BLOG FROM THE CHAIR OF THE PLA LAW REFORM COMMITTEE
The PLA Law Reform Committee is certainly not short of projects. Proposals for the reform of the civil courts and areas of the law with which our members are concerned are being made at an ever increasing rate and emanate from a variety of sources. We are doing our very best to become involved, ensure that our voice is heard and that the best interests of members are represented.
I became Chair of the LRC just as the PLA’s report on the woeful performance of the County Court, in particular the County Court at Central London, was published. As we had hoped, this stimulated a debate and enabled us to take our concerns (based on your feedback) directly to those on the operational and policy side of HMCTS, the Head of Reform Strategy at the Ministry of Justice and the Resident Judge at Central London, HHJ Dight. Change is slow to achieve but we are beginning to make some progress.
At the end of last year Lord Justice Briggs published an interim report following his review of the structure of the civil courts. The report was wide ranging but of particular concern were his proposals regarding the enforcement of orders the county court and for reducing access to the Court of Appeal. Detailed responses were submitted on these matters and his final report has just been published. Some of his most noteworthy recommendations include:
* An Online Court should eventually hear cases with a value of up to £25,000 (but excluding personal injury claims which would otherwise fall within the fast track or multi-track and professional negligence claims);
* Various options regarding the Divisions of the High Court are mooted, but no change should undermine the identity or international reputation of the Commercial Court, and other specialist courts in the Rolls Building;
* The value thresholds below which a claim cannot be issued in the High Court should be increased immediately to £250,000, with a view to a second increase to £500,000. They should apply to all types of claim (with no lower limit for personal injuries);
* The county court should be the single default court for enforcement of the judgments and orders of all the civil courts (but appropriate enforcement issues e.g. cross-border issues) may be transferred to the High Court and there will need to be special provision for the enforcement of arbitration awards.
We will continue to monitor and respond to this on-going process.
Some of the matters covered by the Briggs report overlap with proposals currently being considered by the Civil Justice Council which has co-opted PLA committee members to sit on its Property Disputes Working Party. The aims of the working party are to consider the distribution of jurisdictions in landlord and tenant, property and housing disputes, with a particular emphasis on the work of the Property Chamber of the First Tier Tribunal and its overlap with the County Court, with a view to streamlining access to justice, avoiding unnecessary transfers between jurisdictions and the consequent saving of costs. The other Civil Justice Council initiative we have been involved with concerns the possible introduction of fixed recoverable costs.
The Law Commission continues with its programme of law reform. We have responded to the consultation on the Land Registration Act 2002 and have put together a detailed proposal for the amendment of the Landlord and Tenant (Covenants) Act 1995 to address problems resulting from the decision in K/S Victora Street v House of Fraser and subsequent cases. This has garnered widespread support from the property industry.
Over the coming months our involvement in the above projects will continue. We shall also be lobbying Parliament regarding the Telecoms Bill and the Boundaries Bill and working on new protocols, including a protocol for dealing with opposed lease renewals. Joint projects with the RICS will also continue and we shall be responding to the Law Commission’s request for suggestions on areas of law that are ripe for reform.
There is much to do. Anyone wishing to become a member of the LRC, especially those with expertise in residential property, should contact me.
Chair, PLA Law Reform Committee