On 28 May 2021, HM Courts & Tribunal Service (HMCTS) launched a Damages Claims Pilot scheme, which, at least for now, is accommodating single-party (1 claimant and 1 defendant) Part 7 claims for unspecified damages only – the bulk of which are personal injury claims.
The Pilot has been established by Practice Direction 51ZB and will last 3-years (end date of 30 April 2024).
For the first 3-months of operation, only those represented by 9 claimant firms (undisclosed) may use the process, with no limit on defendant firm involvement.
From September, it is scheduled to be opened up to a wider claimant audience, albeit solicitors’ registration with MyHMCTS (the online case management tool for legal professionals) will remain a pre-requisite of eligibility.
As the apparatus evolves, it is also expected that ‘technical constraints’ will be disentangled and multi-party claims will eventually become advanceable.
Fundamentally, the service allows professionals (on behalf of their clients) to manage and progress civil litigation online by:
- Issuing a claim;
- Providing an Acknowledgement of Service;
- Informing the court of any agreed extension to file the Defence;
- Responding to a claim; and
- Providing information for a Directions Questionnaire.
Once the Directions Questionnaire stage is over, ordinary conduct under the Civil Procedure Rules may resume until the case is resolved.
In the long run, it is the Government’s ambition to develop an ‘end-to-end transformed digital service for claims in the county court, from pre-action to enforcement’.[i]
This objective is clearly endorsed by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett, who recently warned the Association of District Judges that:
‘There is a need to replace the clunking systems that underpin the work of our courts to avoid the risk of technological failure, quite apart from improving the way in which work is done’.
Even though the Pilot was launched somewhat ‘quietly’,[ii] HMCTS is adamant that as many solicitors as possible should sign up to the MyHMCTS tool, with a larger pool of users creating more opportunity to test the software and collect more feedback.
For more information on how defendant firms can prepare for the Pilot, watch this hour-long Government tutorial video. The HMCTS video tailored to claimant firms may also be useful and can be accessed here.
[i] ‘Government pilots new civil damages claims service’ (2 June 2021 The Law Society) <https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/en/campaigns/court-reform/news/government-pilots-new-civil-damages-claims-service> accessed 18 June 2021.
[ii] Nick Hilborne, Digital courts take next step forward with damages claims pilot’ (18 June 2021 Legal Futures) <https://www.legalfutures.co.uk/latest-news/digital-courts-take-next-step-forward-with-damages-claims-pilot> accessed 18 June 2021.