One Court, One Judiciary?

05 Jul 2018

The idea of a ‘one-stop shop’ for dispute resolution is an increasingly attainable prize as the modernisation of the courts gets underway, according to a QC.

Writing in this week’s NLJ, Steven Gasztowicz QC recalls how he proposed merging all the civil courts into ‘one court’ 30 years ago as a junior barrister, in a ‘no doubt rather naive’ paper that he sent to the then Leader of his circuit, Igor Judge QC. Judge agreed with the proposals but thought them too big a change to be taken seriously by the powers that be.

However, the Chancellor of the High Court, Sir Geoffrey Vos, is now advocating alterations that go further, incorporating tribunals as well. The former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas with the Senior President of Tribunals issued a joint statement in favour of ‘one judiciary’ in 2016. There is increasing closeness between courts and tribunals, for example, for the past decade all High Court and circuit judges have also been judges of the First-tier Tribunal and Upper Tribunal; and a pilot scheme began in 2017 where judges were ‘double-hatted’ to sit as county court judges and tribunal judges at the same time.

The courts have also become closer—in 2014, the individual county courts were replaced by a single county court operating from different locations.

Gasztowicz writes: ‘It remains to be seen to what extent a fundamental alignment of the different courts and tribunals, their judiciary and jurisdictions, will come about and when.

‘There are, as I have noted, a lot of changes already in the wind with which to contend. However, once these “modernisation” changes have taken effect at least, it would not be surprising if, with the force of the current Chancellor behind it, as well as the thinking of the last Lord Chief Justice, and the Senior President of Tribunals, such a transformation moves forward.’