April 17, 2013

The legislative process to introduce changes to the jurisdiction of the County Court has recently been completed. The County Courts (Financial Limits) Order (Northern Ireland) 2013 increases thejurisdiction of the District Judges’ Court from £5,000 to £10,000 and the jurisdiction of the County Court from £15,000 to £30,000 with effect from 25 February 2013. The Department of Justice says that the increase will “ensure the efficient allocation of resources with litigants enjoying increased access to County Courts providing a local, efficient and effective mechanism to deal with civil justice matters”.

The legislation is not retrospective in effect and it is not intended that High Court proceedings initiated prior to commencement of the changes should fall to be remitted to the County Court.

The County Court Rules Committee has also introduced new rules which amend the County Court Rules (Northern Ireland) 1981 to make provision for the increases in jurisdictional limits in terms of new scale costs, new procedures and costs increases.

To coincide with these changes two new Pre-Action Protocols have been introduced – one for Personal Injury Litigation & Damage only Road Traffic Accident claims and one for Clinical Negligence litigation.

The changes to the Rules have several main effects:-

• permit a plaintiff to require the defendant to serve particulars of the Defence;

• require the plaintiff to notify the defendant in writing of his/her intention to lodge a Certificate of Readiness no later than 14 days prior to lodging the Certificate;

• permit interlocutory applications to be decided by a judge without a hearing in the absence of a specific provision to the contrary;

• allow a District Judge to deal with interlocutory applications which fall within his/her jurisdiction;

• provide that discovery is automatic;

• permit interrogatories to be served without leave;

• provide rules on evidence in clinical negligence cases; and

• provide a new scale for Professional fee costs for Solicitors and Barristers which includes:

• 3 additional new bands in Table 1 from £15,001 – £20000, £20001 – £25000 and £25001 – £30,000;

• a new fee for additional day hearings;

• a new provision where there is more than one defendant; and

• otherwise increase costs over a two year period (2% in 2013 with a further 2% increase to take effect in 2014).

The effect of these changes will mean that more cases fall to be dealt within the jurisdiction of a District Judge. It is anticipated that the changes will mean that the process of taking a case in the County Court is more streamlined, with each party knowing the other’s case at an early stage which should allow for meaningful negotiations to take place at an early stage in the litigation process.

For further information on these changes or to discuss any aspect of litigation or a potential claim you may wish to bring please contact a member of our Litigation Department.

Please note: The content of this article is for information purposes only and further advice should be sought from a professional advisor before any action is taken.