In May, I was invited to address the Westminster Legal Policy Forum at their seminar on the future of civil justice in England and Wales, focussing on costs, funding and new court structures.
Lord Justice Briggs presented the provisional findings of the Civil Courts Structure Review that he is leading, mentioning the current ‘clunky’ enforcement process which will need reform to ensure claimants are paid.
My address primarily focussed on the proposed online court, which I have an intense interest in, given my background. I think it is fairly safe to say that I was the only person present who was an authorised High Court Enforcement Officer (HCEO), Serjeant-at-Mace for the City of London and a Microsoft MSCE qualified systems engineer.
I, like many of my industry colleagues welcome the forward thinking views of Lord Justice Briggs and his hard working party. It is clear to me that the proposed Online Court, or ODR system as it has been labelled, must deliver beyond the point at which judgment is awarded and carry on through to recovery for the claimant, if such has not been forthcoming.
Every year many thousands of judgments go unpaid: in excess of 861,000 judgments were entered in the year from April 2015. HCEOs alone enforced more than 80,000 writs in 2015. Beyond this, there lies the even larger fields of regulated, general and low value writs enforced by the County Court Bailiffs.
The current High Court enforcement system has proved to be increasingly effective, accessible and affordable, particularly since the implementation of the new and more transparent fees regulations in 2014, and has been recognised as such by Lord Justice Briggs in his interim report.
In terms of an effective and integrated system for the recovery of money judgments (95% of which are uncontested) an online system in fact already exists and is currently in use by the Registry Trust for the enforcement of High Court judgments.
In my alter ego as a systems engineer, I designed and managed the build and deployment of this system, euphemistically named NICE Sheriffs (National Information Centre for Enforcement – to which we had to add the epithet Sheriffs to distinguish it from the National Institute for Clinical Excellence!). This was delivered to the enforcement industry in 2004 and is now operated and managed by Registry Trust Limited, who also run the County Court register of judgments.
High Court writs and tribunal awards are passed to Registry Trust for enforcement, where the claimant doesn’t choose a specific HCEO. The writ or award data is input to this system and the enforcement role is automatically allocated to a specific HCEO on a “cab rank system”.
This modular system can readily be configured to receive enforcement data securely in digital format and to allocate writs for enforcement by area or by preferred enforcement provider - it really is a case of “here’s one I prepared earlier”.
An additional credential for the secure and effective transmission of enforcement data from diverse sources is the award-winning on-line DVLA enquiry system, used Nationally by HM Courts Service to obtain vehicle registration data in support of enforcement actions. Here again I designed, deployed and managed this system from its inception in 2004.
I have also been closely involved with digitised and, latterly online, enforcement case management systems, from the days of the first mainframe based systems in the old Greater London Shrievalty of the 1980’s, right up to the current generation of secure, Cloud-hosted systems accessible securely to both claimant, defendant and enforcement officer.
Within the High Court Enforcement profession, such systems are now universal and are another reason for my interest in and support of the proposed online court.
So as we move towards the modernisation, digitalisation and reform programs of the civil justice system, to bring it up to date for the next 20 to 30 years and beyond, we can perhaps be pleasantly surprised to learn that, within the current High Court enforcement system much of what is required is ready and waiting to be implemented.
David is an authorised High Court Enforcement Officer and our Director of Corporate Governance