To say, as I did in a recent article, that that “civil justice in the UK has plunged off a cliff” is not the same as saying that civil disputes are in decline. Litigation lawyers, at least at the mid- to high level, seem to be busy enough, as do most of the London-based eDisclosure providers. The Jackson Reforms, now a year old, have positively generated work for some, although much of the focus has been more on procedural matters than on evidence and issues. Part of this, conveniently labelled “Mitchell”, has been negative, the opposite of the “justice” which the overriding objective requires; part of it, and particularly the eDisclosure aspects, reflect the attention which the rules now require on the sources, the methods and the costs of disclosure. One can deprecate the Mitchell aspects whilst thinking it right that parties are being required to pay early attention to the evidence and to the prospective costs.
Whilst in the US recently, on a tour which embraced both eDiscovery events and a short holiday, I wrote an angry article (“blistering” was amongst the comments I received) on the state of British civil justice. If that seems an odd way to spend a holiday, well, the times are odd and it annoyed me. Better out than in as they say, so I wrote to get it off my chest. The article was headed The Jackson consultation responses pull no punches but Grayling and the MoJ will ignore them.
The article had three targets – a Lord Chancellor who seems ignorant of the basic concepts of justice, a Ministry of Justice staffed by people whom I described as “standard issue overpaid time-servers and… academics who have failed to hack it in the strenuous world of university life”, and senior judges whose understanding of the practicalities of business life is defined by their lifetime experience of working for very big firms, on very big cases, for very rich clients.
I referred to one or two of the responses to the Civil Justice Council’s consultation, mainly to show that my observations were derived from the daily experience of those who have to deal with the consequences of these things. I was at pains to draw attention to differences (identified in some responses) between Lord Justice Jackson’s original recommendations and the position in which we now find ourselves. Quite apart from the fact that he had nothing to do with (for example) the reduction in legal aid, Lord Justice Jackson specifically recommended investment in court systems; whilst he was keen to encourage compliance with the rules, it was no part of his plan that we should have the climate of fear and uncertainty which derives from Mitchell. Read the rest of this entry »