need for a lawyer, even though this practice went against the general principle of access to justice. The previous Civil Procedure Rules, namely the Supreme Court Rules and the County Court Rules, were not user-friendly, were complex and were difficult to navigate. There were two separate statutes governing court rules which were onerous and time-consuming on anyone who needed to reference the rules, even though some of the regulations and procedures were uniform across all courts. The complexity of the legislation resulted in a slower court process. Some of the rules were laborious in their application, again causing delays with cases in the justice system. Given the vast number of rules across two different statutes, there were often inconsistencies with the way in which litigants were treated by court staff and judges.
The previous rules provided little guidance as to the preferred content or framing of legal submissions, which often meant that submissions addressed minor issues, as opposed to focusing on several crucial points of the case. This only added to the slow court processes, as it was harder for judges to decipher the key issues in the case. In 1994, the Lord Chancellor recognised the problems that the complicated civil procedure rules were causing. He acknowledged the need for a clear and simple set of court rules that could be read and understood by the general public as much as possible. The Chancellor instructed the House of the Rolls to review the options available to develop the civil procedure rules, so that they were fair in the way they treated litigants, dealt with cases speedily, could be understood by laypersons, enabled the court staff to be more responsive to users and to provide consistency and certainty through its provisions.
What was the aim of the Rules (legal context)?
The purpose of the Rules was to simplify the civil procedure process. The aim was to do this by creating one set of rules in one consolidated act, creating a one-stop-shop. Most importantly, the simplification of the rules aimed to provide access to justice for the general public, so that the civil procedures rules were not out of the reach of non-legally trained persons.
What main changes did it make to the law?
Some of the old and more traditional legal words were replaced. For example, “plaintiff” was replaced with “claimant” and “subpoena” was replaced with “witness summons”. Thus, the rules made a conscious effort to write the law in “plain English”. Part 1 of the Rules includes an overriding objective which had never before been outlined in civil procedure legislation. This stipulates the aim of new rules, which was to enable the court to deal with cases justly, by ensuring that parties are on equal footing, save expenses, ensuring that cases are dealt with expeditiously and fairly and dealing with cases in ways that are proportionate. Part 1 also provides direction on the interpretation of the entire statute, but stipulating that the rules must be interpreted in light of the overriding objective. Thus, aiming to further create consistency right from the beginning of the statute. The rules also place a higher onus on the judiciary to better manage cases to ensure outcomes are reached as soon as reasonably possible. This has been done by better clarifying (and in some cases creating) case management powers under part 3 of the statute. The Rules also include specific directions on small claims track cases (part 27), fast track cases (part 28) and multi-track cases (part 29). All three parts set out the special procedure for dealing with claims which have been allocated into one of the three categories, based on the value of the case. Each separate track enables cases up to a certain value to be heard faster than cases with a larger value, which are considered more complex.
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