Parties to litigation will encounter the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) in their dealings with lawyers and the courts. The Civil Procedure Rules 1998 came into force in 1999 as a result of Lord Woolf’s report, Access to Justice, in which he outlined the failings of the civil justice system.
He highlighted the system was too expensive and far too slow; often taking the simplest of cases a long time to come to trial with the costs wholly disproportionate to the amount in dispute.
The CPR were designed to address these failings.
The Overriding Objective
The CPR were implemented and the ‘Overriding Objective’ established in pursuit of the authorities’ aim to tackle the perceived issues.
The Overriding Objective seeks to ensure that parties to litigation are dealt with fairly, cases proceed swiftly in the most cost-efficient way possible and that the system can be easily understood by those that use it.
Getting a Grip on Litigation
The CPR transferred control of litigation from the parties to the courts. Before the introduction of the CPR the parties themselves largely determined the speed at which their case progressed which was seen as a reason why the system was so inefficient.
Nevertheless, solicitors and their clients still play an integral role and have an ongoing obligation to help courts further the Overriding Objective. However, it is the courts that have a duty to actively manage cases and are responsible for how swiftly the litigation process moves.
Case Management Under the CPR
The process of managing cases involves courts giving directions to parties and setting timetables. For non compliance with orders, courts can at their discretion, impose sanctions upon a party.
Furthermore, courts must deal with cases expeditiously and justly. The CPR states that dealing with a case justly includes among other things, ensuring parties are on equal footing and saving expense.
Courts must deal with cases in ways that are proportionate, taking into account a range of factors including the amount of money involved, the importance of the case, the case’s complexity and the financial positions of the parties. Moreover, the case should take into account the resources available at the courts’ disposal.
Alternative Dispute Resolution
Courts have a duty to encourage parties to cooperate and identify issues at an early stage and agree which issues are in dispute. Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is a key feature of the CPR and it is a way that parties can seek to resolve their disputes without going to court; therefore saving time and money.
Proceeding to trial may tarnish reputations and strain relations in certain scenarios and is not always the best option. ADR seeks to minimise these risks and is actively encouraged by the courts.
Parties to litigation must heed the CPR’s Pre Action Protocols which emphasise the need to consider ADR and the early exchange of information relating to the prospective claim.
In conclusion, the CPR have made the UK civil justice system more efficient in dealing with disputes and the litigation process easier to understand for non-lawyers. Recent updates aim to continue the process of improvement.