Civil Justice Council calls for improved procedure for claims under £500

The Civil Justice Council has published its final report on the resolution of small claims (PDF, opens in a new tab), following an interim report published in June 2021.

The working party makes a number of recommendations which it hopes will help to improve the management and resolution of the more than one million small claims which are commenced in the County Court each year.

Data provided to the working group showed that around 50% of small claims issued between March 2018 and April 2021 were for a value of £500 or less, leading the working group to suggest a more proportionate process for lower value claims.

The Civil Procedure Rule Committee is asked to introduce a specific pre-action protocol for claims under £500 and to amend its rules to allow the Court to determine cases by telephone/remote hearing or on the papers, where appropriate.

Other recommendations call on HMCTS to consider the information available to litigants before they make a claim and once initiated, including the production of short videos to improve public understanding of the small claims process and the options available to litigants. In relation to mediation, HMCTS is asked to produce improved information to educate litigants and to conduct further research as to why parties opt out of mediation.

Mr Justice Cotter, chair of the working party on small claims, said: “As the large majority of claims issued in the civil courts involve sums less than £10,000 the approach taken to the management and resolution of small claims is of critical importance.

“We believe that the recommendations in this report could reform the litigation experience for litigants in person with modest financial claims, who are by far the largest group of court users, maintain public confidence in the civil justice system and allow limited judicial and administrative resources to be properly focused.”

In response to the report, the Master of the Rolls, Sir Geoffrey Vos, chair of the Civil Justice Council and Head of Civil Justice, said: “I am hugely grateful to Mr Justice Cotter and his working party for the production of this valuable report on the resolution of small claims. The effective handling of small claims in the County Court is essential to the efficient operation of the civil justice system.

“As the reform programme progresses, it will become easier for litigants to begin claims online. It is, therefore, vital that data about what the system is being used for and how well it is working is collected and analysed to inform future improvements across the entire justice landscape.

“The speedy and cost-effective resolution of civil claims is important for the UK economy. Delays cause economic drag and psychological distress to litigants that a streamlined system can minimise.

“I hope the recommendations are given careful consideration and are implemented in full in due course.”